The lawyer who is defending Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in court has a well-known track record of getting her clients life sentences instead of the death penalty.
Prominent death penalty lawyer Judy Clarke previously defended Susan Smith, who drowned her two children, Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, and Tucson shooter Jared Loughner.
She’s now defending 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who has been charged with planting two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The attack killed three people and injured more than 200 others in 2013.
Clarke spoke about her previous work defending death penalty clients two years ago at a legal conference.
“I got a dose of understanding human behaviour and I learned what the death penalty does to us,” she said at the event, according to the Associated Press. “I don’t think it’s a secret that I oppose the death penalty.”
Clarke said that most of her death penalty clients have suffered from severe trauma.
“Many suffer from severe cognitive development issues that affect the core of their being,” she said.
In some cases, Clarke has to convince her clients to plead guilty in order to avoid the death penalty.
“Our job is to provide them with a reason to live,” Clarke said.
Leading Tsarnaev’s defence team is a public defender who has represented other accused terrorists. Miriam Conrad is known for defending “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and Rezwan Ferdaus, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison after admitting he plotted to blow up the Pentagon and the Capitol.
Conrad told Rhode Island Lawyers Weekly why she represents such defendants.
“If you scratch the surface, many have had difficult lives, and, as their lawyer, I sort of see them whole — not just as a person charged with a crime,” she said in the interview. “No one has ever stood up for them, and that is a very powerful, emotional thing.”
Although Tsarnaev entered pleaded not guilty to the charges against him in 2013, in court on Wednesday, Clarke admitted that he was guilty of participating in the attack.
She told the court: “The evidence will not establish and we will not argue that Tamerlan put a gun to Dzhokhar’s head or that he forced him to join in the plan, but you will hear evidence about the kind of influence that this older brother had.”
Clarke also held up two photos of the brothers — one from years before the marathon attack and the second from the scene of the bombing where they’re shown carrying backpacks containing explosives, according to the AP. She then asked the jury: “What took Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from this … to this?”
Tsarnaev’s defence team appears to be focusing solely on saving him from the death penalty. His older brother Tamerlan, whom the defence appears to be portraying as the mastermind behind the bombing, died in 2013 during a manhunt for the brothers in Watertown, Massachusetts.
Authorities say anger over US wars in Muslim lands motivated the brothers, both ethnic Chechens who moved to the US from Russia more than 10 years ago, to carry out the plot, according to the AP.