BOSTON — On the opening day of his much-anticipated trial here on Wednesday, James "Whitey" Bulger was reputed to be many things, even by his own lawyer — among them, a bookmaker, drug dealer and loan shark who made "millions and millions" of dollars from his underworld dealings.
But there was one thing, the lawyer insisted, that Bulger was not: an informant for the FBI.
"James Bulger is of Irish descent," J.W. Carney Jr., the lawyer, declared in his opening argument. "And the worst thing an Irish person could consider doing is becoming an informant. That was the first and foremost reason why James Bulger was never an informant against people."
In the long list of charges against Bulger, supposedly a Boston mob boss for decades, being an inside source for the law is not, in and of itself, a crime. But his lawyer's prominent rebuttal of the notion at the outset of Bulger's trial showed just how much Bulger wanted it discredited.
Bulger's chance to tell his side of the story has finally arrived after a long career of criminal activity. He is now 83.
He has been charged in a sweeping and complex 32-count indictment, which includes accusations that he played a role in 19 murders. The prosecution needed diagrams and flow charts on Wednesday to try to keep the large cast of unsavory characters straight for the jury.
Prosecutors made their opening arguments first. Brian T. Kelly, an assistant U.S. attorney, described to the jury a criminal enterprise that "ran amok in the city of Boston for almost 30 years."
"At the center of all this murder and mayhem is one man: the defendant in this case, James Bulger," Kelly said. And he made sure the jury understood that Bulger had a role, often pulling the trigger, in the 19 murders.