Michael Elkin, the Chicago-based attorney for Heather Mack, repeatedly maintained Mack's innocence in an extended Monday interview with Wednesday Journal. The former OPRF high school student is currently being held in a Bali jail as a suspect in the murder of her mother, Sheila von Wiese-Mack.
Elkin said Mack and her mother "were friends" but had a "tumultuous" relationship. He said that despite 86 telephone calls from the Mack home to Oak Park police over nine years – many for domestic violence between Heather and Sheila – she did not kill her mother.
"She was a normal 18-year-old kid who had trouble with parts of her youth – who doesn't?" Elkin said, adding, "Getting into a verbal or physical altercation with your mother is not the same thing as murdering your mother."
Elkin said Mack has been denied regular access to legal counsel.
Elkin said he and his legal team were denied access to Mack for four days, prior to a 15-minute conversation with the 18-year-old Sunday.
Elkin, who remains in Chicago, said that in his brief conversation Mack told him that it would be the last phone call she would be allowed to make.
"She said, 'I don't know how much more of this I can take,'" Elkin said. "I said, 'Be strong, and there is someone who is going to be seeing you.'"
Elkin, who maintains his client's innocence, said he is not licensed to practice law in Indonesia, but he is working with a team of experts in international and Indonesian law to find Mack adequate legal counsel.
Elkin, who practices criminal defense and family law in Chicago, emphasized that he is "not practicing law in a different country" and that once a new lawyer is hired to represent Mack "Heather may or may not want me to act as an advisor."
He said he has not travelled to Bali because his presence "may create a press fiasco" that he does not believe would benefit his client. Once an attorney is chosen by Mack, they also will deal with the "media fiasco," Elkin said.
The international press coverage the story has gained could work against her in the court of public opinion, Elkin said.
"I said to her, 'You have really bad press – internationally bad press.' She was shocked," he said.
He said the "gruesome portrayal" of Heather's mother being carried out of the hotel, dead in a large suitcase was shocking and has aroused "a lot of hatred" and angry comments on news websites across the globe.
Elkin noted that Mack was given access to a police-appointed lawyer shortly after her arrest on Aug. 13, but said he does not believe the attorney is the best choice for her legal representation.
Mack is willing to discuss the case with Bali police, Elkin said, but she still is waiting to speak to her legal counsel.
"She's got pretty bad media press coverage, and she hasn't had the opportunity to speak," Elkin said. "She's doing so through me, and I'm confirming that there have been problems with relaying that information. The whole idea that she's not cooperating (with police) is salacious. It's just not true."
Elkin confirmed that he is not representing Tommy Schaefer, Mack's 21-year-old boyfriend who also is being held by Bali police as a suspect in the murder. "I don't believe (Tommy) has a lawyer at this time," Elkin said.
He said he informed the U.S. Consulate in Bali that he did not want information about Schaefer's case because he did not want to create a conflict of interest with his client. "I must have an undivided interest toward my client," Elkin said.
Elkin confirmed reports that Mack is pregnant, but aimed to debunk news accounts that she had received a psychiatric evaluation by Bali police.
"She was given a (psychiatric evaluation) pamphlet to fill out, but she did not participate," Elkin said. "She's waiting for her local legal advisor to tell her what to do."
Mack did participate in a blood test, which was how authorities confirmed that she is pregnant. He gave few details about media reports concerning Mack's claims that she was sexually assaulted while in jail, but Elkin said he was "worried for her safety."
"My understanding is that she is isolated and with a female guard," Elkin said.
Elkin said that press reports noting that Mack and Schaefer could potentially face the death penalty if convicted of the murder are correct, acknowledging that death by firing squad is the preferred method.
He said his research also shows that the country uses the firing squad "a couple of times a year."
Considering that Mack is pregnant, Elkin tells Wednesday Journal that he believes the Indonesian court system "would probably be a little more intelligent and make her wait it out (through the term of her pregnancy)."
He declined to comment on whether he believes the U.S. government would step in if Mack were given the death penalty.
Elkin said the court hearing Mack faces in Indonesian will look different to outside observers who are familiar with the U.S. system of justice. The U.S. court system practices a so-called adversarial system, while Indonesian courts use an inquisitorial system.
The main difference between the two systems of justice, Elkin said, is that in the Indonesian courts, judges have more discretion in asking follow-up questions while lawyers argue the case.
Elkin said that under the inquisitorial system judges can infer that a defendant is guilty if he or she chooses not to take the stand. In U.S. courts, judges remind juries that because a defendant does not answer questions in their own defense does not suggest their guilt.
He said that national news outlets – particularly entertainment television news programs – have painted Heather as an "evil person," at one point saying that she and Schaefer participated in sexual relations following the mother's murder.
"There's a big problem with the way (Mack and Schaefer) were being portrayed," Elkin said. "I don't care how stupid you may think Heather is, you don't dump a body in a taxi and think it's never going to be found out."
Elkin was short on details when asked how it came about that he is serving as Mack's legal counsel. He said he had met her not through "a professional legal advice setting" but through mutual friends of younger staff members working at his law firm.
He declined to discuss the setting of his introduction to Mack, but noted that he is a "people watcher."
"I like to discuss people, and if I meet someone who was older or younger than me, I can learn something from everybody," he said.
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