Watch CBS News

Family Blames Prosecutors For Reddit Co-Founder's Suicide

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The family of a co-founder of Reddit has blamed prosecutors for allegedly driving him to suicide, weeks before he was to go on trial on federal charges that he stole millions of scholarly articles.

Aaron Swartz, 26, hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment Friday night.

Swartz was arrested in Boston in 2011 and charged with stealing millions of articles from a computer archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prosecutors said he broke into a computer wiring closet on campus and used his laptop for the downloads.

According to a federal indictment, Swartz stole the documents from JSTOR, a subscription service used by MIT that offers digitized copies of articles from academic journals. Prosecutors said he intended to distribute the articles on file-sharing websites.

He had pleaded not guilty, and his federal trial was to begin next month. If convicted, he faced decades in prison and a fortune in fines.

Swartz's family in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park said in a statement: ``Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.

"Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's office and at MIT contributed to his death," continued the statement issued by Swartz's parents – Robert and Susan Swartz; his brothers -- Noah and Ben; and his partner – Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman. "The U.S. Attorney's office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSOTR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community's most cherished principles."

Swartz was pronounced dead Friday evening at home in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood, said Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for New York's chief medical examiner.

He had fought to make online content free to the public and as a teenager helped create RSS, a family of Web feed formats used to gather updates from blogs, news headlines, audio and video for users.

Swartz's family was not alone in criticizing prosecutors.

The prosecution ``makes no sense,'' Demand Progress Executive Director David Segal said in a statement at the time. ``It's like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.''

Also criticizing the government's actions in the pending prosecution, Harvard law professor and Safra Center faculty director Lawrence Lessig called himself a friend of Swartz's and wrote Saturday that ``we need a better sense of justice. --- The question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a `felon.'''

JSTOR announced this week that it would make ``more than 4.5 million articles'' publicly available for free.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Do you think the charges against Swartz were unfair? Leave your comments below...

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.