Judge tells 'Whitey' Bulger jury to focus on mob charges

By Richard Valdmanis

BOSTON (Reuters) - The statute of limitations cannot erase any of the racketeering and murder charges faced by former Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger, the U.S. judge overseeing his trial told the jury on Wednesday.

"The issue of statute of limitation should not concern you," U.S. District Judge Denise Casper told the 12-member jury on its second day of deliberations over whether the 83-year-old defendant is guilty of 32 criminal counts that could send him to prison for the rest of his life.

The jury of eight men and four women had asked if the statute of limitations applied to any of the charges, which include 19 murders the former leader of the feared "Winter Hill" gang is accused of committing or ordering in the 1970s and '80s.

Later on Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz arrived in the courtroom and huddled with prosecutors over documents and the judge called a series of sidebar discussions with lawyers. No explanation was given for the flurry of activity.

Jurors began their deliberations on Tuesday after 36 days of mostly gruesome testimony. Former hitmen, FBI agents, drug dealers, and other witnesses outlined brazen killings, corruption of law enforcement, massive drugs and weapons heists and harrowing extortion encounters.

Prosecutors said Bulger escaped arrest for decades with the help of corrupt FBI agents who shared his Irish ethnicity and South Boston upbringing. Prosecutors said the agents turned a blind eye to Bulger's crimes in exchange for information about the Italian Mafia, then a top national FBI target.

Bulger's attorneys admitted on the first day of the trial that their client was a drug dealer, extortionist and loan shark. Their atypical defense rarely focused directly on the crimes of which Bulger was accused. Instead, they spent much of their time contesting the assertion that Bulger served as an FBI informant, or "a rat" in mob parlance.

Bulger's defense lawyers did deny that he had killed two women. They blamed those murders on Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, a former gangmate and the prosecution's star witness, who testified that he watched Bulger kill the women.

The trial recalled an era when armed thugs in souped-up cars used machine guns to wipe out rival gangsters, buried bodies along the city's waterfront and shook down victims including drug dealers, bookmakers and local business owners who accidentally crossed their paths.

Bulger's story inspired Martin Scorsese's 2006 Academy Award-winning film "The Departed," in which Jack Nicholson played an Irish-American gangster loosely based on Bulger.

(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Scott Malone; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and David Gregorio)