The attorney defending the man accused in last week’s Tucson shooting rampage cut her teeth in capital murder cases in South Carolina, where her national reputation for saving defendants from death chambers began.
In 1995, Judy Clarke, a Furman University graduate, joined the defense team that persuaded a Union County jury to spare the life of Susan Smith, who has become the face of mothers who kill their children.
After leaving South Carolina, Clarke won life sentences for Unibomber Ted Kaczynski and Atlanta Olympics serial bomber Eric Rudolph. She also worked on the life-saving defense of 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. Such infamous clients helped cement the 58-year-old’s reputation as arguably the nation’s leading death penalty defense lawyer, said David Bruck, who recruited Clarke to help him defend Smith.
Clarke now is representing Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old charged with killing six people, including a federal judge, and wounding Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others. It is widely speculated that Loughner will face the death penalty.
“She naturally gravitates toward the underdog, and there is no greater underdog than the person accused in a capital case,” Bruck said Thursday from Washington and Lee University’s law school in Virginia, where he is on the faculty. He said Clarke has the work ethic and ability to connect with even the most heinous defendants, learn their motivations and use that knowledge to save them from the executioner.
“She’s everything you could want in a lawyer,” said Bruck, himself a nationally known death penalty opponent.
Self-effacing, media-shy and a staunch death penalty opponent, Clarke has deep ties to the Palmetto State that date to the early 1970s. The Asheville, N.C., native attended Furman University and became its first female student body president, Bruck said.
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