NEW YORK – A lawyer who formerly represented Internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz on hacking charges said Monday he told federal prosecutors about a year ago that Swartz was a suicide risk.
Swartz, 26, was found dead of an apparent suicide in his New York apartment Friday.
Andrew Good, a Boston attorney who represented Swartz in the case last year, said he told federal prosecutors in Massachusetts that Swartz was a suicide risk.
“Their response was, put him in jail, he’ll be safe there,” Good said.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz declined comment.
“We would like to respect the family’s privacy,” said Christina DiIorio-Sterling. “We don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss the case at this time.”
Swartz was facing a potentially lengthy prison sentence after being indicted in Boston in 2011 for allegedly gaining access to academic articles from a computer archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The charges carried a maximum penalty of decades in prison.
Swartz’s most recent attorney, Elliot Peters, said prosecutors told him two days before Swartz’s death that Swartz would have to spend six months in prison and plead guilty to 13 charges if he wanted to avoid going to trial.
Peters said he and prosecutors had talked repeatedly about making some sort of plea deal, but had failed to come to any agreement. Then last Wednesday, Peters brought up the possibility of a deal again. He said he told prosecutors “that we should find a way to resolve the case that didn’t destroy Aaron’s life.”
Peters said prosecutors made it clear their position had not changed: they wanted Swartz to plead to 13 counts and the government would seek six months of prison time or some “slightly lesser” amount of time.
Elliot said they rejected the deal and he believed they would win the case at trial, which was scheduled to begin in April.
Prosecutors dismissed the charges against Swartz on Monday.
Ortiz and the lead prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann, filed a brief written notice in court, saying the case was being dismissed because of Swartz’s death. Such filings are routine when a defendant dies before trial.
Swartz’s family says his suicide was “the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.”