The Whitey Bulger sentencing could break legal ground, although James “Whitey” Bulger was found guilty in August of 21 counts of racketeering and 11 counts of murder, there were eight murder charges against him for which the jury did not find him accountable. The families of these victims want to speak at Whitey Bulger’s sentencing on Wednesday – an act which if allowed, could break legal ground.
Prosecutors in the case are in favor of allowing the testimony, but Bulger’s defense team, one juror and legal experts disagree, warning that allowing the family members of victims of whose deaths Bulger was not convicted could create an opening for the legal appeal of the murder charges for which he was found responsible.
The prosecution in the case has requested that Judge Denise Casper allow all families, including the eight without convictions, to give victim impact statements at the sentencing hearing. Regardless of who is allowed to speak it is all but certain that Bulger, 84, will spend the rest of his life in prison.
It would certainly break legal ground if Casper allows the eight victims whose cases were not deemed by the jury to be attributed by Whitey Bulger to speak at his sentencing. The associate dean of Massachusetts School of Law, Michael Coyne, states that he has never seen it allowed and if Casper allows it during sentencing, “The appeals court could end up sending it back to her for having made a mistake.”
On the other side, Casper must follow the letter of the law which grants the right of Bulger’s victims to speak to the court during sentencing. The question she must consider is exactly who can be considered a Bulger victim and who cannot. Bulger was not convicted for the murders of these eight victims in question and by law is not responsible. Although the pain their families have suffered is great, they do have other public venues available to address Bulger, albeit indirectly. It would not be as satisfying as facing him in court and adding to public record the pain and suffering felt as a direct result of Bulger’s actions, but the families must consider the impact of doing so.
Any question involving the legal proceedings and the application of law during both trial and sentencing will surely result in an appeal. A process that will deny 11 families who do have a conviction for the murder of their loved one and the closure of knowing that Bulger will spend the rest of his life behind bars. All families would then have to relive the pain and uncertainty of a new trial.
The most important thing the eight families can do is to step aside and not allow anything to compromise the jury’s findings of guilt, allowing the judge to impose the highest possible sentences, according to law. It is not worth the risk of breaking legal ground during Whitey Bulger’s sentencing if by doing so he is allowed any hope of a mistrial or a new trial. Confronting Bulger and giving a victim impact statement does not serve the victims whose final justice will be deemed when Bulger is sent off to prison to serve, what many hope for, a life sentence.
By Jennifer Pfalz