BOSTON (AP) - A federal prosecutor who has been harshly criticized since the suicide of Internet activist Aaron Swartz has defended a decision to charge him with 13 felonies in a computer hacking case, and said prosecutors were going to recommend a sentence of only six months.
In a statement issued late Wednesday, Boston-based U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz extended her "heartfelt sympathy" to Swartz's family and friends but insisted "this office's conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case."
Swartz, a 26-year-old activist who advocated for court documents and scholarly articles to be available on the Internet for free, was found dead in his New York apartment Friday.
He was indicted in Boston in 2011 for allegedly using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's computer network to download nearly 5 million academic articles from an online clearinghouse for scholarly journals.
Swartz's family, who believe the criminal charges prompted his suicide, has blasted Ortiz and the case's lead prosecutors. His supporters have circulated an online petition calling for President Barack Obama to fire Ortiz.
Ortiz said prosecutors recognized there was no evidence indicating that Swartz "committed his acts for personal gain" and they felt that "his conduct - while a violation of the law - did not warrant the severe punishments authorized by Congress and called for by the Sentencing Guidelines in appropriate cases."
She said her office sought "an appropriate sentence that matched the alleged conduct," six months in a low security setting, although Swartz's defense counsel would have been free to ask a judge for probation.
"At no time did this office ever seek - or ever tell Mr. Swartz's attorneys that it intended to seek - maximum penalties under the law."
Swartz's lawyer, Elliot Peters, said prosecutors insisted Swartz plead guilty to all 13 felony charges and serve four to six months in prison or go to trial and face up to 35 years. Swartz rejected that offer, saying he didn't want to be branded a felon.
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