Mr. Swartz's lawyer, Elliot Peters, first discussed a possible plea bargain with Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann last fall. In an interview Sunday, he said he was told at the time that Mr. Swartz would need to plead guilty to every count, and the government would insist on prison time....He knew what he was doing was criminal, and he was a very intelligent man who chose to do it anyway and conceived of what he was doing as actively virtuous. Wouldn't a public trial serve his purposes in critiquing the laws he opposed and arguing for the liberation of the data files he tried to set free? (I'm picturing Swartz as a bit like those animal rights activists who steal into a mink farm and open all the cages. They believe that they are serving a call of morality higher than the interests embodied in the law they willingly violate.) It's civil disobedience, which — in classic form — demands that you take the law's punishment. That's part of the acted-out argument that the law is immoral.
With the government's position hardening, Mr. Swartz realized that he would have to face a costly, painful and public trial....
"It was too hard for him to ask for the help and make that part of his life go public," [his girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman] said. "One of the things he felt most difficult to fathom was asking people for money."His crime was about making more information freely public, and yet he cringed at publicity about his own plight, even where his plight was something he invited into his life and believed in as an especially good thing to do. Why the shame? Why not expose yourself as a martyr to laws you oppose?
Swartz's girlfriend and family released a statement saying: "Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy.... It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach." Understandably, they want to infuse their loss with meaning. But did the prosecutors go wrong?
The Massachusetts U.S. attorney's office declined to comment Sunday, saying it wanted to respect the family's privacy. But in a news release from July 2011, when the charges in the case were announced, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said, "Stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar."...But he knowingly and willingly committed numerous felonies, did he not? I'm not hearing the lawyer say that Swartz didn't do what the prosecutors said he did. The argument was that the law ought to be different. If you break the laws as a way to make that argument, how is the prosecutor supposed to respond? Your argument is to the public and to the legislators.
The government indicated it might only seek seven years at trial, and was willing to bargain that down to six to eight months in exchange for a guilty plea, a person familiar with the matter said. But Mr. Swartz didn't want to do jail time.
"I think Aaron was frightened and bewildered that they'd taken this incredibly hard line against him," said Mr. Peters, his lawyer. "He didn't want to go to jail. He didn't want to be a felon."
To say he didn't want to be a felon is to express a wish about the past. And it's a wish that wasn't even true. Swartz wanted to be a felon who eludes prosecution. Who gets that wish in a system of law? The intelligent, educated, nice-looking, good guy with lovely friends and family? The person who credibly threatens self-murder? The activist capable of articulating why the crime he committed should not be a crime?