By Richard Valdmanis
BOSTON (Reuters) - The statute of limitations does not shield James "Whitey" Bulger from murder and racketeering charges stemming from crimes more than 30 years old, the judge overseeing the Boston mobster's trial told the jury on Wednesday.
U.S. District Court Judge Denise Casper also set the jury straight on a question about the complicated racketeering law that was raised on the second day of deliberations after nearly eight weeks of testimony.
The jury of eight men and four women approached the judge twice. They asked whether any of Bulger's alleged crimes were committed too far in the past for him to be held accountable, and whether jurors needed to be unanimous on his alleged acts of racketeering for a finding.
Bulger, 83, faces life in prison if convicted on a list of charges including 19 murders he is accused of committing or ordering while heading Boston's Winter Hill Gang in the 1970s and '80s.
Casper reminded jurors the statute of limitations cannot erase racketeering charges, and also clarified jury procedures around the most complicated of the 32 criminal counts that Bulger faces, the racketeering offense.
That count includes 38 individual acts including all 19 murders. Casper explained that while jurors must be unanimous to find Bulger guilty of any individual act, he only needed to be guilty of two of those acts to be guilty of that racketeering count.
"If you cannot reach unanimous agreement ... you should make no finding to that act and move on to the next act," Casper instructed the jury. The jury will take up its third day of deliberations on Thursday.
Jurors began deliberations on Tuesday after 36 days of mostly gruesome testimony. Former hit men, FBI agents, drug dealers and other witnesses described brazen killings, corruption of law enforcement, massive drugs and weapons heists and harrowing extortion encounters.
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.
Around midday 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 courtroom discussions.
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)