The prosecutor who pursued criminal charges against Aaron Swartz, the 26-year-old Internet activist and computer prodigy who killed himself last week, has defended her actions after facing several days of harsh criticism.
“There is little I can say to abate the anger felt by those who believe that this office’s prosecution of Mr. Swartz was unwarranted and somehow led to the tragic result of him taking his own life,” U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said in a statement Wednesday night, after extending her sympathies to the family.
“I must, however, make clear that this office’s conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case,” she said, adding that prosecutors in her office “took on the difficult task of enforcing a law they had taken an oath to uphold, and did so reasonably.”
Swartz, who at 14 helped create an early version of the Web feed system RSS and later worked on the popular website Reddit, was found dead Friday in his Brooklyn apartment.
He was accused of using MIT’s computer networks to steal more than 4 million articles from JSTOR, an online archive and journal distribution service. He had faced a maximum sentence of 31 years in prison and fines of up to $1 million.
Prosecutors offered him a deal to plead guilty to multiple counts of wire fraud and computer fraud and spend six months at a low-security facility, Ortiz said.
In a statement Saturday, the family and partner of Swartz lashed out at what they said were decisions by prosecutors that contributed to his death.
“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach,” the statement said.
“The U.S. Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims,” it added.
Swartz, who pleaded not guilty to all counts, was released on bond. His trial was scheduled to start later this year.
The statement from Boston-based Ortiz was released after her husband, Tom Dolan, criticized the Swartz family via Twitter.
“Truly incredible that in their own son’s obit they blame others for his death and make no mention of the 6-month offer,” he had written.
Dolan could not immediately be reached for comment. DM
Photo: Aaron Swartz poses in a Borderland Books in San Francisco on February 4, 2008. Internet activist and programmer Swartz, who helped create an early version of RSS and later played a key role in stopping a controversial online piracy bill in Congress, has died at age 26, an apparent suicide, New York authorities said January 13, 2013. REUTERS/Noah Berger
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine