Unabomber Lawyer Chosen to Defend Boston Bombing Suspect

Attorney Judy Clarke
Judy Clarke, a former U.S. public defender in San Diego and Spokane, Washington, now in private practice, is known as an expert on death penalty cases, especially those where mental illness is an issue. Source: Washington and Lee University School of Law via Bloomberg

April 30 (Bloomberg) -- A judge approved the appointment of the lawyer who represented convicted 1996 Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph to the legal defense team of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler in Boston yesterday approved Federal Public Defender Miriam Conrad’s request to hire Judy Clarke, who has represented some of America’s most infamous murder and terrorism convicts, including “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, to expand the defense’s expertise in federal death penalty cases. Prosecutors haven’t said if they’ll seek a death sentence.

“In light of the circumstances in this case, the defendant requires an attorney with more background, knowledge and experience in federal death penalty cases than that possessed by current counsel,” Bowler said. The appointment will “provide the defendant with adequate and proper representation.”

U.S. authorities said Dzhokhar, 19, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, his older brother, detonated two homemade bombs near the race’s finish line April 15, killing three people and injuring more than 200. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died after a shootout with police. Dzhokhar, captured hiding in a boat in a Watertown backyard, was charged with two capital counts, including use of a weapon of mass destruction. The maximum sentence is death.

Congressional Questions

The appointment comes as members of Congress are examining whether the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency did all they could to prevent the attack.

Representative Mike McCaul, a Texas Republican and head of the House Homeland Security Committee, said yesterday he wanted to know why agencies including the Department of Homeland Security that got information from Russian intelligence in 2011 didn’t coordinate when Tamerlan Tsarnaev traveled to Russia last year.

Investigators probing whether the brothers had help planning or carrying out the attack found female DNA on a fragment from one of the two bombs, according to a U.S. official briefed on the probe. The genetic material's discovery doesn’t necessarily mean that additional people were involved, said the official, who asked not to be identified in discussing an ongoing case.

Conrad had sought approval for two lawyers with experience in federal death penalty defenses, including attorney David Bruck, a professor of law at Washington & Lee University School of Law and director of the school’s death penalty defense clinic. Bowler denied that request, saying it may be renewed later in the case.

Knowledge, Experience

Clarke’s “background, knowledge and experience enable her to provide adequate representation to the defendant,” Bowler said in the ruling. “An additional attorney at this time is neither necessary nor required.”

Clarke, a former U.S. public defender in San Diego and Spokane, Washington, now in private practice, is known as an expert on death penalty cases, especially those in which mental illness is an issue.

In the Rudolph case, perhaps the most similar to the attack in Boston, a backpack with three pipe bombs encircled by nails exploded in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park during the Olympics, killing one person and injuring more than 100 others. Investigators tied Rudolph to the attack through an analysis of bomb elements and arrested him in 2003. He pleaded guilty and is serving a life sentence.

Clarke, who practices in San Diego, also represented Jared Loughner, the Tucson, Arizona, man who shot ex-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and Susan Smith, the South Carolina mother who drowned her two children.

Conrad cited Loughner’s case in her request to hire Clarke. U.S. Magistrate Lawrence Anderson approved the appointment of Clarke and another San Diego lawyer, Mark Fleming, at Loughner’s first court appearance in January 2011.

Life Terms

Clarke also defended al-Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, who prosecutors said planned to join the 19 men who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Both men avoided the death penalty and were sentenced to life in prison.

Lawyers who have worked with Clarke describe her as a “straight-shooter” with little ego and no agenda other than defending her clients. Most of the death penalty-eligible cases she has handled, these lawyers said, resulted in plea agreements before trial.

Clarke’s work on high-profile death penalty cases began with the defense of Susan Smith in 1995. Smith, of Union, South Carolina, was accused of drowning her young sons by driving her car into a lake. The case garnered national attention because Smith initially told the police that she had been carjacked and went on television to ask that her children be freed. She later confessed to the murders.

Clarke was able to persuade the jury not to impose the death penalty by arguing that Smith suffered from mental illness and the murders were the result of a botched suicide attempt. Smith was sentenced to life in prison. Bruck worked with her on the case.

The case is U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-mj-02106, U.S. District court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Larson in New York at elarson4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Pickering at jpickering@bloomberg.net