Defense Attorney J.W. Carney speaks to science classes

The Newtonite

by Jessica Tharaud
Attorney J.W. Carney, Jr. spoke about the importance of diligent testing of forensic evidence and his experiences with client James “Whitey” Bulger to seniors from forensics and physics classes in the auditorium G-Block Nov. 24.
Now a well-known defense attorney, Carney spoke about his time as a prosecutor and the reasons why many people have been convicted only to later be exonerated. Carney prosecuted Dennis Maher, a man who was wrongly convicted of raping three women and who served nineteen years in prison before being exonerated in 2003 based on DNA evidence. When Carney apologized and asked for Maher’s forgiveness, Carney said that Maher “hugged me and said, ‘Mr. Carney, I forgave you a long time ago.’”
Carney explained the dangers of police misconduct, ineffective assistance of counsel, and experts who use false science to back up their conclusions. In particular, Carney focused on the work of the Innocence Project, a legal organization dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions. Unfortunately, Carney said, many people have been wrongfully convicted based on coerced confessions after hours of interrogation, public defenders who do not properly represent defendants, or witnesses who claim to be experts but have conclusions based on unproven scientific theories. Carney encouraged students interested in becoming forensic scientists to always use “very rigorous testing” to make sure their conclusions are correct.
Carney answered questions from students and detailed his experience defending Bulger, who is now serving two life sentences. He described Bulger as “intelligent” and “incredibly well-read,” able to quote from classic works such as Sun Yat Sen’s “The Art of War.” Carney also said that Bulger was “scary” and “mercurial,” but argued that Bulger was not an informant for police, instead bribing officers. Because of Bulger’s vast knowledge of law enforcement, Carney said that Bulger was heavily protected before his trial due to fears of assassination to prevent Bulger from speaking out on police corruption. Additionally, Carney said that Bulger was not allowed to testify about corruption that could damage law enforcement during the trial and that Bulger’s ability to contact the outside world has been greatly reduced in prison to prevent him from speaking out.
But Carney also humanized Bulger by describing the love between him and his girlfriend Catherine Greig, who is serving an eight year prison sentence for convictions related to harboring Bulger when he was a fugitive. Carney said that Bulger was very “upset” about being separated from Grieg and that Bulger wrote her a letter on Carney’s legal pad. Carney said that when he went to see Grieg in prison, he showed her the pad and allowed her to write a letter in return to Bulger. “I shuttled love letters between them,” Carney said. And when Bulger read Greig’s letter, Carney explained that “the most feared person in Boston began sobbing.”