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"Knowing how credible he is, I wonder why it didn’t stop there," she said. "This guy is no more a terrorist than Pope John Paul."
In the case of Rezwan Ferdaus, a Massachusetts man accused of plotting to attack the U.S. Capitol and Pentagon with remote-controlled model planes, Conrad suggested his plot was just a fantasy fueled by mental health problems. Ferdaus received a 17-year sentence after pleading guilty to attempting to provide material support to terrorists and other charges.
In a 2006 interview with Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, Conrad said she does not see her clients in one-dimensional terms.
"From a personal standpoint, I would say that there are very few clients I have had who I didn’t like," she said.
"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," she said. "No one has ever stood up for them, and that is a very powerful, emotional thing," she said.
Clarke’s clients have included the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski; Susan Smith, who drowned her two children; Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph; and most recently Tucson, Ariz., shooter Jared Loughner. All received life sentences instead of the death penalty.
Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz said Clarke understands the divide among Americans over the death penalty, with some opposed to it, others generally supportive of it, and still others who want to see it reserved for only the worst cases.
"She knows how to use those attitudinal differences in the interests of her clients," he said.
Clarke has rarely spoken publicly about her work and did not return a call seeking comment Monday. However, at a speech Friday at a legal conference in Los Angeles, she talked about how she had been "sucked into the black hole, the vortex" of death penalty cases 18 years ago when she represented Smith.
"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."
AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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