In WaPo Column, Georgetown Prof Equates Defending Tsarnaev, Ariel Castro ... and George Zimmerman

July 27th, 2013 3:05 PM

Abbe Smith, who has written an almost 1,500-word column for the Washington Post, is described as "a professor of law and the director of the Criminal Defense & Prisoner Advocacy Clinic at Georgetown University."

The title of her column is "What motivates a lawyer to defend a Tsarnaev, a Castro or a Zimmerman?" -- as if defending an alleged terrorist killer of three and maimer of hundreds, a imprisoner of multiple women and killer of pre-born babies (who yesterday pleaded guilty to the former and will escape the death penalty), and a man who killed an assailant only because he thought he would die if he didn't are all virtually equally problematic. Excerpts follow the jump.

The column's earlier and later paragraphs show that the headline fits the content. Here are a couple of the earlier ones:

Why choose to represent a man accused of turning the Boston Marathon finish line into a war zone?

Likewise, how can the lawyers representing Cleveland’s Ariel Castro fight for a man who pleaded guilty on Friday to 937 counts related to the kidnapping, imprisonment and rape of three women? And what about the attorneys for the recently acquitted but still controversial George Zimmerman? Do they really believe he is completely innocent of any wrongdoing in shooting an unarmed teen?

The question isn't whether Zimmerman is innocent of "wrongdoing," and Ms. Smith should know that. The question is whether or not he was innocent of a legally defined crime. A jury found that he wasn't. Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's lawyer, was defending Zimmerman on self-defense grounds, which (really, I have to write this?) is hugely different from representing an alleged terrorist who reportedly confessed to his involvement with the Boston Marathon bombing, and a multiple kidnapper who obviously held three women against their wills for years.

Here are the near-final paragraphs of Smith's column:

Defending Castro would be especially difficult for me. Although I have never turned down a court appointment based on the nature of the case, there are crimes I find especially abhorrent: child abductions that feature sexual abuse and hate crimes of all sorts. With its kidnapping, sexual assault and torture, Castro’s is exactly the kind of case I find hard to stomach. It’s distressing to read fiction about these kinds of crimes — such as Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones” or Emma Donoghue’s “Room” — let alone grapple with the real thing.

I don’t envy the lawyers representing Tsarnaev. He is young — I can understand why those nurses were instinctively kind to him — but there is overwhelming evidence that he killed, maimed and terrorized innocent people in the place where he grew up. I would want to say to him: “What the hell were you thinking?” But good defense lawyers resist the urge to pile on; it isn’t a useful way to form a relationship.

Still, there’s something about cases in which everyone is calling for blood that makes it easier to fight for people like Tsarnaev and Castro. Maybe there’s a contrarian streak in all good criminal lawyers. Frankly, the uproar over the image of Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Stone made me want to stand up for him — or at least for the editors of the magazine.

I confess that I gravitate more to Trayvon Martin — the young black man unfairly targeted — than neighborhood-watch volunteer Zimmerman. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t have defended Zimmerman.

Martin was not targeted. A neighborhood watch group member was doing what he was supposed to do -- reporting possible suspicious behavior. Zimmerman's life, background, and track record clearly indicate that he would more than likely have done the same thing with anyone acting as Martin did regardless of their race.

An emailer to Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds had this reaction to Smith's attempt at moral equivalence: “Tsarnaez = Castro = Zimmerman? Why not just throw in a Hitler? That’s usually how the question is posed at cocktail parties.”

Well, at least at the ultraliberal ones in Georgetown.

Cross-posted at