A Spokane criminal defense attorney will help defend the South Carolina woman accused of drowning her two sons by sending her car into a lake with the children inside.
Judy Clarke, the chief federal defender in Spokane, will represent Susan V. Smith in the death penalty case.
“I’ve committed my life to representing the accused,” Clarke told The Associated Press in Union, S.C., on Wednesday.
“This is a very, very tragic case,” she said.
Smith is scheduled to stand trial July 10 on two counts of murdering her sons, Michael, 3, and 14-month-old Alex.
She is charged with sending her car and her kids, strapped into their car safety seats, into a lake near Union, S.C., on Oct. 25.
She initially blamed a carjacker for stealing the car and abducting her children. But nine days later she confessed, leading police to the submerged car.
Clarke, 42, is executive director of the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho. Her office represents criminal defendants in federal court who can’t afford an attorney.
Her involvement in the high-profile case will throw the national spotlight on a criminal defense attorney already highly regarded in legal circles.
She was asked to assist by her longtime friend, David Bruck, the lawyer hired by Smith’s family to defend the 23-year-old mother.
Clarke and Bruck both graduated from the University of South Carolina Law School.
South Carolina law requires two defense attorneys in death-penalty cases. The trial judge ruled that Smith qualified for appointment of a second defense attorney at taxpayers’ expense.
Clarke is considered an expert on federal sentencing guidelines and publishes a newsletter on the topic.
She regularly conducts seminars for federal defenders from throughout the United States.
Clarke will take a leave of absence from her $115,700-a-year job for an estimated three months. She’s held the federal defender’s job since 1992.
The leave was approved in late January by the federal defenders’ 14-member board of directors, said president Heidi Stanley.
Roger Peven, the chief trial attorney in the defenders office, will be acting director in Clarke’s absence.
At Smith’s next scheduled court hearing on Feb. 28, Bruck is expected to announce whether he will pursue an insanity defense or a plea of guilty but mentally ill, the Associated Press reported.