Arizona shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner has been assigned high-profile federal defender Judy Clarke as his attorney, who is known for being one of the best at fending off death-penalty sentences for her clients.
When Loughner appeared in Phoenix federal court this afternoon, Clarke was officially named his attorney.
Clarke most famously defended the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski; Eric Rudolph, the Atlanta Olympics and abortion clinic bomber; al-Qaida terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in the 9/11 attacks. She was also on the team that represented Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, and she co-defended Susan Smith, who drowned her two children.
Why would someone take on such a horrifying client list?
Jack King of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, who was hired by Clarke when she was president of that group, tells The Lookout she takes on these tough cases because "she has a really good heart and she's a really outstanding lawyer."
Associates told the Associated Press in a 2005 profile that Clarke tries to keep these criminals off death row because she's a passionate opponent of the death penalty. Clarke rarely gives interviews, and hasn't responded to our request for comment. And Heather Williams, first assistant federal public defender in Arizona, told The Lookout that Clarke won't be allowed to comment on the case if she is appointed.
"She just doesn't believe in the death penalty, so she does everything she can to keep that from happening," Doug Jones told the AP in 2005. Jones was the U.S. attorney in Alabama when the state brought charges against Rudolph for bombing an abortion clinic.
"She's straightforward, she's direct, she's honest. That's essential in the process of convincing a client that he should spend the rest of his life in a steel cage," David Bruck, her co-defender in the Smith case, told the AP in 2005.
In past cases, Clarke has seemed very relaxed and comfortable with her murderous clients. CNN's Don Knapp noted in 1998 that she seemed physically very close with Kaczynski, who spent 20 years on a mail-bombing spree that killed three people and injured 23 more. "Every day in the courtroom, she has her hands on his shoulders, her hand on his back, she looks very intently into his face and talks to him as though to somewhat stabilize him," Knapp said in 1998.
Clarke may need those skills with Loughner. He has not said a word to authorities since he was taken into custody and charged with attempted assassination and four other federal counts, according to Sheriff Clarence Dupnik.
The death penalty will probably be sought, a San Diego attorney told NBC.
When Clarke co-defended Smith, a South Carolina woman convicted of drowning her two little boys, she seemed annoyed by all the media attention. "The only thing that's unusual to me about this case is the level of intensity you guys have towards wanting to know everything," Clarke said on CNN at the time, in 1995.
She argued that Smith could not receive a fair trail anywhere in the United States, and she helped persuade a jury not to give Smith the death penalty. She donated her $83,000 fee to a group that helps low-income people find lawyers in capital punishment cases.
"She spent thousands of dollars of her own money traveling between San Diego and South Carolina, and she had to take an unpaid leave of absence to argue that case and convince the jury that Mrs. Smith did not deserve the death penalty," King said. Smith was "probably the most hated person in America" at that point, he added.
Clarke also defended child killer Joseph Duncan of Boise, Idaho, and white supremacist Buford Furrow, who attacked a Jewish day care center in Los Angeles in 1999.
She is no doubt much more used to media attention swirling around her cases now.
"There's just a handful of people in the country who could handle this case," King says. "She's the best."
King says the best thing to do would be to request a change of venue to another federal court, as was done in the Oklahoma bombing case. Lawyers could request a change of venue to a state where there's no death penalty, which often means a jury pool less favorable to a federal death penalty sentence. But the prosecution would probably object.
The case may also face a delay if Loughner is found mentally incompetent, King added. A second lawyer will also be appointed to defend Loughner.
U.S. District Judge John Roll, 63; Christina Taylor Green, 9; and four others were killed in the attack Saturday.
(Photo of Clarke and courtroom sketch of her with Kaczynski: AP)