January 23, 1998 in Nation/World

Kaczynski Pleads Guilty To Bombings Montana Hermit Admits He’s The Unabomber In Exchange For Life Sentence

Lynda Gorov Boston Globe
 

As the younger brother who turned him in cried quiet tears of relief, Theodore Kaczynski admitted Thursday that he was the Unabomber who had terrorized the nation with package bombs for nearly two decades.

By pleading guilty on the day his twice-delayed trial was to start, Kaczynski guaranteed that he will spend the rest of his life in prison or a federal psychiatric facility without possibility of release. Prosecutors had been seeking the death penalty, an outcome whose possibility was diminished by a government psychiatrist’s finding last week that Kaczynski is mentally ill.

Asked how he pleaded to the charges contained in both the federal indictment against him in Sacramento and another in New Jersey, the 55-year-old Kaczynski responded in a firm voice: “Guilty, Your Honor.”

As her older son confessed publicly for the first time, a tear ran down Wanda Kaczynski’s cheek. David Kaczynski, who contacted the FBI and has fought since to save his brother’s life, leaned into her for comfort. As he has done every day in court, Theodore Kaczynski, wearing one of his trademark sweaters with his once-ragged beard neatly trimmed, refused to look at the family that kept returning to show their love and support regardless of his crimes.

“Our reaction to today’s plea agreement is one of deep relief,” David Kaczynski said afterward, adding that his brothers’ victims “will be in our hearts and thoughts forever.”

Kaczynski, whose bombs killed three men and injured many more, made his last-minute plea after U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell Jr. refused to allow him to act as his own attorney. Saying his request came too late, and that Kaczynski must have known that his public defenders planned to portray him as mentally ill, Burrell accused him of attempting to delay the trial once again. Quoting another court decision, Burrell went so far as to say that allowing Kaczynski to represent himself would provide him a “suicide forum.”

Soon after, the prosecutors and defense team were meeting privately, hammering out the plea agreement. Later in the day, the jurors who had been chosen Dec. 22 were released without ever being sworn in.

“The Unabomber’s career is over …,” said lead prosecutor Robert Cleary, adding that the final plea agreement was the first offer “without strings attached” made by the defense. “We concluded justice could best be served by immediately guaranteeing that the defendant will spend the rest of his life behind bars.”

Relatives of Kaczynski’s victims were in court to see that justice was done, and they too cried as the man who changed their lives forever finally admitted that his hate for technology had led him to kill and maim. In a chillingly flat voice, prosecutor Steven Lapham read journal entry after journal entry detailing Kaczynski’s crimes and his glee over successful bombings and frustration over misfires.

“The thing failed to explode. Damn,” he wrote after placing a firebomb outside a business class at the University of Utah in 1981.

“Success at last … I am no longer bothered by crippling this guy,” he wrote after a May 1985 package bomb mangled the arm of an Air Force captain and Ph.D candidate at the University of California at Berkeley.

The journals were part of the mounds of evidence uncovered in the tiny Montana shack where the Harvard-educated hermit lived and was arrested in April 1996 after his brother noticed similarities between his writings and the Unabomber “manifesto” published by two major newspapers.

Some of it - carbon copies of letters Kaczynski wrote to newspapers as the Unabomber, a typewriter whose characters matched the labels on bomb packages, bomb components themselves - was outlined by prosecutors Thursday, with Kaczynski agreeing each time with the evidence against him.

Kaczynski also repeated, “Yes, Your Honor,” each time the judge asked him whether he understood the ramifications of his decision and provided the briefest moment of levity when he listed his occupation. “That’s an open question right now,” he told Burrell in response to a question. “Jail inmate.”

“A cold killing man with no remorse; this was terrorism,” Connie Murray, the wife of one of Kaczynski’s unintended victims, a California Forestry Association official, said in a statement read by FBI Chaplain Mark O’Sullivan. “Gil Murray was assassinated and there was no remorse even though he killed the wrong man.”

O’Sullivan, speaking on behalf of the Murray family, said Kaczynski had attempted again and again to “manipulate the system.” Last week, he finally underwent a much-dreaded psychiatric exam, hoping to be labeled competent to stand trial. He was. But Dr. Sally Johnson, a courtappointed psychiatrist, also concluded that Kaczynski suffers from serious mental illness, including “schizophrenia, paranoid type” - a conclusion that judicial observers said would have made it difficult for prosecutors to win a death sentence.

“The government didn’t want to appear weak on terrorism, but it would almost look like a vendetta, going after a mentally ill person with the death penalty,” said Joshua Dressler, a professor at Sacramento’s McGeorge Law School. “This was a good compromise. The prosecution knew it wasn’t going to get death. The defense knew it wasn’t going to get an acquittal.”

