How the Boston bombing suspect's stellar defense team could help him avoid the death penalty

Keith Wagstaff
The WeekApril 30, 2013
Attorney Judy Clarke joined the defense team of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

An experienced defense lawyer who represented the Unabomber and Tucson shooter Jared Loughner joins Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's team

A brief list of the clients San Diego, Calif., attorney Judy Clarke has served: Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Tucson shooter Jared Loughner, and Eric Rudolph, the man who bombed the Atlanta Olympics.

All of them avoided the death penalty. Now Clarke has joined the defense team of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who, like those other men, will probably face the death penalty in federal civilian court, according to Politico.

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Clarke joins Miriam Conrad, chief federal public defender for Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, who herself once represented "shoe bomber" Richard Reid.

What has driven Clarke to represent some of the most hated killers in the country? Her opposition to the death penalty has a lot to do with it.

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Her first high-profile defendant was Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who shocked the country in 1994 when she confessed to drowning her two sons in a lake. Smith was sentenced to life in prison for her murder conviction. That experience, according to The Associated Press, pushed Clarke on her current path:

"I got a dose of understanding human behavior, and I learned what the death penalty does to us. I don't think it's a secret that I oppose the death penalty." [Associated Press]

The fact that Conrad pushed for Clarke to join the team that will defend Tsarnaev means that Conrad most likely expects the prosecution to pursue the death penalty, as has already been widely speculated. If prosecutors do so, Clarke will probably try to convince the 19-year-old suspect to accept a life sentence without parole.

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"That is her M.O. — negotiating with the federal prosecutors and establishing a connection with her clients so that they are open and willing to plead guilty knowing that they are facing life in prison," Tamar R. Birckhead, another attorney who represented Richard Reid, told The Boston Herald.

Still, getting prosecutors to accept a plea and not pursue the death penalty could be difficult considering the amount of public outrage directed at Tsarnaev, who is suspected, along with his deceased brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, of setting off bombs that killed three and injured at least 282 people near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

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