Unabomber suspect Theodore Kaczynski, who authorities suspect might have tried to commit suicide in his jail cell, agreed Thursday to a psychiatric evaluation of his competence to stand trial and to conduct his own defense.
The trial, in which Kaczynski is charged in 10 counts with mailing bombs that killed two people and maimed two more in a campaign against modern technology, was halted pending agreement among attorneys on the scope of Kaczynski’s competency examination. In the meantime, authorities said he will be kept under a 24-hour suicide watch.
This will delay proceedings at least until next week, possibly until next month, taking the Unabomber case back to an ititial phase soon after Kaczynki’s arrest in April 1996 when prosecution and defense lawyers agreed he was competent to stand trial. The new evaluation of his mental health could lead to a reassessment of that agreement, even to a finding he is unfit to stand trial.
No mention of the reported suicide attempt was made in the court session Thursday, in which Kaczynski sought to dismiss his lawyers and represent himself because they planned to introduce the question of his mental health. It was unclear whether U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell Jr. or attorneys in the case even knew at the time of the hearing about the incident.
After the proceedings recessed with agreement on the examination, Sacramento County Undersheriff Lou Blanas announced that U.S. marshals informed him at midmorning that Kaczynski had arrived at the federal courthouse Thursday wearing his jail jumpsuit but without his underwear on. Kaczynski changes from the jumpsuit into his own clothes at the federal courthouse each day. He reportedly told the marshals he lost his underwear in the shower after they noticed it was missing.
Blanas said a subsequent search of his jail cell did not uncover Kaczynski’s underwear, which his jailers said they suspect he flushed down the toilet after a failed suicide attempt. U.S. marshals also reported they saw a red rash on the right side of Kaczynski’s throat while he dressed for his court appearance, leading them to conclude he had tried to hang himself with the missing underwear sometime before leaving his cell.
The Unabomber suspect reported feeling depressed Monday but otherwise has been described as “a model prisoner.” Blanas said he will now be watched around the clock by a nurse and wear a heart monitor.
The morning began with prosecutors preparing to present their opening arguments. Burrell had said during proceedings Wednesday that Kaczynski was barred from changing attorneys and had agreed to stick with his current defense team, meaning the arguments could begin Thursday morning.
But then defense attorney Judy Clarke stood.
“Mr. Kaczynski has a request,” she announced, “that he be permitted to go forward as his own counsel.”
Clarke emphasized that Kaczynski was ready to proceed immediately and was not seeking a delay in the trial.
She explained that her client emphatically did not want his lawyers to offer a mental health defense, “a situation he simply cannot endure.”
Kaczynski’s attorneys have long wrangled with their client over the use of a partial “mental defect” defense, in which they would argue that he might have sent mail bombs, but could not form the criminal intent to murder or maim because of his delusional state of mind.
Clarke said she believes Kaczynski’s mental illness - diagnosed by defense experts as paranoid schizophrenia - manifests as one of its symptoms “the unedurability” of hearing himself described as psychologically deranged.
“His present counsel intend to present this case in light of mental illness,” she said. She added that Kaczynski has had, for his entire adult life, a deep fear of being considered insane.