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Swartz suicide puts the focus on over-aggressive prosecutor

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aaron swartz
aaron swartz

The family of Aaron Swartz pulled no punches in their comments after the 26-year-old's suicide, blaming a "criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach." Assistant United States Attorney Stephen Heymann is one of the individuals that's been named in particular — and it turns out Swartz isn't the first subject of a Heymann investigation that's taken his own life. Buzzfeed reports that in 2008 Jonathan James also committed suicide two weeks after having his home raided as part of Heymann's TJX hacker investigation. James was suspected of being "JJ," an unindicted co-conspirator, but claimed to have had nothing to do with the crimes in question.

"I have no faith in the 'justice' system," James wrote in his suicide note. "Perhaps my actions today, and this letter, will send a stronger message to the public. Either way, I have lost control over this situation, and this is my only way to regain control."

"Aaron's case, sadly for Aaron, fit the bill"

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Swartz's attorney Elliot Peters accuses Heymann of pursuing federal charges against his client in order to drum up publicity. The prosecutor was in search of "some juicy looking computer crime cases and Aaron's case, sadly for Aaron, fit the bill," Peters said, remarking that Heymann thought he "was going to receive press and he was going to be a tough guy and read his name in the newspaper."

Peters accuses Heymann of being particularly hardline when negotiating potential plea deals as well, threatening Swartz with increasingly-long prison sentences if the 26-year-old didn't accept what he was being offered. According to Peters, the prosecutor also harassed several of Swartz's friends into testifying in front of a grand jury.

Buzzfeed contacted the US Attorney's Office to get comment from Heymann's office, but was informed by a spokesperson that "It is not appropriate to make a public comment," and that "we want to respect the family's privacy at this time."