By Lauren Keiper
BOSTON (Reuters) - Former Boston mob boss and accused murderer James "Whitey" Bulger, in a prison-issue orange jumpsuit, was back in court on Thursday as a federal judge ruled on how his lengthy rap-sheet would be prosecuted.
Judge Mark Wolf allowed the government to dismiss a 1994 racketeering indictment and focus on 19 murder charges contained in a separate indictment, while denying a defense bid to consolidate all the charges.
Bulger, 81, is the former leader of the notorious Winter Hill Gang, a mostly Irish-American organized crime operation based in Boston.
He had been sought by the authorities for 19 counts of murder committed in the 1970s and 1980s, many of them brutal slayings, and charges of drug dealing, extortion, money laundering and conspiracy.
A conviction on just one count of murder in Massachusetts could send Bulger to prison for life, and authorities have said that focusing on the murder cases could bring quicker justice to the families of Bulger's alleged victims.
Judge Wolf said it was not clear that lumping the two indictments together, as Bulger's provisional attorney Peter Krupp requested, had any legal basis.
He added that prosecutors' decision to focus on the 1999 indictment containing the murder charges was not "judge shopping," as Krupp had complained.
Thursday's hearing was Bulger's third appearance in a Boston court since his arrest last week. A second hearing, on whether Bulger can be provided with court-appointed, taxpayer-funded counsel, is also scheduled.
His brothers -- William "Billy" Bulger, the former Massachusetts Senate President, and John "Jackie" Bulger, a retired court clerk magistrate convicted of perjury in 2003 -- were seated in court, as were families of some of Bulger's alleged murder victims.
Bulger, who had been on the FBI's Most Wanted List, and his longtime companion Catherine Greig, 60, were arrested in Santa Monica, California, on June 22 after being on the run together since 1995.
The arrests came after a tip from a member of the public, days after the FBI launched a new media campaign.
Bulger and Greig had some $820,000 stashed in a wall in their California hide-out and according to prosecutors were able to finance a comfortable lifestyle replete with Las Vegas gambling trips and jaunts to Mexico to buy medications.
Bulger requested a court-appointed attorney on June 24 during his initial appearance in federal court in Boston, but prosecutors have been adamant his defense should not be at public expense.
(Reporting by Lauren Keiper; editing by Ros Krasny and Cynthia Johnston)