The Boston Globe
Just before 10 a.m. on Saturday, January 8, 2011, Jared Lee Loughner got out of a taxi at a Safeway supermarket north of Tucson. He walked inside the store to get change for the fare. When he came out, he approached US Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was greeting constituents near the entrance. He pulled out a Glock 19 semiautomatic pistol and began firing.
Giffords was struck in the head but survived. Six people were killed, including a federal judge, a Giffords aide, and 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green. Loughner wounded more than a dozen others before bystanders tackled him. The attack, one in a string of mass shootings around the country, elicited shock. “If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today,” President Obama told a tearful nation a few days later.
The 22-year-old Loughner was a local kid. He’d grown up in a middle-class home minutes from the Safeway and had attended community college nearby. Still, it was easy, after his unconscionable act of violence, to see the face of a monster in his disturbing mug shot grin. As if he had forfeited citizenship in the human race.
Two days after the shooting, a judge approved Judy Clarke as one of Loughner’s attorneys. Clarke, a San Diego-based lawyer widely considered one of the nation’s top criminal defenders, spent almost two years at Loughner’s side, guiding him through hearings, investigations into his mental competency, and preparations for a possible trial. Her objective was clear throughout: to save him from execution.
Loughner didn’t make it easy. Reuben Camper Cahn, a federal defender who worked alongside Clarke, said Loughner’s mental illness was among the most severe he’s seen in more than 25 years of practice. Clarke was in Loughner’s corner, but Loughner lunged at her on at least one occasion. He spat at her. He threw a plastic chair at a psychologist.
And yet Clarke and her team stuck by him anyway, like the old man in a Buddhist proverb who tries to save a drowning scorpion despite its repeated stings. Clarke’s persistence paid off. In August 2012, Loughner pleaded guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without parole.
The outcome, to those who follow her career, was vintage Judy Clarke: Take on someone accused of a terrible crime, get to know his background intimately, and then persuade the judicial system to spare his life, on the basis that no one should be judged solely on his worst act. “It’s a hell of a fight as a defense lawyer,” she once said.
Picture: Ingfbruno (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons