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An ‘all-star team’ to defend accused Boston bomber Tsarnaev

Prosecutors have pursued an aggressive case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, so the opposition will have to be formidable, experts say.

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    Miriam Conrad represents Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
    FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER OFFICE/AP
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One has been called “America’s most reviled lawyer” – and she’s not even the one who defended the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.

Miriam Conrad and Judy Clarke are two of the lawyers defending accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and they are part of what amounts to an all-star team.

It will be formidable opposition for the prosecution, says Christopher Dearborn, a law professor at Suffolk University. But it will have to be formidable, as the prosecution has pursued an aggressive case from Mr. Tsarnaev’s first bedside arraignment in a Boston hospital three days after he was captured.

The lawyers might be maligned, or worse. But, most likely, it won’t be anything new.

Ms. Conrad, the head of Boston’s Federal Public Defender Office, will be Tsarnaev’s lead counsel. She has been described as everything from a terrorist sympathizer to an enemy combatant. The Detroit Free Press wrote that she “may have become America’s most reviled lawyer” after deciding to represent Tsarnaev.

She also has represented convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid and Rezwan Ferdaus, who is serving 17 years for his role in a 2011 plot to bomb the Pentagon and US Capitol with remote-controlled model airplanes.

A former newspaper reporter, Conrad has talked about the satisfaction she gets representing clients who are often reviled.

“There are very few clients I’ve had who I didn’t like,” she told the Rhode Island Lawyers Weekly. “If you scratch the surface, many have had difficult lives, and as their lawyer, I sort of see them whole, not just as a person charged with a crime.”

Because the federal government is pursuing the death penalty against Tsarnaev, federal law allowed Conrad to add at least one lawyer to her team with experience in death penalty cases. Though her request for two was denied, she was able to add Ms. Clarke, a renowned death penalty lawyer.

Clarke’s list of high-profile cases include Mr. Kaczynski and Jared Loughner, who shot former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011.

Both clients received life sentences instead of the death penalty.

Clarke rarely comments publicly on her work, but at a legal conference in Los Angeles in April 2013 – not long after the Boston bombings, but before she joined Tsarnaev’s defense team – she discussed how she had gotten “sucked into” death penalty cases 19 years before when she represented Susan Smith, a mother who drowned her two children.

“I got a dose of understanding human behavior and I learned what the death penalty does to us,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a secret that I oppose the death penalty.”

Martin Weinberg, a Boston defense lawyer, calls Clarke a “terrific choice.”

“In a case when the system needs to work at its best, at its highest, there’s a call to bring in an out-of-state specialist,” Mr. Weinberg says. “Mr. Tsarnaev is going to get a terrific defense, and that is what the system requires.”

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