Leading ‘anti-death penalty’ lawyer, Judy Clarke, to defend Boston bombings suspect

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Judy Clarke has secured life sentences instead of the death penalty for high profile clients

New York

A prominent American defence lawyer known for successfully helping some of the country’s most notorious criminals avoid the death penalty has joined the legal team representing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston marathon bombings.

Judy Clarke’s former clients include Jared Lee Loughner, who was sentenced to life in prison for killing six people and wounding 13, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, in a shooting rampage in Tuscon, Arizona. She also represented Theodore Kaczynski, the so-called ‘Unabomber’, who avoided death and was locked up for life on charges related to a domestic bombing spree.

Her newest client, 19-year-old Dzhokhar, was captured following a massive manhunt on 19 April, days after two pressure-cooker bombs allegedly planted by him and his 26-year-old brother Tamerlan killed three and injured hundreds near the marathon finish in Boston. Tamerlan was killed in the early hours of April 19 following a police chase and a shootout with officers in suburban Boston.

Dzhokhar has since been charged with using a weapon of mass destruction, a reference to the pressure cooker bombs. The chargers could carry the death penalty. Ms Clarke’s appointment was requested by the suspect’s lead lawyer, Miriam Conrad, who heads the local public defender’s office. Ms Conrad is among the country’s most experienced public defenders, counting the convicted British-born “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid, 39, as one of her former clients.

Along with Ms Clarke, Ms Conrad had also requested the appointment of another death penalty expert, David Bruck. For the time being, however, Mr Bruck’s appointment has been denied by Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler, who is presiding over the case.

Last week, days before her appointment was confirmed, California-based Ms Clarke spoke of how she had been “sucked into the black hole, the vortex” of death penalty cases nearly 20 years ago when she represented Susan Smith, who was convicted of killing her two children in the mid-90s. Smith was sentenced to life behind bars.

“I got a dose of understanding human behaviour and I learned what the death penalty does to us,” she said in a speech at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles on Friday, says the Associated Press. “I don’t think it’s a secret I oppose the death penalty.”

In other developments related to the Boston bombings case, the New York Times reported investigators had obtained DNA from Tamerlan’s widow, Katherine Russell, to compare it to female DNA found on one of the bombs in the attack. Officials however told the Wall Street Journal there could be many explanations for the DNA.

Meanwhile, as the debate continues in Washington about how much US law enforcement knew about Tamerlan after being informed about his changing behaviour by the Russians in 2011, President Obama defended the way the Federal Bureau of Investigation handled the tip. “Based on what I’ve seen so far, the FBI performed its duties.”

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