(CNN) – Hillary Clinton pushed back at ongoing criticism of her providing legal defense decades ago to an accused rapist, explaining that she had asked not to be assigned to the case but ultimately had a responsibility to represent her client.
In 1975, Clinton, a 27-year-old attorney, was appointed by a judge to represent Thomas Alfred Taylor, a 41-year-old man accused of raping a young girl, for free while working at the legal aid clinic at the University of Arkansas.
"I asked to be relieved of that responsibility but I was not and I had a professional duty to represent my client to the best of my ability, which I did," Clinton told Mumsnet, a British-based online parenting network, in an interview published Saturday.
Based on court documents obtained by CNN and Clinton's own account in her 2003 memoir "Living History," she won a plea deal for Taylor, securing a significantly reduced charge and sentence, based on a forensic mistake that cast doubt on the semen and blood samples found in the defendant's underwear.
Critics have pounced on Clinton's involvement in the nearly four-decade-old case to suggest that the likely 2016 presidential candidate is not the champion of women's issues she frames herself to be, pointing to court documents that show then Hillary Rodham questioned the girl's emotional state and an audio recording of Clinton from the 1980s where she says she believed her client was guilty.
Asked about her defense method, Clinton told the British outlet: "When you're a lawyer you often don't have the choice as to who you will represent and, by the very nature of criminal law, there will be those you represent that you don't approve of but, at least in our system, you have an obligation, and once I was appointed I fulfilled that obligation."
Previously Mahlon Gibson, the prosecuting attorney in the case, told CNN Clinton was appointed by the judge and expressed reservations in taking the case.
CNN's Dana Davidsen and Dan Merica contributed to this report.