SACRAMENTO – Retired Sacramento federal defender Quinn Denvir, who was instrumental in keeping the Unabomber from receiving the death penalty, has died.
Denvir, 76, died on June 3 at the Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento. He suffered from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable disease that creates scarring in the lungs, and had been hospitalized since May.
A longtime opponent to the death penalty, Denvir was recognized nationally as a trial and appellate lawyer, serving as the federal defender for the Eastern District of California until 2005, when he retired. During this time, Denvir represented several notorious and high-profile cases including Ted Kaczynski, dubbed the Unabomber, who was sentenced to life in prison for his bombings, which killed three and injured 29.
“He was great at working on cases that had unique issues that the law wasn’t settled or that really had an uphill climb," Dennis Waks, Denvir's longtime friend and chief assistant on the Unabomber case, told the Northern California Record. "He just relished stuff like that. People really sought him out just because he was such a great attorney. If you would meet with him, you wouldn’t think he was this potentially famous criminal attorney. He was probably more famous than he ever led on."
Following Denvir’s retirement from the federal defender’s office, he handled several defense cases from his home and continued to lobby against the death penalty, writing Gov. Jerry Brown to commune the death penalty for 747 condemned inmates saying he was haunted by the death penalty ever since it had been reinstated in California in 1977.
“He was a good friend," Waks said. “He was brave and praised with no ego. He was one of those unassuming kinds of people. I’ve known him for about 40 years. We used to hang around a lot. He was a pleasure to be with in the office and outside the office, but mostly outside the office because he was a lot of fun. I can’t believe he’s gone.”
Denvir was born on the south side of Chicago in 1940 and graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1962. He spent four years in the Navy, reaching the ranks of lieutenant when he left in 1962.
“Quin Denvir was an extraordinary person in every sense of the word," Brad Wishek, a Sacramento attorney who met Denvir when he was a young lawyer about 25 years ago, told the Northern California Record. "A bright light in my life and so many others. Quin was my best friend, and yet I know there are probably dozens of others who would count him in the same way. I had the incredible fortune of getting to know Quin when I was a very young lawyer. There was no one better anywhere."
Denvir earned his law degree from the University of Chicago in 1969 and worked for a large law firm in Washington, where he also met his wife, Ann. Denvir is survived by his wife, two children and six grandchildren.
“Anyone who spent time around Quin would have to come away thinking they should try to be more like him,” Wishek said. “He was not just a complete lawyer, as I know others have referred to him, but a complete person.”