The notorious case history of Jared Loughner’s lawyer

Meet the accused Arizona shooter's court-appointed attorney who saved the lives of the Unabomber and Moussaoui

Topics: Jared Loughner, Gabrielle Giffords,

Jared Loughner’s federal court hearing Tuesday morning kicked off what will probably become a lengthy court drama. As with all national events this tragic and visceral, there’s a risk that the public’s attention may be so caught up in the questions surrounding why the crime happened that the legal and constitutional issues involving Loughner become secondary. 

According to many, Loughner’s guilt was assumed as soon as police arrived on the scene in Tucson, Ariz. So Judy Clarke, the attorney appointed by the Phoenix Public Defender’s Office to represent Loughner, will have her hands full. The reasons for Clarke’s selection are obvious. the attorney he’s provided with will be saddled with the task of fighting that conclusion. 

Since 1995, Clarke made a name for herself defending the undefendable as an outspoken opponent of capital punishment ideologically sympathetic to the criminal class.  And, sort of like John Adams, she’s relatively good at it.  While she has never protected any of her clients from conviction, Clarke did manage in each instance to redirect the conversation from a question of guilt or innocence to that of life and death. Whether she can protect Loughner from capital punishment is yet to be seen, but her track record is excellent. 

Here is a list of the most famous cases she has worked on:

Susan Smith
In 1994, Smith drowned her two infant children and then claimed that they had actually been kidnapped by a black man who’d also stolen her car. Clarke represented her in 1995 and brought her to a life sentence. Today, Smith faces the possibility of parole.



Eric Rudolph
Known as the “Olympic Park Bomber,” Rudolph set off a series of bombs across the southern United States between 1996 and 1998 — most famously at the sight of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Clarke brought his sentence from death to multiple life sentences as part of a plea bargain.

Ted “the Unabomber” Kaczynski
The “Unabomber,” a child prodigy and Harvard graduate who for almost 20 years engaged in a letter bombing spree. His sentence was also reduced to life without parole through a plea bargain.

Zacarias Moussaoui
A conspirator of the 9/11 attacks, French citizen, and al-Qaida operative, he was convicted to a life sentence after a trial in 2006.

Justin Spees is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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