Criminal Justice

Top death-penalty defense lawyer says 'our job is to provide them with a reason to live'

Ordinarily, Judy Clarke has little to say about her work on high-profile death-penalty cases.

But at a Friday conference, she said it was a privilege to defend clients such as Susan Smith, who drowned her children, Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski and Jared Loughner, who killed a federal judge while killing and injuring others at a rally for then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., reports the Huffington Post.

Clarke said most such clients have suffered severe abuse, and the challenge of representing them is to persuade them to face the fact that a guilty plea and a lengthy prison term may be the best possible resolution of a crime that will affect the way they are perceived for the rest of their lives.

Initially, most resist the idea of a plea bargain. But, as a veteran defense lawyer once told her, picking the jury is a first step toward a capital conviction, said Clarke, who currently is a visiting law professor at Washington and Lee University.

“They’re looking into the lens of life in prison in a box,” she said of clients in death-penalty cases. “Our job is to provide them with a reason to live.”

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