A federal judge dealt a blow to the apparent key defense of alleged mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger in a ruling issued Monday that said the judge, not a jury, will be the one to resolve Bulger's claim of immunity.
Federal Judge Richard Stearns issued the ruling Monday and sided with the US Attorney's office in its desire to have the matter handled before the June trial.
"Pretrial denial of defendant's immunity claim would narrow the focus of the inquiry at trial, thereby limiting the scope of evidence to be presented and the potential for jury confusion and distraction," Stearns wrote in his 20 page ruling. "Conversely, a finding that the defendant's prosecution is barred by a valid grant of immunity would prevent an unnecessary trial and the expenditure of considerable public resources. Under these circumstances, it would present a disservice to judicial economy and the orderly administration of justice to sit idly by awaiting the raising of an objection that is now ripe and which defendant has unequivocally indicated his intent to invoke."
Bulger's attorney, J. W. Carney Jr., has said he wants the jury to hear and decide the issue of immunity and has said that the 83-year-old fugitive would testify at trial about it. Carney has said that Bulger was granted immunity by former federal prosecutor Jeremiah O'Sullivan. O'Sullivan has since died.
"To remove his defense of immunity from being presented to the jury … would in effect deny him his right to a fair trial," Carney said during a court hearing on the matter last month.
However, prosecutors have said they want the matter resolved before trial and that Carney has no legal standing for the immunity claim.
In his ruling, Stearns also denied Bulger's assertion that he was granted "prospective immunity." Stearns said he will still hear arguments on the issue of "historical immunity."
Follow Michael Naughton on Twitter @metrobosmike.