"The Revolution Will Be A/B Tested"

Reflections on Aaron Swartz's life and death, how to change the world, and making ourselves the people we want to be.

Steve Heymann should be fired

Steve Heymann is the prosecutor in the Massachusetts US Attorney’s office who so aggressively and unreasonably went after Aaron.

Heymann saw Aaron as a scalp he could take. He thought he could lock Aaron up, get high-profile press coverage, and win high-fives from his fellow prosecutors in the lunchroom. Aaron was a way of reviving Heymann’s fading career. Heymann had no interest in an honest assessment of whether Aaron deserved any of the hell he was being put through.

I believe that Heymann is guilty of prosecutorial misconduct on several levels, but I can’t prove it until we have a proper investigation. Among other things, many of the court documents that Aaron’s lawyers have access to that would help make that case are currently under protective order. Not, to be clear, to protect Aaron — Aaron’s family and I want the documents to be public. It’s the prosecutors whose interest is served by keeping the documents secret.

I also suspect there may be other documents we don’t have that, if subpeonaed, could help us show that Heymann was bending or even breaking the rules in his vicious quest to make an example out of Aaron.

For all these reasons, we need an investigation in order to understand better how personally involved Carmen Ortiz was in Heymann’s actions. Several members of Congress are pushing for answers from the DOJ.

But there is another critical front: this Whitehouse.gov petition. In the aftermath of Aaron’s death, supporters started two petitions on Whitehouse.gov, the official website of the White House. One was for Carmen Ortiz, Heymann’s boss, to be fired. That petition has already surpassed the required 25,000* signature threshold, which means that the White House must respond to it publicly. The other is for Steve Heymann to be fired. It is hovering at around 11,000 signatures as of this writing, and the deadline is Monday.

We need this petition to get to 25,000* signatures by Monday, February 11. Please sign it right now, and share it with everyone you know. Even if Heymann is not fired in direct response to this petition, the White House’s responsibility to respond to it will open up crucial fronts in the investigation as to what went so terribly, terribly wrong with our justice system in Aaron’s case. 

Sign now and share:


I was in the courtroom with Aaron and Heymann (pronounced “High-muhn”) multiple times in person. I’ve never seen Aaron react so viscerally to the presence of another human being. He wasn’t dramatic about it; I’m not sure someone who didn’t know him as well as I did would have noticed. But you could see the tension in his body, the effort he had to make to stay mentally focused and calm with Heymann there in the same room.  

Aaron’s last court date before he died was in December 2012. At his lawyers’ behest, the judge granted a hearing (which would have taken place on January 25) to review whether some of the evidence that Heymann had introduced was admissible at trial. I and another of Aaron’s friends were sitting in the benches behind the prosecutor and defense tables. We were the only people in the courtroom other than the parties, the judge and his assistants, and an MIT Tech reporter. After the hearing, I went up to Aaron outside the courtroom to give him a hug. Heymann was standing maybe 10 feet away. Aaron pushed me away and hissed, “Not in front of Heymann. I don’t want to show Heymann that.” It still hurts to think about that moment.

Heymann and Ortiz wanted to make an example out of Aaron. Instead, we as a society must make an example out of Heymann and Ortiz. Prosecutors must understand that they have moral responsibilities. They cannot simply hide behind the phrase “prosecutorial discretion” to justify any decision. Their actions have consequences, and they must be held accountable to them.

I believe that as much as any other individual person, Steve Heymann’s decisions drove Aaron to his death. We’re never getting Aaron back, but we can try to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else again.

Sign the petition calling for Steve Heymann to be fired, and share with everyone you know before Monday’s deadline:


You should follow me on Twitter here.


*A few days after these two petitions went up at WhiteHouse.gov, the White House increased the # of required signatures to 100,000 in order for them to have to respond. However, the change took effect only for new petitions at that point, so my understanding is that the threshold for the Ortiz and Heymann petitions remains at 25,000.

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    We need this petition to get to 25,000* signatures by Monday, February 11. Please sign it right now, and share it with...
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