Lawyers Who Defend Terrorists, the Most Hated People in America

Birckhead, 44, now an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, remembered the sinking feeling she got watching President Bush's State of the Union address that following January. It was a speech, she said, that all but convicted her client before a jury had even been chosen.

"Richard was still presumed innocent, supposedly, and President Bush made statements during that address that assumed he was guilty and would be punished to the full extent of the law," she said.

It was a faux pas, she said, that President Obama came close to making during recent comments about the dealth penalty and Abdulmutallab.

"That always presents difficulties from the defense perspective," she said.

Birckhead, who was earning between $70,000 and $75,000 at the time, said she was actually proud to stand next to Richard Reid in the courtroom.

"Personally -- and I'm not alone in this feeling – his intent, whatever his true intent and determination had been to successfully detonate those explosives that were in his sneakers, it might be hard to swallow, but that has no impact on me as a human being," she said.

"I've represented clients charged with all kinds of heinous, violent criminal offenses that people would find just beyond the pale. It's clearly hard for me to articulate. I'm committed to the role and I related to my clients as human beings," she said. "It would take a psychoanalyst to figure out why I'm so comfortable in that role."

Neither Birckhead or Zerkin were offered any protection or security during their trials, nor did either feel they needed it.

Birckhead said she's still not convinced that Reid ever intended to bring down that plane, a defense she never got to test since Reid pleaded guilty. It's a notion that may be worth examining for the Abdulmutallab case, she said. Abdulmutallab has pleaded not guilty.

"Someone put explosives in their shoes or underpants and gets on a plane and nothing happens," she said. "I don't think it's unreasonable to question whether that individual really had the intent for this to go well.

"Yeah, maybe it's complete incompetence, but there's got to be some degree of having second thoughts," she said.

Sorting Out Fact From Mass Hysteria in Terrorism Cases

It isn't yet publicly known how Miriam Siefer will defend the latest terrorism headliner or what emotions she may have about her new case. She did not return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

Margaret Sind Raben, who has known Siefer for more than two decades and is a colleague in Detroit's criminal defense community, said she has spoken to Siefer about Abdulmutallab.

"The facts are horrifying on every level you can consider," Raben said. "The human response is, 'Oh, my god.' And the professional response is. 'I'm on my way.'"

Though this will be Siefer's first terrorism case, Raben said she has a notable "capacity to analyze cases to sort out the public hysteria from the facts."

And the hysteria in this case, so far, has been ample. Days after Abdulmutallab's arrest, authorities were summoned to the airport after a Nigerian man refused to come out of the bathroom on the very same flight. He was later determined to have been suffering from diarrhea.

Abdulmutallab's case "certainly came gift wrapped [for prosecutors] if you will," Raben said.

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