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Jury selection begins in US mobster trial

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(GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

Jury selection began Tuesday in the US federal trial of James "Whitey" Bulger, the notorious Boston gangster arrested in 2011 after 16 years on the lam and charged with 19 murders.

The 83-year-old Bulger, the one-time ruthless leader of the Winter Hill Gang who figured on the FBI's 10 most wanted fugitives list, is also facing federal racketeering charges in the Boston courthouse.

He appeared in court on Tuesday, clean-shaven and in street clothing -- dark, long-sleeved shirt, jeans and white sneakers -- not orange prison garb.

Bulger, who has pleaded not guilty in the case, greeted a first group of potential jurors with a cordial "good morning" and they responded in kind.

Eighteen jurors will be chosen out of a pool of 675 -- a process that Judge Denise Casper is hoping can be completed by Friday so that opening arguments can begin on Monday. The trial is expected to last into September.

Casper advised prospective jurors completing questionnaires that any prior knowledge of the case was not a disqualification from jury duty.

Bulger -- who is expected to testify in his own defense -- was arrested in 2011 in Santa Monica, California, where he had been living under an assumed name with long-term girlfriend Catherine Greig, then 60.

Police found some $800,000 in cash and an arsenal of weapons in Bulger's modest apartment, along with books about him.

Authorities say he committed 19 murders in the 1970s and 1980s as part of his reign in Boston's crime world spanning into the 1990s that included extortion, money laundering and even running guns to Northern Ireland's IRA.

Bulger fled Boston in January 1995 after being tipped off by an FBI contact that he was about to be arrested. He was spotted in London in 2002 and in California in 2000 and 2005, but evaded arrest.

After he fled, it emerged he had been a long-time FBI informant about the mafia, fueling suspicion about the agency's fruitless efforts to find him.

Bulger became the inspiration for Jack Nicholson's character in "The Departed," the 2006 crime film directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon.

Last year, Greig pleaded guilty to harboring a fugitive and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Some 80 witnesses are expected to testify in the upcoming trial, including some of Bulger's former partners in crime, and about 1,000 exhibits will be presented.

Bulger's relationship with the FBI and the Justice Department will be a prime issue.

The FBI acknowledged that Bulger had been an FBI informant from 1975 to 1990, as had his former associate Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi. A former FBI supervisor admitted taking $7,000 in bribes and leaking information to them.

Among those called to testify are former Massachusetts governor William Weld and outgoing FBI director Robert Mueller.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130604/jury-selection-begins-us-mobster-trial