Softening its resolve to seek the death penalty against Theodore Kaczynski, the Justice Department last week secretly re-opened plea bargain talks with lawyers for the Unabom defendant, Newsweek reported.
Citing government sources, the magazine reports in today’s issue that Attorney General Janet Reno may not want to risk a circus trial that could lead to numerous appeals.
Last month, prosecutors reportedly turned down a conditional offer by Kaczynski to plead guilty in return for a life sentence, and were prepared to open his trial last Monday.
However, Kaczynski threw the proceedings into disarray by telling U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell that he wanted to fire his lawyers and represent himself at trial. Kaczynski later attempted suicide in his jail cell.
Burrell has put the trial on hold pending a psychiatric examination, which will be followed by a competency hearing scheduled for Jan. 22.
This week, a special panel of Justice Department lawyers will convene to reconsider whether Kaczynski deserves the death penalty, according to Newsweek.
“We have not and will not comment on any kind of ongoing discussion between the parties,” said Leesa Brown, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department prosecution team in Sacramento, Calif. But she noted that “it is the duty of the prosecution to listen to any credible offer by defense counsel at any time.”
She said it would be “oversimplifying what’s going on” to suggest that any plea talks with defense lawyers stemmed directly from last week’s unusual events, and specifically denied the Newsweek report that a special panel will meet this week on the death penalty question.
There was no immediate response to calls to Kaczynski’s lawyers.
Kaczynski has pleaded innocent to a 10-count indictment charging him with four bombings that killed two Sacramento men and maimed two scientists.
Some legal observers said the 55-year-old suspect has manipulated court proceedings to his advantage.
“I think he’s creating chaos and enjoying it,” former Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Heller said.
But Kaczynski’s family and his lawyers reject that suggestion.
“For anyone who’s been in that courtroom, it’s painfully obvious that this is a man who can’t deal with his madness, and a system of justice which can’t deal with his madness, either,” said Anthony Bisceglie, a lawyer for Kaczynski’s brother, David.