Demand Progress calls for sacking of Aaron Swartz prosecution

Civil activism group Demand Progress is calling for the sacking of prosecutors in the Aaron Swartz case on the back of “outrageous” new evidence of misconduct, which ultimately hounded Swartz, the organisation’s founder, to an early death.

Demand Progress points to page 68 of MIT’s recent report which “makes it clear that the prosecutors were motivated by anger at Swartz for publicly asserting his innocence”.

The report reads: “The prosecutor said that the straw that broke the camel’s back was that when he indicted the case, and allowed Swartz to come to the courthouse as opposed to being arrested, Swartz used the time to post a ‘wild internet campaign’ in an effort to drum up support.

“This was a ‘foolish’ move that moved the case ‘from a human one-on-one level to an institutional level,” the report reads. “The lead prosecutor said that on the institutional level cases are harder to manage both internally and externally”.

Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz and assistant District Attorney Stephen P Heymann proved particularly controversial. Demand Progress is calling for their removal.

The Ortiz petition reads: “A prosecutor who does not understand proportionality and who regularly uses the threat of unjust and overreaching charges to extort plea bargains from defendants regardless of their guilt is a danger to the life and liberty of anyone who might cross her path”, while the Heymann petition calls to fire him ”before his reckless prosecutions claim any more lives”.

Demand Progress’ executive director, David Segal, said in a statement: “It is outrageous that prosecutors would deem a defendant’s assertion of innocence, the innocence which is supposedly presumed in the American judicial system, as cause to bring their hammers down even harder”.

“Carmen Ortiz leads an office run amok, plagued by vincitive, opportunistic prosecutors,” Segal said. “It’s time for her and Steve Heymann to go”.

Aaron Swartz committed suicide at just 26 after he was accused of downloading an unreasonable amount of documents from academic catalogue JSTOR at MIT. But the charges against him were disproportionate, it is argued, and he faced over 40 years in prison for his alleged crime.

Demand Progress points out how Swartz supporters said prosecutors withheld key evidence.

Speaking with TechEye, Demand Progress’s Charlie Furman said the American judicial system is predicated on a presumption of innocence.

“The idea that Aaron’s prosecutors thought it reasonable to punish him for publicly stating his innocence and asking others to support that statement is unacceptable,” Furman said.

He added: “It’s especially unacceptable under the guise of the case becoming somehow ‘institutional’, as that says our judicial system, and the people’s lives affected by it, are part of a political game of opportunity”.