Lawyer for ‘unabomber’ takes over defence for man accused of plotting 9/11

  • >> Carol Rosenberg, The New York Times
    Published: 2019-09-10 11:32:58 BdST

Gary D Sowards, centre, with his fellow defence team lawyers, Judy Clarke and Quin Denvir, during the trial of Theodore Kaczynski in 1998.New York Times

A New York-based lawyer who represented Theodore J Kaczynski, the “Unabomber” who engaged in a long-running campaign of domestic terrorism, took charge on Monday of the defence team for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man accused of orchestrating the Sep 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The lawyer, Gary D Sowards, became Mohammed’s designated, Pentagon-paid death-penalty specialist, called a learned counsel. He replaced David Z Nevin, who had served as Mohammed’s lead lawyer since 2008 and will take on a secondary role.

It was the first shake-up of a legal team in the five-defendant conspiracy case since the judge, Col W Shane Cohen, scheduled Jan 11, 2021, as the start date for selection of a military jury in the anticipated nine-month trial.

Cohen said at the start of a three-week hearing on Monday that although he had set the date, “I feel no pressure” to hew to it, if circumstances change. He is the third judge to get the case since the defendants were arraigned in 2012. He held his first hearing in June.

“My full attention is on the case, and we will proceed accordingly,” he said.

Mohammed, 54, and four other men are accused of directing, training or helping with travel and finances for the 19 men who hijacked four passenger planes and crashed them into the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, killing almost 3,000 people. All five men are facing death penalty charges.

In presenting his qualifications to the judge, Sowards, 69, said he had done criminal defence work on 45 capital cases at the federal or state level.

He specifically mentioned his representation of Kaczynski, with two other lawyers, Quin Denvir and Judy Clarke, as part of his 40-year career, noting that the case had “successfully concluded with a sentence of less than death.” Kaczynski is serving a life sentence at the “supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado.

Mohammed did not seek the change, Nevin said after court on Monday

Nevin, who is 70 and based in Boise, Idaho, has been Mohammed’s most public lawyer, leading a team of military and civilian defence lawyers, paralegals and other experts. His secondary role does not require that he attend every hearing or every day of trial.

With the change, Sowards will earn the federal hourly rate for a death-penalty defender. Nevin will be employed by the John Adams Project, a Guantánamo legal defence fund that is administered by the American Civil Liberties Union.

At the same time, an ACLU staff attorney, Denny LeBoeuf, formally joined the Mohammed defence team on Monday. LeBoeuf, 71, who is based in New Orleans, is the director of the John Adams Project and has been meeting with Mohammed since 2013 but never before presented her credentials in court. Her specialty is litigating mental health and trauma.

Mohammed’s lawyers argue that he suffered brain damage during his years in CIA custody, from March 2003 to September 2006, when he was water-boarded 183 times and subjected to rectal abuse, sleep deprivation and other forms of torture.

© 2019 New York Times News Service