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Filing seeks criminal checks in Boston Bulger case

BOSTON — Federal prosecutors asked the court Thursday to allow criminal background checks on potential jurors in the racketeering trial of reputed gangster James “Whitey” Bulger.

In a court filing, they cited the case of convicted killer Gary Sampson, who was sentenced to death for carjacking and killing two Massachusetts men and was also convicted of killing a New Hampshire man during a weeklong crime spree in 2001. Sampson’s sentence was set aside by a judge who found that one juror had repeatedly given dishonest answers to questions about her life.

Prosecutors said conducting background checks will help determine whether potential jurors have truthfully answered questionnaires and will minimize the possibility of a mistrial.

Bulger, 83, the former leader of the Winter Hill Gang, is scheduled to go on trial in June on an indictment accusing him of participating in 19 murders. Bulger fled Boston in late 1994 and remained one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives until he was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011.

In the filing, prosecutors argued that some federal courts, including the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, have found that criminal background checks of jurors are appropriate.

“As the Court is aware, trial of this matter will likely take several months, consume considerable resources, and have an obvious emotional impact on the victims,” the motion states. “It is thus important to take steps necessary to address potential appellate issues in the first instance.”

Bulger’s lawyers had no immediate comment, but plan to file a written response to the request.

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