BOSTON — More than 16 years after he fled Boston, former crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of participating in 19 murders and committing a host of other crimes dating back to the 1970s.
Mr. Bulger said "not guilty" in a subdued but clear voice during his arraignment on the 32-count racketeering indictment as his two brothers watched from the front row.
Mr. Bulger, a former top-echelon FBI informant, fled in late 1994 after receiving a tip from his FBI handler that he was about to be charged in another case that has since been dismissed. Now 81, Mr. Bulger escaped prosecution until he was captured last month in Santa Monica, Calif.
The courtroom Wednesday was packed with spectators, reporters, family members of Mr. Bulger's alleged victims and a collection of law enforcement officials who investigated Mr. Bulger during his decades as the reputed leader of the notorious Winter Hill gang.
Mr. Bulger nodded to his brothers, John Bulger and former Massachusetts Senate President William Bulger, as he was led into the courtroom in shackles and an orange prison jumpsuit. He did not speak during the 15-minute hearing except to enter his pleas.
Retired state police Col. Tom Foley was in court and said seeing Mr. Bulger in that fashion brought him "a little bit of relief." "Seeing him walk in in handcuffs - a broken man - was some kind of satisfaction to me, personally," he said.
During the hearing, Mr. Bulger's court-appointed attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., asked that his law partner, Janice Bassil, be appointed as Mr. Bulger's co-counsel. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler said that no appointment was needed because lawyers at the same firm are allowed to assist each other in cases.
Judge Bowler also said she would consider adding another attorney to the case if Mr. Carney requested it.
Prosecutors suggested that they may still seek to challenge Mr. Bulger's claim that he is indigent and cannot afford to pay for a private attorney. Judge Bowler granted his request for a taxpayer-funded attorney last week, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly said prosecutors plan to file additional court documents within the next two weeks on the issue.
"There is an ongoing issue as to whether there are any assets available," Mr. Kelly said during Wednesday's hearing.
Prosecutors argued earlier that Mr. Bulger might be able to get financial assistance from his brother William. But Mr. Bulger's provisional attorney said no one in Mr. Bulger's family has come forward to help pay for his defense.
Prosecutors said federal agents found more than $800,000 in cash from Mr. Bulger's Santa Monica apartment, but authorities have seized that money as proceeds from illegal activity.
A lawyer who represents the family of one of Mr. Bulger's alleged victims went to court Wednesday to ask that a lien be placed on the money.
The attorney, James Riley Jr., asked that two brothers of Michael Milano be given standing to make a claim to Mr. Bulger's seized assets to settle a $2.2 million wrongful death judgment that the family won in 2002.
An initial status conference for Mr. Bulger is scheduled for Sept. 14.