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Aaron Swartz Prosecutor Defends Charges, Days After Activist's Suicide

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WASHINGTON -- U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz on Wednesday defended her office's prosecution of Aaron Swartz as "appropriate," days after the 26-year-old Internet activist took his own life.

Ortiz, the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, broke her silence for the first time since Swartz killed himself on Friday. His family and supporters have blamed the government for playing a role in his death, while members of Congress have questioned the Justice Department's aggressive prosecution of Swartz on computer fraud charges.

But Ortiz maintained it was appropriate for prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts to bring the case. She said her office was prepared to offer a deal that would have put Swartz behind bars in a low-security prison for six months. Ortiz said prosecutors never said they intended to seek the maximum punishment.

"At no time did this office ever seek -- or ever tell Mr. Swartz's attorneys that it intended to seek -- maximum penalties under the law," Ortiz said.

Swartz's lawyer, Elliot Peters, told HuffPost that prosecutors had said they would argue for a sentence of seven years to eight years if Swartz rejected the six-month offer and was convicted at trial.

Ortiz's full statement:

As a parent and a sister, I can only imagine the pain felt by the family and friends of Aaron Swartz, and I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy to everyone who knew and loved this young man. I know that 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.

I must, however, make clear that this office's conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case. The career prosecutors handling this matter took on the difficult task of enforcing a law they had taken an oath to uphold, and did so reasonably. The prosecutors recognized that there was no evidence against Mr. Swartz indicating that he committed his acts for personal financial gain, and they recognized that his conduct -- while a violation of the law -- did not warrant the severe punishments authorized by Congress and called for by the Sentencing Guidelines in appropriate cases. That is why in the discussions with his counsel about a resolution of the case this office sought an appropriate sentence that matched the alleged conduct -- a sentence that we would recommend to the judge of six months in a low security setting. While at the same time, his defense counsel would have been free to recommend a sentence of probation. Ultimately, any sentence imposed would have been up to the judge. At no time did this office ever seek -- or ever tell Mr. Swartz's attorneys that it intended to seek -- maximum penalties under the law.

As federal prosecutors, our mission includes protecting the use of computers and the Internet by enforcing the law as fairly and responsibly as possible. We strive to do our best to fulfill this mission every day.

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