Monday, June 03, 2013

Stephen Jones, TimMcVeigh lawyer, on the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev case

Stephen Jones was the defense lawyer of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber. When the criminal complaint against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was published on April 22, he was interviewed about the judicial implications and consequences.

Jones explains that within 30 days after the complaint the government has to come up either with an indictment or a preliminary hearing, which is an opportunity for the defense to avoid a trial in front of the Grand Jury if the prosecutors fail to convince the judge of the "probable cause". In this case the complaint is dismissed. If the judge decides to forward the case to the Grand Jury, the prosecutors still have plenty of time to gather material for the indictment.

In the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 30 day deadline was prolonged by a week from start because of his precarious physical condition. But the prosecution pleaded a postponement of the May 30 deadline because they needed more time to gather evidence. First, it was re-scheduled for July 2, then another delay was announced and the hearing will now (probably) take place on July 10.

In the light of Jones' elucidations, the prosecutors seem to be unsure if they have enough evidence to guarantee that the case survives the preliminary hearing, because there's no need to present the full list of charges against Tsarnaev. They have plenty of time to gather material for the indictment after the preliminary hearing.

So the case against Tsarnaev looks to be pretty wobbly, which is in grotesque contrast to the announcements of the FBI and the media's witchhunt for the brothers. In the words of Stephen Jones: "It'll will be interesting to watch."

Here is the full interview:

Tim McVeigh was the first person charged with the crime of the use of a weapon of mass destruction. I've read the complaint filed ((vs. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev)) and I suspect - that's just my opinion from a great distance - that the government has plead a case within the confines of the statute, and the statute requires among other things an adverse impact on interstate commerce and public safety. And certainly the Boston Marathon has an impact on interstate commerce - if nothing else, the tens millions of dollars spent in hotels and restaurants and so force.

So I suspect that a facial challenge, that is just on the face of the indi...of the complaint will survive scrutiny, now whether they can expand that for an indictment remains to be seen. He's charged with the criminal complaint today. That means the government must have a preliminary hearing within 30 days or take the case to the Grand Jury. In Mr. McVeigh's case, the government had the preliminary hearing and then went to the Grand Jury and the indictment wasn't returned for four months.

Preliminary hearings are not that difficult for the government and my guess is he will have the preliminary hearing which will usually consist of one FBI agent and one not really knowledgeable with the case, so his testimony isn't really that helpful to the defense. I would be surprised if the government pushes for an early indictment. I think the indictment would come when they know if there are others abroad, when they have more details about the offense. I'd be very surprised if an indictment is returned within 30 days.

He's fortunate to have a federal pubic defender. Federal public defenders are certainly way above average in competence, experience and professionalism. They have significant ressources available that a private attourney would not. And I expect that the federal public defenders would take their job seriously. They assisted me significantly when I was Mr. McVeigh's lawyer - the public defender in Oklahoma disqualified because her office was damaged by the bombing. That's not the case in Boston. So he has a good defense team and it'll be interesting to watch.

I think the defense attourney in the Boston case will be under a lot of media scrutiny, public scrutiny, and certainly will be a personal challenging experience - it's an professional challenge, but I can well imagine having lived through it myself what he or she or a group of them will face in defending a client that is quickly being made by the media into the most hated man in America.

Here's the video of the interview: 

Here are some biographic notes on Stephen Jones (source: Wikipedia). This man is certainly not someone who bows to pressure from politics or media:

On May 5, 1970, the day after National Guardsmen had shot and killed four students at Kent State University, Keith Green was arrested at the University of Oklahoma for carrying a Viet Cong flag in violation of a state law prohibiting the display of a "red flag or emblem of anarchy or rebellion". After 12 lawyers had refused to defend the student, Jones took the case and was promptly dismissed from the Enid, Oklahoma law firm where he was employed. Jones argued in court that the disloyalty statute was unconstitutional and the judge dismissed the case, overturning the statute. Later Jones would go on to represent Abbie Hoffman, the radical Yippie, when Oklahoma State University refused to let him speak on campus. 

In 1975, Jones defended Bobby Wayne Collins who was accused of the worst mass killing in Oklahoma history at the time. Mervin Thrasher (28), his wife Sandra (27), their two young children (Penny (5) and Robert (18mos)) were senselessly murdered in their four room farm home one mile north of Woodward Oklahoma. Collins was found guilty and sentenced to death for the brutal crime. On appeal in 1977, Jones successfully had Collin’s death sentence commuted to a life sentence. Bobby Wayne Collins is scheduled for a parole hearing in July 2009. 

Jones ran unsuccessfully for public office four times, including a U.S. Senate race against David Boren in 1990.

In 1997, Stephen Jones was the lead defense attorney for Timothy McVeigh, who was on trial for the Oklahoma City bombing. McVeigh wanted to use the "necessity defense," but Jones took a different tack, even traveling to other countries in search of evidence because he believed that McVeigh did not act alone in the bombing. McVeigh was convicted on all counts and executed in 2001.