By Daniel Lovering
BOSTON (Reuters) - Former Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger on Friday called his trial on murder and racketeering charges "a sham" and declined to take the witness stand, as his defense rested its case.
"My thing is, as far as I'm concerned ... this is a sham and do what you want with me," Bulger, 83, told U.S. District Court Judge Denise Casper in the Boston court house after his lawyer announced he would not testify.
Separately, Massachusetts prosecutors said they believed the death of a witness in the Bulger trial last month was unrelated to the case. They said the man, Steven Rakes, had apparently been poisoned by a business associate who "acted alone."
Bulger, once Boston's most-feared criminal, was charged with participating in the murders of 19 people while heading Boston's Winter Hill crime gang in the 1970s and '80s. He has pleaded not guilty, though his lawyers have admitted he was involved in extortion, drug smuggling and loan sharking.
Casper asked Bulger whether his choice not to testify in his defense was voluntary.
Standing in a dark collarless shirt, and trademark jeans and white sneakers, Bulger responded: "I'm making the choice involuntarily because I feel I've been choked off of the opportunity to give an adequate defense."
Bulger was listed as an FBI informant for years while running the Winter Hill Gang and claimed to have struck a deal with a now-deceased assistant U.S. attorney protecting him from prosecution, but Casper ruled he has no immunity.
He fled Boston in 1994 on a tip from a corrupt FBI agent that arrest was imminent. He was on the FBI's most wanted list for years, but was not captured until 2011.
Lawyers for both sides are scheduled to present closing arguments in the case on Monday, and the jury is expected to begin deliberations on Tuesday.
Bulger was "at peace" with his decision not to testify, his attorney J.W. Carney told reporters outside the court house.
"I met with him afterwards. He was very calm and very pleased that he made the decision that he did, because he feels it was the right one," he said.
'HANDS ON KILLER'
Government prosecutors presented seven weeks worth of testimony from former FBI agents, hit men, drug smugglers, extortion victims, and family members of the dead to paint Bulger as a "hands-on killer".
Witnesses, including former partners of Bulger's, said he strangled women, gunned down "rats" who talked too much, and threatened drug dealers and businessmen with pistols and machine guns to force them to hand over cash.
Defense lawyers sought to undermine the testimony, saying many prosecution witnesses were ex-criminals who had cut plea deals, and that FBI files came from a Boston office that was tainted by corruption and mismanagement.
In the midst of the trial, Rakes turned up dead in a Boston suburb. He had attended the trial almost daily, and was a potential witness in the government's case who claimed Bulger strong-armed him to sell his South Boston liquor store for pennies on the dollar.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said on Friday that police had arrested one of Rakes' business partners, William Camuti, on charges that he gave Rakes a coffee laced with cyanide. A spokeswoman for Ryan, Stephanie Guyotte, said prosecutors believe Camuti "acted alone".
Bulger's story has captured Boston's imagination for decades, and recalled a dark period for Boston's FBI when corrupt agents wined and dined gangsters and gave them tips that helped them evade arrest and identify snitches.
His story inspired the character played by Jack Nicholson in Martin Scorsese's 2006 Academy Award-winning film "The Departed."
Bulger was finally captured in 2011 in Santa Monica, California, where he had been living with his girlfriend in an apartment with stacks of cash and weapons.
(Reporting by Daniel Lovering; Writing and additional reporting by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by David Gregorio)