News & Politics

Federal Prosecutor Stephen Heymann Wanted 'Juicy' Case for Publicity--And Found it in Aaron Swartz, Says Lawyer

The prosecutor who went after Aaron Swartz was "difficult" to deal with, according to Swartz lawyer Elliot Peters.

Three days after internet activist Aaron Swartz killed himself, his lawyer is speaking out about the zealous prosecutor who pursued Swartz over the downloading of articles from an internet database at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Huffington Post reports today that Swartz’s lawyer said that the prosecutor who went after Swartz, assistant U.S. attorney Stephen Heymann, was "very, very difficult to deal with.” The lawyer, Elliot Peters, added that Heymann wanted “some juicy looking computer crime cases and Aaron's case, sadly for Aaron, fit the bill...[Heymann believed that the Swartz case] was going to receive press and he was going to be a tough guy and read his name in the newspaper.”

The lawyer’s remarks to the Huffington Post come after other news outlets reported that a plea bargain Swartz was looking for fell through after Heymann said that “Mr. Swartz would need to plead guilty to every count, and the government would insist on prison time.”

Heymann, who has stayed silent since Swartz’s suicide out of “respect” for the family, has come under fire due to his role in Swartz’s death and his role in the death of another internet activist. “Back in 2008, another young hacker, Jonathan James, killed himself after being named a suspect in another Heymann case,” reported BuzzFeed.

Heymann was “very intransigent,” Swartz’s lawyer Peters told the Huffington Post. “It was his philosophy that as you got closer to trial the plea offers only got worse. But the offer he was making was so unreasonable that having it get worse didn't concern me much.”

The Huffington Postalso reports that, according to Peters, “Heymann had harassed several of the activist’s friends into testifying before a grand jury.”

“The people who really lost their way here and turned it into a much bigger case than it should have been were the feds,” said Peters.

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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