BOSTON — Defense attorneys for reputed gangster James “Whitey” Bulger have asked a judge to delay opening statements in his racketeering trial so they can investigate a claim that law enforcement protected a hit man who is expected to be a star prosecution witness.

The defense says John Martorano, who admitted killing 20 people, has committed crimes since his release from federal prison and has been shielded from investigation.

Prosecutors say the allegations have been “thoroughly debunked” after an investigation. They said the complaint was made by a disgruntled state trooper who falsely accused another trooper of ignoring allegations against Martorano.

The defense motion was filed Monday as the judge began questioning potential jurors individually. 

Openings had been scheduled for Wednesday. The judge did not immediately rule on the request for a delay.

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