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Bulger shoots blanks

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It was always going to come to this, and yesterday, J.W. Carney made it official: Whitey Bulger’s upcoming murder trial will be as much about Bulger’s sordid relationship with law enforcement as it will be about the 19 murders Bulger’s former gang associates say he participated in.

Carney, Bulger’s attorney, secured a four-month delay in the gangster’s murder trial yesterday. He also mapped out a strategy for trying to avoid trial altogether, claiming Bulger had immunity from prosecution because Bulger passed tips about the Boston mafia to the FBI. He then used his relationship with the FBI to squeeze out his underworld rivals from the North End and run a decades-long criminal enterprise with impunity. Carney is arguing that this impunity is tantamount to legal immunity.

“A representative of the federal government promised James Bulger immunity for any crimes he committed or any crimes he would commit,” Carney argued yesterday. He threatened to call a number of boldface names as witnesses to bolster that claim, including former governor William Weld, current FBI Director Robert Mueller, Bulger’s former handler (and current convict) John Connolly, and Richard Stearns, the judge who is presiding over Bulger’s murder trial, and who formerly headed the US attorney’s criminal division in Boston.

“The defendant will show that a pattern of corruption and misconduct occurred at many levels of the federal government in an effort to enforce its immunity agreement with the defendant,” Carney wrote in court papers filed yesterday. “The criminal division’s failure to prosecute the defendant while Judge Stearns was its chief is corroboration of the Department of Justice’s grant of immunity to the defendant.”

The timing of Bulger’s immunity claim feels odd, given that the South Boston gangster fled town in 1995 to avoid prosecution, and then spent 16 years holed up in a rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica. Howie Carr riffs on that theme today, calling Bulger’s immunity claim “a rosary,” not just a Hail Mary. Carr also predicts Bulger will try to pin the immunity offer on somebody who can’t testify against him, like deceased federal lawmen Jeremiah O’Sullivan or H. Paul Rico. “This immunity defense has been used before, by Stevie Flemmi,” Carr writes. “How’d that one work out for the Rifleman?”

It’s notable that Connolly -- who is currently hoping that Bulger will spring him from a Florida prison -- appears to have contradicted Bulger’s immunity claim, well over a decade before his lawyer floated it.

In 1998, when the Globe’s Spotlight Team was digging deep into Connolly’s handling of Bulger, Connolly claimed that he was no lone wolf, as he said some inside the Boston FBI were making him out to be. “In Globe interviews, he said that from the start the FBI and the Justice Department allowed Bulger and Flemmi to commit certain crimes short of murder and approved of how he managed the pair,” the paper wrote. The problem for Carney’s defense, of course, is that the current case against Bulger isn’t about extortion or racketeering or other crimes short of murder. It’s only about murder. Even John Connolly says he didn’t clear Bulger for that.

                                                                                                                                                        --PAUL MCMORROW


BEACON HILL

The Senate joins the House in passing a bill that would allow retailers to deploy scanners rather than stamping prices on individual items in their stores, State House News reports (via CommonWealth).

CASINOS

The state gambling commission hears testimony on the destruction wrought by compulsive gambling, but seems unsure as to what to do about it. Margery Eagan compares the hearing to “watching Medellin Cartel drug thugs give seminars on cocaine addiction.”

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The Supreme Court strikes down the harshest elements of Arizona’s immigration law. The National Review offers its symposium on the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling. While most on the right hail the decision to retain the most controversial aspect of the law, at least one expert cautions to read the wording carefully because the decision holds open future challenges. There’s something in the ruling to make everyone unhappy. The Arizona ruling deepens Mitt Romney’s immigration muddle, Time reports, while it gives President Obama a political opening. Gov. Deval Patrick tells immigrant activists he’s on their side after the Arizona ruling, the State House News reports (via Lowell Sun). In an editorial, the Eagle-Tribune criticizes Patrick for standing with illegal immigrants and not the law.

Citizens United is not going away.

The strategic new mantra of gay marriage advocates? “Family values,” reports National Journal’s Jim O’Sullivan.

ELECTION 2012

Members of a South Coast consortium criticized Sen. Scott Brown for refusing a debate in that region that Elizabeth Warren has accepted.

President Obama raises millions in Boston, NECN reports. Dan Kennedy takes a stroll near Symphony Hall and sends out some tweets and pictures of the scene prior to the president’s arrival last night.

The Wall Street Journal looks at the potential for Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Minnesota to remake the electoral map.

CHARITY

How smart do you have to be to run the MacArthur Foundation “genius” program? Economist Cecilia Conrad, a Wellesley College grad, will find out.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A new report says looming defense department cuts could cost Massachusetts 30,000 jobs.

A state board is scheduled to vote today on tax breaks totalling tens of millions of dollars for more than dozen companies, the Globe reports.

In a CommonWealth Voices column, former state transportation official Peter O’Connor asks what Vidal Sassoon has to do with public private partnerships that work.

The Beverly Golf & Tennis Club is ordered to become handicap accessible by the end of the year, the Salem News reports.

Home sales in Massachusetts jumped in May.

EDUCATION

Time does a Q&A with education visionary Deborah Kenny.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

This bears repeating: A black bear was spotted in Brookline last night, possibly the same one who has been seen in Needham, Norwood, Dedham, and Medfield over the weekend, but likely not the one who just finished a Cape vacation.

Homeowners near flooding areas are being urged to lock in flood insurance rates before the new federal flood map goes into effect July 17. The changes could potentially reclassify low- to moderate-risk homes into high-risk and trigger premiums as much as nine times higher.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

By a 5-4 ruling, the US Supreme Court strikes down mandatory life terms for juveniles convicted of murder, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Globe reports that the ruling could affect the sentences of 61 Massachusetts prisoners who are serving life sentences for murders committed when they were under 18 years old.

Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith explains in The New Republic why eagerly awaited Supreme Court decisions like the health care case rarely get leaked.

Seven corrections officers are hospitalized after melee at Shirley prison, the Lowell Sun reports.

The Middleboro swear-in to profanely protest the town’s anti-cussing bylaw resulted in no citations being issued but one woman wore a great T-shirt: “I’m from Middleboro, I swear!”

MEDIA

Porn is facing the same problem as journalism: fewer and fewer people are willing to pay for it, the Atlantic reports.

News Corp. is considering splitting in two, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Former state senator Jarrett Barrios, now CEO of the American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts, is Greater Boston’s “1 Guest” and he talks about his political career and telling his family he is gay.

More on Boston.com’s venture into radio, from the Nieman Journalism Lab.

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