Representing accused terrorists strains public defenders

Updated
John_Adams_Courthouse_SJC_Massachusetts
John_Adams_Courthouse_SJC_Massachusetts



The Massachusetts Public Defenders Office tasked with defending Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has recently had to take 16 furlough days as a result of the sequester, the Boston Globe reported.  The office’s 24 lawyers are required to represent low-income defendants in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

The already strained office was handed an enormous new responsibility April 19 when the 19-year old suspect was arrested by federal law enforcement.

Stephen Jones, who felt the burden of trying a terrorism case as Timothy McVeigh’s public defender in the Oklahoma City bombing case, said he had to protect his family from people opposed to his defense before even setting foot in court.

“I just sort of put my emotional life on hold for two and a half years, the carnage was so great, the pressure and scrutiny was so intense that it really was difficult to do anything else but focus on the task at hand and after it was over with…it took six or seven months until I was able, emotionally, to resume the practice of law and live what might be called a normal life,” Jones said on Weekends with Alex Witt Sunday.

“The practice of law…had convinced me that things are often not what they seem at first glance,” he said of ignoring media reports during the duration of the trial.

In the Boston Marathon case, Jones said lawyers could seek a settlement negotiation to avoid a death sentence.

Another route would be to challenge the government’s argument, or by claiming a lack of mental competence on behalf of Tsarnaev. If the government rejects the idea of a plea deal, the defense may try to leverage the defendant’s position as a key informant to the details of the conception and execution of the terrorist plot, perhaps exchanging information for some measure of leniency.

The government’s willingness to reduce Tsarnaev’s sentence for information on terrorist activities may hinge upon interrogations that have yet to take place.

The admissibility of any statements made by Tsarnaev under the “public safety exception” prior to being read his Miranda rights is far from certain according to Jones. “I think it would be an uphill battle to introduce any of that against him at trial,” he said.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was formally charged with the April 15 bombing of the Boston Marathon last Monday and has since been transferred to the Bureau of Prisons facility FMC Devens at Ft. Devens, Massachusetts.

Representing accused terrorists strains public defenders

Updated