UPDATED: December 17, 2013, at 11:28 p.m.
Eldo Kim, the Harvard College sophomore who was charged Tuesday with sending emailed bomb threats to University officials on Monday morning, faces an uphill battle as he prepares his defense in federal court, attorneys said in interviews Tuesday night.
“I don't think any lawyer in the world could save him at this point,” said Harvard Law School professor Alan M. Dershowitz, who predicted Kim will plead guilty.
According to Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson, Kim has not hired an attorney and is currently being advised by a public defender. Sterling said in a press release on Tuesday that Kim will appear Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith G. Dein, and that, if convicted, he faces a maximum of five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000.
“Based on the affidavit that I read, it seems like a pretty open and shut case,” said Dershowitz. “If he was given his Miranda warnings and he confessed, and the forensic evidence supports the use of his computer and the use of the website, he doesn't seem to have a defense and there will probably be some kind of plea bargain. He will be prosecuted and convicted and sentenced.”
Dershowitz, a criminal lawyer who has worked for five decades on high-profile cases including those of O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson, said that Kim’s only reasonable option for a defense would be a psychiatric one, “that he kind of just cracked.”
“I can't imagine any kind of other defense,” Dershowitz said. “It seems that what he did was really quite calculated.”
Jeffery A. Denner, a lawyer at the Massachusetts firm Denner-Pellegrino, said that the relationship between attorney and client is critical, and that Kim may struggle to find this with a public defender.
“There are some very good public defenders,” Denner said. “But when you get any kind of appointed lawyer, they are choosing you...you may not get the same chemistry [as with a private lawyer.]”
Tamar R. Birckhead, a former public defender in Boston who now works as an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill, indicated that the federal government’s interest in the case might make Kim’s defense more difficult.
“Having practiced in both state and federal court, the federal government has typically much more extensive resources and investigative personnel to rely upon than the state does,” Birckhead said. “Generally, they also have a lot more time and they’re able to put many more people on an investigation than the state-level DA’s office, so that can result in a much stronger case for the federal government.”
Depending on the strength of the government’s case, moreover, Kim might choose to never go to trial.
“In my view, it’s unlikely to be a trial. It's much more likely to be a quick disposition,” Dershowitz said. “If the government concludes that he acted alone and he acted in this motive, then it should move pretty quickly.”
David Duncan, a criminal and civil trial lawyer in Boston, expressed doubts that the suspect would receive a lighter sentence for confessing.
“If you turn yourself in and say ‘I sprayed graffiti all over these walls and I feel really bad about it. I’m willing to go out with a sponge and soap and clean it off...,’ you might get some credit for that,” Duncan said. “In this case where you’re talking about someone who called in a bomb threat, I don’t know how charitable a judge would feel about someone who did that.”