By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV Chief Correspondant

BOSTON (CBS) – The public defender assigned to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been in the spotlight before.

Miriam Conrad works for the Federal Public Defender’s office in downtown Boston.

These attorneys are assigned to federal criminal cases in situations where the defendant cannot afford an attorney.

Conrad was not doing interviews Tuesday, but WBZ-TV knows she has been in these situations before.

Rezwan Ferdaus of Ashland could have gotten life in prison.

The Ashland man had plotted to blow up the U.S. Capitol using remote-controlled planes.

Last fall he agreed to a 17-year prison term. His defense attorney was Conrad who will now represent the 19-year-old man charged with the marathon bombing.

He faces the possibility of the death penalty.

In 2001 Richard Reed, a Muslim extremist, was arrested when he landed in Boston.

Known as the “shoe bomber” for attempting to blow up an American Airlines flight from Paris in 2002 he was sentenced to life in prison. His public defender was Tamar Birckhead who also worked at one time in the Boston public defender’s office with Conrad.

Conrad also contributed to the defense. Birckhead says there is a case which can be made for saving the young bomber’s life.

“A likely legal argument could rest on his age. It could rest on his tangential role in the conspiracy in the bombing,” he said.

Birckhead also expects Conrad to push to get the trial moved out of Massachusetts.

“The likelihood of getting a fair jury trial in the Boston area is slim to none,” he said. “I would say if there is going to be a jury trial, the defense would almost certainly be motioning for a change of venue and I think the court in this case would be open to that.”

Birckhead says the Boston Public Defender’s Office is small and underfunded compared to the power and size of the U.S.Attorney’s office here in Boston.

Nonetheless she expects Miriam Conrad will be a strong legal advocate for her client.


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