BOSTON (Reuters) - Former crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger is scheduled to be formally arraigned on Wednesday on charges that he killed 19 people, and his lawyers are preparing for what is expected to be a long, grueling and complex case.
After 16 years on the run as one of America's most wanted criminals, Bulger, 81, will make his fourth visit to Boston's federal court house since being returned in late June to the city he terrorized as a mobster and later taunted from afar.
He is expected to enter a plea during his arraignment on Wednesday in front of Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler.
His team of lawyers, headed by J.W. Carney, Jr., long regarded as one of the state's best criminal defense lawyers, is laying the groundwork to take the case to trial, ready to review tens of thousands of documents in the matter.
Bulger had long led the Winter Hill Gang, a mostly Irish-American organized crime operation based in Boston, and was wanted for having allegedly gunned down rivals and strangled a former lieutenant's girlfriend with his bare hands in addition to charges of drug dealing, extortion, money laundering and conspiracy.
Carney was appointed to represent Bulger by the court and is acting in the role of a public defender, where lawyers represent people who cannot pay for private lawyers.
Case preparation will be an "enormous undertaking," Carney said in a court filing, adding that "trial preparation must be thorough, effective, and cutting-edge." He requested to add his law partner, Janice Bassil, as co-counsel for Bulger.
"The length of the trial (or of multiple trials) cannot even be predicted at this time, especially where the trial of a single murder charge can last weeks," Carney wrote in the filing.
The aging gangster and his longtime companion, Catherine Greig, 60, were arrested in Santa Monica, California on June 22 only days after the government's new media campaign to find them provided the crucial tip.
During back-to-back hearings on June 30 a federal judge allowed prosecutors to dismiss a 1994 indictment against Bulger in order to focus on the more serious charges, including the murder counts, in a 1999 indictment.
(Reporting by Lauren Keiper; Editing by Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Jerry Norton)