Bomber Offers Guilty Pleas, and Defiance

ATLANTA, April 13 – Declaring himself “bloodied but emphatically unbowed,” Eric Robert Rudolph on Wednesday issued his first public explanation for a series of abortion clinic bombings and an attack at the 1996 Olympics, gloating that his plea deal with prosecutors “deprived the government of its goal of sentencing me to death.”

In the 11-page statement, devoid of remorse but rife with anti-abortion and antigay language, Mr. Rudolph said he had originally intended to bomb the Olympics every day to “confound, anger and embarrass” the government for legalizing abortion, but was foiled by his own poor planning.

He described watching federal agents who hunted for him in the North Carolina woods during his five years as a fugitive, and disputed a popular theory that he was influenced by an extremist Christian sect based on racial purity.

The statement was released after Mr. Rudolph pleaded guilty to four bombings: the Olympic attack here in the summer of 1996, attacks on an abortion clinic and gay club here in 1997 and an explosion at a clinic in Birmingham, Ala., in 1998. Collectively, the bombings killed two people and injured 150.

Mr. Rudolph made the pleas, first in federal court Wednesday morning in Birmingham and later in the day in Atlanta, as part of a deal he struck to avoid execution. Mr. Rudolph will serve four consecutive life sentences with no possibility of parole.

The statement was a sharply unambiguous follow-up to the two hearings, and left some bombing victims and their relatives with the sense that Mr. Rudolph was anything but contrite.

In Birmingham, dressed in a red jail uniform and shackled at the ankles, Mr. Rudolph nodded vigorously as a narrative account of the bombings was read aloud, and at one point he appeared to wink in the direction of the prosecutors.

“It was very unsettling,” said John Hawthorne, whose wife, Alice, was killed in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, adding that he would not have as readily agreed to the plea deal had he known how Mr. Rudolph would behave.

Prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty if Mr. Rudolph admitted guilt and revealed the whereabouts of about 250 pounds of dynamite he had hidden in the North Carolina mountains, including a bomb intended for federal agents hunting him.

In the statement, Mr. Rudolph described an elaborate plan to kill those agents, but said he changed his mind at the last minute. “Perhaps after watching them for so many months, their individual humanity shown through the hated uniform,” he wrote ungrammatically. “It was not that I lost my resolve to fight in the defense of the unborn.”

At a news conference, David E. Nahmias, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta, said the plea deal resolved a significant public safety problem posed by the hidden explosives and avoided the uncertainties inherent in a lengthy trial.

“Eric Rudolph is guilty today,” Mr. Nahmias said. “There will be no further delays in obtaining justice for the public and the many victims of his terrorist activity.”

Mr. Nahmias also noted that life in prison was the most severe possible sentence for most of the injuries Mr. Rudolph caused. “The families of the victims for whom we could seek the death penalty accepted this agreement,” he said.

The hearings, in which Mr. Rudolph and his lawyers had to confirm that he was freely entering into the plea deal and understood its terms, were primarily a formulaic catechism of “yes, sirs” and “no, sirs.”

But when Judge C. Lynwood Smith of Federal District Court in Birmingham asked Mr. Rudolph if the government had enough evidence to prove its case against him, he answered, “Just barely, Your Honor.”

And when the judge asked if Mr. Rudolph had detonated the clinic bomb, which killed an off-duty police officer, Robert Sanderson, and maimed a nurse, Emily Lyons, he replied, “I certainly did, Your Honor.”

Ms. Lyons; her husband, Jeff; Mr. Sanderson’s widow, Felecia; and Alice Hawthorne’s daughter, Fallon Stubbs, were in the courtroom, but all waived their right to speak, saying they would wait until the sentencing hearings. In Birmingham, Judge Smith scheduled that hearing for July 18 – coincidentally, Ms. Lyons’s birthday.

Mr. Rudolph’s statement, an amalgam of biblical quotations, sermonizing and an oddly passive voice, offered a glimpse of how he had planned and carried out the bombings and of his five years as the nation’s most famous fugitive, celebrated by some for his beliefs, admired by others for his ability to survive in the Appalachian wilderness, and reviled by many as a domestic terrorist.

Abortion was his central foe, though the Olympics, he wrote, promoted the “despicable ideals” of “global socialism” expressed in its theme song, John Lennon’s “Imagine.” His goal was to force the cancellation of the Games, or at least scare people away; at one point, he wrote, he planned five timed explosions, each preceded by a 911 warning so the affected area could be cleared.

But there was not enough time – the plan “was a monster that kept getting out of control the more I got into it,” he said.

In the closest thing the statement contained to an apology, he acknowledged that civilians were at risk: “There is no excuse for this, and I accept full responsibility for the consequences of using this dangerous tactic.”

After the first Olympics bombing, he decided not to follow through with the plan, and detonated the bombs at what he said appeared to be a large construction site east of Atlanta.

As for the attack on the gay nightclub, Mr. Rudolph, who has a gay brother, wrote that homosexuality practiced in private was acceptable, but that any effort to “drag this practice out of the closet” and have society recognize it as legitimate or normal “should be ruthlessly opposed.”

By the time of his final bombing, in 1998, he had refined his technique, designing what he called a “command-detonated focused device” that could be set off remotely when the desired victim appeared.

After considering three clinics in Birmingham – a location he chose “purely for tactical reasons” – he settled on the New Woman All Women clinic where, he said, “every employee is a knowing participant in this gruesome trade.”

He intended to set off the bomb when the doctor who provided abortions at the clinic appeared, he said, but was forced to change his plan when Officer Sanderson, the clinic security guard, discovered the device.

Mr. Rudolph described several attack plans, including an effort to bomb “an abortion mill” in Asheville, N.C., before the 2000 election, that he said were never carried out for various logistical reasons, including periods where he spent much of his time gathering food.

By the fall of 2000, he wrote, he had stockpiled a supply large enough to last several years.

Almost off-handedly, Mr. Rudolph described his frequent proximity to law enforcement agents. He used a dugout under a rock to avoid helicopters and heat-seeking equipment, describing one near-miss with evident exhilaration: “In defiance I looked toward the ridge into which the chopper had just gone and said, ‘I am still here.’ “

He also disputed accounts that he was a “big time drug dealer” and a believer in Christian Identity, a sect that espouses a white supremacist theology. He said that he attended the church because he was engaged to a woman whose father was a member.

“I was born a Catholic and with forgiveness I hope to die one,” Mr. Rudolph said, adding that he never agreed with the “convoluted Identity argument of racial determinism.”

He dismissed another story, that his anger at the government stemmed from its refusal to approve an experimental cancer drug that might have saved his father’s life, saying he knew nothing about the drug at the time.

Mr. Nahmias, the federal prosecutor, said that while much of Mr. Rudolph’s statement was “garbage,” it was useful as a document that filled in the gaps of the bombing investigation. “I think there’s a lot of stuff in there that no one would have ever known except him,” he said.

Vickii Howell contributed reporting from Birmingham, Ala.,for this article.

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The New York Times, USA
Apr. 14, 2005
Shaila Dewan

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday April 14, 2005.
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