Jennifer McCann, the Irish American attorney who is the lead defense lawyer for alleged child killer Levi Aron insists, insists she will continue on the case despite many death threats against her.
Aron is accused of kidnapping, killing and dismembering Leiby Kletzky, an eight-year-old Hasidic Jewish child, from Borough Park, Brooklyn who got lost on his way to meet his parents and asked Aron for help.
Instead Aron is accused of taking him to his apartment and murdering him there after cops began to close in.The boy's disappearance led to a massive search by the Jewish community and scenes of dreadful grieving when he was found dead.
McCann, 30, explained why she will not be derailed from her mission despite the hate mail and death threats she has received since she took on the case.
Speaking to the New York Times she said “They have to understand, I'm not all right with people being murdered or with crime. I'm all right with defending constitutional rights" Jennifer L. McCann said.
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She continued “People assume I’m O.K. with a young boy being murdered because I represent the defendant. To me, that’s pretty vicious. They have to understand, I’m not all right with people being murdered or with crime. I’m all right with defending constitutional rights.
“If he’s guilty, he will be convicted. And that’s it. But my God it’s going to be legally.”
On August 4, McCann spoke to the Jewish community members outside the courtroom. She explained that her client was no different from anyone else and deserved the proper defense. Her comparisons between a drunk driver and the gruesome murder of Leiby Kletzky were met by gasps and angry responses from the crowd.
Since the outset McCann has been defending herself as much as her client – to the press, on Facebook and even to the judge.
Justice Neil J. Firetog, has questioned her experience and that of her counsel, Pierre Bazile who also have only four years of experience. Firetog himself is a veteran of homicide cases in Brooklyn.
He criticized both McCann and Bazile for their procedural errors during the special hearing. He also reprimanded McCann for generating exposure for the case and then complaining about it.McCann has been practicing as a criminal lawyer for four years at a local firm. This March she opened her own office in Garden City, New York.
She was raised a Catholic in a farming town in Michigan. Growing up she idolized Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court Justice, as well as her father Peter, a Vietnam vet and school administrator who died when she was just 12. She graduated from Villanova University and St. John’s University School of Law.
McCann was brought onto the case after Gerard Marrone, the original, and more experienced lawyer quit the case. He said that as a father of three he was sickened by the accusations and could not take the case on.
The 30-year-old lawyer said “To sit there and say, ‘This is a hard case, I don’t want to take it?’ No, that’s for somebody else, that’s not who I am.”
Already McCann has said that the most likely defense for Aron would be insanity. Aron has already signed a confession and he also has no alibi. McCann is working pro bono for the killer and is struggling to find medical experts who will examine Aron.
She said “Some have turned it down for money, busy schedules, and one really wanted the case but he is unable to take it for political reasons because of his affiliations with institutions of higher learning,” she said.
Despite all the opposition against her McCann maintains that she took this controversial trial because it requires a lawyer “who knows what to do with these types of defenses”.
Thomas F. Liotti, a Long Island defense lawyer hired McCann out of law school. He said the young lawyer is tenacious. “She’s one tough lady, and knowing Jennifer McCann, she just won’t give up,” Liotti said.
McCann and Liotti worked on the case of Kathleen Prisco, a Long Island woman who stabbed and killed her husband. She pleaded not guilty due to mental disease of defect. The need for a trial was negated and she was sent to an institution.
She also handled the resentencing appeal of Nathan Powell, a film producer who killed his colleague in Long Island City in 2001 and dismembered his body. She had the lower 20-year sentence restored.
In 2007 Jesenia Vega (27) was drunk driving and dragged her boyfriend under the car, killing him. McCann argued that Vega was defending herself from abuse. Vega was sentenced to one to three years in prison.
Although she’s used to anonymous calls and people asking “how do you sleep at night?” McCan considers herself a Catholic.
She insists “You protect their rights, even when society wants to turn on them.”
Footage of Jennifer McCann and Levi Aron in court August 4 2011: