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Now She’ll Help Defend Unabomber Suspect Judy Clarke Had High Profile Last Year In Susan Smith Case

A Spokane lawyer is back in the national spotlight, defending a notorious accused killer for the second time in two years.

Lawyers assigned to Unabomber suspect Theodore Kaczynski are turning to Judy Clarke, the top federal public defender in Eastern Washington and Idaho.

Clarke’s stock soared after she helped convince a South Carolina jury to spare Susan Smith’s life last year.

On Tuesday, the federal defender in Sacramento, Calif., said he has filed papers seeking Clarke’s appointment as co-counsel in the Unabomber case.

The announcement confirms what legal observers in Spokane already know: Clarke is one of the nation’s top criminal defense attorneys.

“It’s not news that Judy is among the best and brightest,” said Jeffry Finer, vice president of the board that oversees federal defenders in Spokane.

What is new, Finer said, is the method being used to build a defense team for Kaczynski.

Federal Defender Quin Denvir is assembling a group of other federal defenders from around the country to counter the massive prosecution effort by the Justice Department, Finer said.

Clarke will work on loan to the Sacramento office, and her work in Spokane will be absorbed by existing staff. She will remain in consultation with the Spokane office on administrative matters, Finer said.

She earns about $120,000 a year.

In the papers filed Tuesday, Denvir asked U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell to appoint Clarke to the case. A status conference is scheduled for Friday.

“We’re still figuring out who else will be working with us on the case,” Denvir told reporters. “As of now, we hope to do it within the defender system.”

Clarke reportedly has discussed the case with Kaczynski.

“Mr. Kaczynski has met on several occasions with Ms. Clarke and is agreeable to her appointment as counsel,” Denvir wrote in his application to the judge.

A staunch opponent of the death penalty, Clarke helped convince jurors that Smith did not deserve to die for drowning her two young sons in a lake near Union, S.C.

Smith confessed to strapping the boys into her car and rolling it into the water. Clarke argued the woman was suffering from despair. She told the jury “hopelessness is not malice.”

Clarke’s experience in South Carolina is a major asset should the government seek the death penalty for Kaczynski.

Kaczynski was arrested April 3 at his remote mountain cabin near Lincoln, Mont., and is indicted on seven of 16 explosions linked to the Unabomber. The decision on whether to seek the death penalty rests with U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

In Spokane, attorneys and law professors hailed Clarke’s legal skills.

“She’s superbly qualified,” said Professor Frank Conklin of Gonzaga Law School.

Clarke combines her extensive legal experience with poise before a jury and a detailed knowledge of federal criminal law, Conklin said.

“She’s very skillful in the courtroom,” said attorney Dick Cease, former public defender for Spokane County and a member of the federal defenders board.

Clarke was traveling Tuesday and did not return phone messages.

A federal defender for 17 years, she worked in San Diego before coming to Spokane four years ago. Clarke is on the executive committee of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and is slated next month to become president of the 8,000-member group.

Clarke holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Furman University in South Carolina and studied law at the University of South Carolina.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Mike Prager Staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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