January 11, 2011
Judy Clarke: defending our crackpot assassins
The latest star to emerge from the Tucson shootings is Judy Clarke, who will be Jared Loughner's public defender. Clarke is our nation's biggest superstar in defending world-famous psychopaths who commit mass murder. She's already defended the Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, the woman who drowned her two young sons Susan Smith, Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh, and she also helped with the defense of the US citizen charged in the 9/11 attacks, Zacarias Moussaoui.
Here's what I want to know: with such an incredibly dramatic legal career involving some of the most infamous murderers of our time, why haven't we gotten a movie based on the life and career of Judy Clarke? Or at least a TV miniseries? I'm thinking either Judy Davis or Cherry Jones to play Clarke. How about a title. "Counselor of Evil"? "The Mercy of the Court"? "Defender of the Damned"?
This is a woman who has made a life out of representing some the most hated people on the planet. Obviously, she's not going for acquittal in these cases. Clarke opposes the death penalty, and has been pretty successful at getting life sentences for her clients.
Let's look at her track record:
- Ted Kaczynski: killed 3 people, life sentence
- Susan Smith: killed 2 young sons and blamed a black man for it, life sentence with minimum 30 years
- Eric Rudolph: killed (I think) 4 people, 5 consecutive life sentences
- Zacarias Moussaoui: part of 9/11 conspiracy that killed about 3,000 people, life sentence
- Timothy McVeigh: killed 168 people, executed.
Not too bad--I'd say Loughner has a decent shot at avoiding the death penalty. Which probably means that a whole lot of people out there will continue to despise Judy Clarke.
Clarke is characterized by everyone who knows her as unassuming and low-key, avoiding all publicity and media, but she's also "tough as nails", "invisible to the press", and motivated by a strong personal objection to capital punishment. A death-penalty lawyer and friend of Clarke's says, "Judy would probably say if the public saw everything she sees, it would look at the client or the case differently."
Apparently she's really good at getting the public to see cases from her point of view: she's humanized the most monstrous killers just enough to persuade a jury to give a life sentence. I would guess this also depends on gaining the trust and cooperation of her clients. In Loughner's case, that will probably be especially hard: he sounds like a non-communicative, possibly schizophrenic nutcase. But she's done it before with other obviously mentally ill clients. Only two people other than McVeigh have been executed in the federal court system since the federal death penalty came back in 1988.
Also: her husband's name is Speedy Rice.
A tough, driven lawyer in a floppy-bow tie breaking down the defenses of child killers and terrorists, convincing the most psychopathic ideologues to plead guilty: I want to watch that movie.
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