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Whitey Bulger Gets 2 Life Sentences for Murder

Notorious crime boss Whitey Bulger was sentenced to two life sentences plus five years on Thursday as punishment for his murder and racketeering convictions.

Jurors in August convicted 84-year-old James "Whitey" Bulger for participating in 11 killings in the 1970s and 80s. Bulger will most likely spend the rest of his life in prison, CBS News reports.

How did the court reach Bulger's sentence?

Victim Impact Statements

In 1982, Congress passed the Victim and Witness Protection Act (VWPA) which provided restitution for crime victims and allowed courts to use "victim impact statements" in sentencing hearings. The federal law still allows victims of crimes to be "reasonably heard" at a sentencing hearing, and many relatives of Bulger's victims were present during his sentencing.

Sean McGonagle was one of them. McGonagle's father was gunned down by Bulger in 1974; Bulger then called the boy to say he was "Santa Claus" and that his father "won't be coming home for Christmas." On Wednesday, McGonagle was finally given a chance to confront his father's killer. He called Bulger "Satan" and "a domestic terrorist fueled by greed and sickening evil."

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, these statements allow victims to describe the "emotional, physical, and financial impact" victims and others have suffered as a result of the defendant's crime.

In Bulger's case, there were more than enough victims and victims' relatives to make a decent showing of disdain for his crimes. Judge Denise Casper even called Bulger's crimes "heinous," CBS News reports.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines

Ultimately, Bulger's sentence was a combination of a pre-sentence report and the federal sentencing guidelines. Using these guidelines provides a court with precise calculations as to how many years a defendant should serve for his or her crimes based on:

  • The severity of the convicted offenses,
  • The details of the defendant's criminal history,
  • Acceptance of responsibility for the defendant's crimes, and
  • Whether the defendant is a career criminal.

For the infamous Boston mob boss, the nexus between these calculations and the less calculable impact of his crimes led the federal court to sentence him to two life sentences plus five years for his crimes.

It is unclear from initial reports whether Bulger's sentences were to run consecutively or concurrently, but given his advanced age, it likely won't matter.

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