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A lawyer from Harvard's Community Legal Assistance Office (CLAO) will defend the suspect in a crime involving Harvard-the attempted theft of the Gutenberg Bible from Widener Library. The trial begins Wednesday in Third District Court.
CLAO. a legal service for indigents which uses Law School funds in criminal cases, is defending Vido K. Aras, 20, the Dorchester man accused of trying to steal the Bible on August 20.
"We made a point of making the defendant aware of CLAO's relationship to Harvard and he still wants us to represent him," Van C. Lankton, the director of CLAO, said yesterday.
Aras is charged with breaking and entering with the intent to commit larceny and the possession of burglar tools. He faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
At his arraignment last August 28, the court found Aras indigent and at CLAO's request appointed John B. Cratsley, a CLAO lawyer. to represent him. The court also committed Aras to a state mental hospital for observation.
Aras had asked CLAO to represent him before the arraignment, Lankton said, because he wanted legal advice immediately after his arrest. Lankton explained that Aras could not go to the Massachusetts Defenders Committee, the area's only other legal service for indigents, because committee lawyers will not talk to clients before being appointed by the court.
Aras's arraignment had been postponed from August 20, the date of the crime, to August 28 because of skull fractures Aras allegedly received in a 40-foot fall off Widener Library.
University police found Aras unconscious underneath a rope hanging out of a library window on the morning of August 20. Two volumes of the GutenbergBible were in a knapsack beside him.
Police believe that the suspect hid in the library until after closing time on August 19, then went to the roof, climbed down the rope to a window, and broke into the Widener Room where the Bible is kept. He removed the Bible from its display case and was attempting to climb down the rope to the ground outside when he fell.
Criminal cases involving indigents make up only ten per cent of CLAO's caseload. Lankton said. The rest of CLAO's work-which includes mostly civil cases-is wholly funded by a grant from the Office of Economic Opportunity. The CLAO staff includes five lawyers and 100 volunteer law students.
Harvard's copy is one of 47 Gutenberg Bibles known to be in existence. The Bible is insured for $1 million but is almost irreplaceable. It was not damaged in the fall.
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