A day after President Clinton said he hoped the case would go to trial, Kaczynski pleaded guilty to each charge of bombing and murder in the 10-count indictment against him in Sacramento and another three-count indictment in New Jersey. In addition to a life sentence, which the judge said he will formally impose in May, Kaczynski was also fined $3.25 million to ensure that he does not profit from book or movie deals he makes from prison and that his victims will receive restitution.

Kaczynski’s deal with the federal prosecutors does not preclude a state or county from bringing similar charges against him, but that is considered unlikely. Because his plea was unconditional, Kaczynski cannot appeal any aspect of the case.

“After nearly two decades of terrorizing American families, and after the senseless murder of our former president, Gil Murray, Theodore Kaczynski has finally met his fate,” said David Bischel, president of the forestry association.

As Tony Bisceglie, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who represents the Kaczynski family, noted, it was two years ago this week that David Kaczynski called his office asking for assistance. He feared his brother was the Unabomber, Bisceglie said, and wanted help approaching law enforcement officials. Later, he came to believe that the federal government, unable to apprehend the Unabomber on its own, had burned him by insisting on trying to put his brother to death.

Outside the courthouse, Cleary the prosecutor called David Kaczynski “a true American hero.”

“He wanted only one thing,” Bisceglie said. “He wanted to stop those killings, prevent further injuries and save the life of his brother. David Kaczynski has achieved his goals.”

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: MAJOR EVENTS Major events in the life of Theodore Kaczynski:

May 22, 1942: Born in Chicago suburb of Evergreen Park, Ill. His mother brings him up reading Scientific American; his father, a sausage maker, teaches Ted and his younger brother David how to live outdoors. Spring 1958: After skipping two years in school and showing an aptitude for math and making small explosive devices, Kaczynski graduates from Evergreen Park High School. Spring 1962: Kaczynski graduates from Harvard University, and goes on to master’s and doctorate in math from the University of Michigan. Fall 1967: Kaczynski gets a coveted math teaching post at the University of California-Berkeley. He quits without explanation in 1969. 1971: Kaczynski is rejected for immigration to Canada and begins writing anti-technology tracts. The Kaczynski brothers buy land near Lincoln, Mont., where Kaczynski later builds his small cabin. 1978: Kaczynski is fired by his brother from the Chicago-area factory where they worked for harassing a female employee. He returns to his cabin. 1979-1996: Kaczynski lives as a hermit, hunting rabbits, growing vegetables, complaining about pay phones and worrying about getting rabies from skunks. He borrows small amounts of money from his family. April 3, 1996: Acting on David Kaczynski’s suspicions following the publication of the Unabomber manifesto, federal agents arrest Kaczynski at his cabin. He is subsequently indicted in Sacramento and New Jersey for five Unabomber attacks. Jan. 21, 1998: Kaczynski pleads guilty to 13 charges in a bargain with the government that will send him to prison for life. - Associated Press

This sidebar appeared with the story: MAJOR EVENTS Major events in the life of Theodore Kaczynski:

May 22, 1942: Born in Chicago suburb of Evergreen Park, Ill. His mother brings him up reading Scientific American; his father, a sausage maker, teaches Ted and his younger brother David how to live outdoors. Spring 1958: After skipping two years in school and showing an aptitude for math and making small explosive devices, Kaczynski graduates from Evergreen Park High School. Spring 1962: Kaczynski graduates from Harvard University, and goes on to master’s and doctorate in math from the University of Michigan. Fall 1967: Kaczynski gets a coveted math teaching post at the University of California-Berkeley. He quits without explanation in 1969. 1971: Kaczynski is rejected for immigration to Canada and begins writing anti-technology tracts. The Kaczynski brothers buy land near Lincoln, Mont., where Kaczynski later builds his small cabin. 1978: Kaczynski is fired by his brother from the Chicago-area factory where they worked for harassing a female employee. He returns to his cabin. 1979-1996: Kaczynski lives as a hermit, hunting rabbits, growing vegetables, complaining about pay phones and worrying about getting rabies from skunks. He borrows small amounts of money from his family. April 3, 1996: Acting on David Kaczynski’s suspicions following the publication of the Unabomber manifesto, federal agents arrest Kaczynski at his cabin. He is subsequently indicted in Sacramento and New Jersey for five Unabomber attacks. Jan. 21, 1998: Kaczynski pleads guilty to 13 charges in a bargain with the government that will send him to prison for life. - Associated Press


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