One of President Obama’s potential candidates for the Supreme Court has a history of defending some of Iowa’s most infamous criminals, including the "Midwest Pipe Bomber" and the child molester who murdered five-year-old Evelyn Miller.
Judge Jane Kelly, who was appointed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013, is reportedly on President Obama’s short list for the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia.
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Before becoming a judge, Kelly worked for years as a public defender in Iowa. In 2005, Kelly was the appointed attorney for a 26-year-old man named Casey Frederiksen, who was charged with possession of child pornography.
Although Frederiksen had previously been convicted of sexual assault involving a minor, Kelly urged the judge to grant him leniency, arguing that he was not a danger to others and should be released and allowed to live with his father. Frederiksen was sentenced to 14 years in prison in the case.
A decade later, Frederiksen was convicted of murder and sexual assault in the 2005 cold case killing of 5-year-old Evelyn Celeste Miller. Evelyn, the daughter of Frederiksen’s live-in girlfriend, was reported missing from her northern Iowa home on July 1, 2005. Over 1,500 people joined police to help search for the young girl. Her body was found with stab wounds on a nearby river bank two days later, and there was evidence she had been sexually assaulted.
Frederiksen was long considered a suspect in the murder, but it took investigators years to build the case against him. In 2015, he was sentenced to two consecutive life terms.
A conservative group called the Judicial Crisis Network released an ad on Sunday blasting Kelly for her defense of Frederiksen.
Kelly also defended Luke Helder, better known as the "Midwest Pipe Bomber." As a student at the University of Wisconsin, Helder planted bombs packed with nails in mailboxes in Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Texas, and Illinois. The devices injured six people, including an elderly couple in Iowa.
Kelly helped make the case that Helder was not mentally competent to stand trial. A judge agreed in 2004, and since then Helder has been confined at a medical center in Minnesota.
Another infamous Kelly client was Russell Wassendorf, head of the Peregrine Financial Group, who in 2012 pleaded guilty to the largest financial fraud in Iowa history. Wassendorf admitted to stealing over $100 million in customer funds, and was sentenced to 50 years in prison in 2013.
In addition to Kelly, President Obama has reportedly been interviewing Chief Judge Merrick Garland and Judge Sri Srinivasan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Colombia; Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C.; and Judge Paul Watford, who sits on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.