Alex Witt   |  April 28, 2013

How it feels to represent people accused of mass murder

Defense Attorney for Oklahoma City Bomber, Timothy McVeigh, joins MSNBC’s Alex Witt to explain the legal road ahead of Boston Bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He breaks down potential legal scenarios for the Boston investigation and talks about the difficulties that arise in representing a controversial figure like Timothy McVeigh.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> new worked today on where dzhokhar tsarnaev is being held. he's in a small cell with a solid steel door at a federal medical detention center , about 40 miles outside of boston.

>>> meantimetime politico reports that the sequester cuts may be affecting the defense team. the office apointed is subject to three weeks of furloughs, as they prepare a defense in the high-profile case.

>>> for more, steven jones joins me. he defended timothy mcveigh . steven, it's nigh to see you again. it's been a while. thank you, alex.

>>> before we get to boston, how did you end up being timothy mcveigh 's lawyer? remind our viewers about that.

>> i was appointed by the federal court in oklahoma city . susan notto, the public defender , recused herself, because her office had been heavily damaged. the federal judges asked me if i would do it, and i took it that i should. that was my responsibility, so i became his lawyer.

>> in fact, you had to protect yourself, didn't you, your family as well? this certainly wasn't a popular --

>> it wasn't popular in oklahoma and elsewhere. the judges provided security for me and my family, so we were able to do our job without interference or problem.

>> there's got to be a toll, though, stephen , that comes to being in the spotlight with defending those who are accused of terrorist acts. talk about that.

>> well, i -- i think that's right. i would say probably the greatest thing i noticed was i put my emotional life on hold for 2 1/2 years, the carnage was so agreed, the pressure and scrutiny so intense, that it really was difficult to do anything else, but just to focus on the task at hand. after it was over with, i think it took six or seven months before i felt i was able emotion emotionally to resume the practice of law and to live what might be called a normal life .

>> stephen , i'm always fascinated about trying to get into the mind of a defense attorney . in a case like this, do you start with the assumption your client did it and you're just hoping to spare his life?

>> no. it might seem that way to the layman, but the rules of professional conduct require that the defense attorney investigatal reasonable aspects and defenses. so you don't start with any preconception. obviously you read the newspapers and watch television before you get the sdroifr and get the framework, but i didn't start the case with a mind-set that it was one way or the ir. the practice of law, at that time 25 or 30 years, had convinced me things are not on which what they seem at first gland.

>> what about deal-making, do you think in this case the government might be willing to cut a deal, spare his life at least, to get information?

>> it seems to me that that's a possibility. the defense -- and i don't want to second-guess some other lawyer, because i don't have the information they have, but there are three avenues that ape to be open. the first is they could negotiate with the government that in return for his full cooperation, particularly that may relate to the identity or involvement of others he would receive something less than death from the court. secondly they could away that the government's case is flawed or evidence is inadmissible or a different conclusion may be drawn from it. or they may raised some diminished mental respond, or they could argue to the jury that, look, there are other people involved, and if you excuse this man, then you silence the only person who has the ability to tell us the full story of what happened. so those are some early avenues that i'm sure the defense would explore, plus others i'm not familiar with.

>> can i ask about the statements that he grave before he was mirandaized. if he was on medication, are those statements admissible?

>> they're not admissible, certainly not in the government's case in chief. however, the question of bl and how far the government investigators can question him before he's mirandized is not free from doubt. the case in new york that the supreme court made the emergency exception to, the facts were much different, and there are no commentators who have suggested what that really means is you can spontaneously asking the accused where is the gun or is anyone else involved? it doesn't contemplate a multihour interrogation, of course the answer is for the government not to attempt to introduce any of that, because -- i don't want to prejudge the case, but i think it would be an uphill battle to introduce any of that against him at trial.

>> stephen , i'm told to wrap, but i have to ask. the fact that he was reportedly admitted the bombings and the killing of the officers, and you have testimony saying that he add milted that to them, the carjacked victim, cannot that not be admitted. if he said we did it?

>> well, it can be admitted. the question is whether it will be admitted. i would anticipate if the case goes forward and is litigated, those will be issues of serious contention that some judge somewhere will have to resolved.

>> stephen jones , thank you for your time.

>> thank you, alex.