I write today to honor Judy Clarke, whom I know personally and professionally. In my opinion, she is the best and most effective death penalty lawyer in this country. In no small measure, Jared Loughner, Ted Kaczynski and Susan Smith owe their lives to her.
You know about Jared Loughner. With malice in mind and armed with a gun, he showed up at a meet-and-greet event conducted by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in a parking lot outside a supermarket in Tucson. He attempted to kill her by shooting her at point blank range in the head. She survived but six others, including a child, did not. Eleven others were wounded. Jared Loughner will not be executed for his horrific crimes. Instead, he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Ted Kaczynski is better known as the Unabomber. He engaged in a nation-wide bombing campaign against modern technology between 1978 and 1995 by planting or mailing numerous home-made bombs, killing three people and injuring 23 others. He will not be executed for his crimes. Instead, he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Susan Smith killed her two young boys by trapping them in her vehicle and driving it into a lake drowning them. She told the police that an African-American man stole her car with the two boys in it and she made a plea on national television for the return of her children. She later confessed to killing them and was convicted of their murders by a jury on July 22, 1995. Instead of sentencing her to death, a South Carolina jury spared her life and she will be eligible for parole on November 4, 2024.
Judy Clarke is almost invisible. She never seeks publicity and never attempts to try her cases in the court of public opinion. She treats her clients with the utmost respect and works quietly and diligently behind the scenes to gain their trust. She humanizes them to others. Perhaps better than any lawyer I know, she understands the First Commandment of Criminal Defense:
Thou canst not create a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, no matter how good you are. Some cases are dead-bang losers and you must be able to identify and dispose of them, if at all possible, without going to trial. That usually involves a plea bargain and a guilty plea.
She never shies away from a trial, however, and is very effective in trial, as the Susan Smith case proves. But she does not try loser cases, unless there is no alternative. The results speak for themselves.
Judy always gives credit to those who work with and assist her, realizing that she could not do what she does without their help.
I know how good you are, Judy.
Congratulations on your successful efforts to save Jared’s life.