BOSTON – More than 16 years after he fled Boston, former crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger pleaded not guilty Wednesday to participating in 19 murders and committing a host of other crimes dating back to the 1970s.
Bulger said "not guilty" in a subdued but clear voice during his arraignment on the 32-count racketeering indictment as his two brothers watched from the front row.
Bulger, a former top-echelon FBI informant, fled in late 1994 after receiving a tip from his FBI handler that he was about to be charged in another case that has since been dismissed. Now 81, Bulger escaped prosecution until he was captured last month in Santa Monica, Calif.
The courtroom Wednesday was packed with spectators, reporters, family members of Bulger's alleged victims and a Who's Who of law enforcement officials who investigated Bulger during his decades as the reputed leader of the notorious Winter Hill gang.
Bulger nodded to his brothers, John Bulger and former Massachusettse Senate President William Bulger, as he was led into the courtroom in shackles and an orange prison jumpsuit. He did not speak during the 15-minute hearing except to enter his pleas.
Retired state police Col. Tom Foley was in court and said seeing Bulger brought to justice brought him "a little bit of relief."
"Seeing him walk in in handcuffs — a broken man — was some kind of satisfaction to me, personally," he said.
During the hearing, Bulger's court-appointed attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., asked that his law partner, Janice Bassil, be appointed as Bulger's co-counsel. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler said that no appointment was needed because lawyers for the same firm are allowed to assist each other in cases.
Bowler also said she would consider adding another attorney to the case if Carney requested it.
Prosecutors suggested they may still seek to challenge Bulger's claim that he is indigent and cannot afford to pay for a private attorney. Bowler granted his request for a taxpayer-funded attorney last week, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly said prosecutors plan to file additional court documents within the next two weeks on the issue.
"There is an ongoing issue as to whether there are any assets available," Kelly said during Wednesday's hearing.
Prosecutors argued earlier that Bulger might be able to get financial assistance from his brother William. But Bulger's provisional attorney said no one in Bulger's family has come forward to help pay for his defense.
Prosecutors said federal agents found more than $800,000 in cash from Bulger's Santa Monica apartment, but authorities have seized that money as proceeds from illegal activity.
An attorney who represents the family of one of Bulger's alleged victims went to court Wednesday to ask that a lien be placed on the money.
The attorney, James Riley Jr., asked that two brothers of Michael Milano be given standing to make a claim to Bulger's seized assets to settle a $2.2 million wrongful death judgment the family won in 2002.
Milano was a bartender at a Boston restaurant when he was fatally shot in his car in 1973. John Martorano, a hitman for Bulger's gang, testified in court that he killed Milano, but said he had been instructed by Bulger to shoot the owner of the restaurant, who drove a car similar to Milano's.
"It was a case of mistaken identity," Riley said outside court Wednesday.
"We want to put our clients in the best position possible to collect, if and when there is a forfeiture" of Bulger's assets," Riley said.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz filed documents in court Wednesday asking U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns to reject the request, saying that no money should be distributed until Bulger's criminal case is resolved.
An initial status conference for Bulger is scheduled for Sept. 14.
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