ATLANTA – Olympic park bomber Eric Rudolph, who led federal authorities on a five-year cat-and-mouse game in the woods of North Carolina, showed a defiant face in court on Wednesday, boasting in a statement that he had “deprived the government of its goal of sentencing me to death.”
Rudolph pleaded guilty to four bombings Wednesday as part of a plea agreement that will allow him to escape the death penalty. In the morning, he appeared before a judge in Birmingham, Ala., where he pleaded guilty in the 1998 bombing of an abortion clinic. Then Rudolph was flown to Atlanta, where he pleaded guilty to bombing an abortion clinic, a lesbian nightclub and the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Rudolph appeared confident, even cocky, in the Birmingham courtroom. He winked at prosecutors, and when the judge asked him if he detonated a bomb spiked with nails and screws, killing Robert Sanderson, an off-duty police officer guarding the clinic, Rudolph drew himself up with evident pride.
“I certainly did, your honor,” he said.
In Atlanta, Rudolph’s attorneys released a rambling, 11-page statement in which he described his political philosophy, centered on his opposition to abortion. Rudolph compares himself to a patriot in the Revolutionary War, and explains that he set out to “drag this monstrosity of a government down to the dust where it belongs.”
“Abortion is murder,” he wrote. “And when the regime in Washington legalized, sanctioned and legitimized this practice, they forfeited their legitimacy and moral authority to govern.”
Several victims of the bombings, who had waited for years to see Rudolph in person, said they were stunned by his self-satisfied tone. Emily Lyons, who lost an eye in the Birmingham bombing, clutched a tissue as she stood outside the courtroom.
“He just seemed so proud,” said Lyons, who has undergone 20 surgeries to remove shrapnel. “That’s what really hurt. I really didn’t expect so much cockiness from him.”
Wednesday’s court proceedings reunited all the players in a crime that has riveted the Southeast for almost a decade.
In the courtroom in Atlanta sat Richard Jewell, the security guard who was fingered as a suspect in the 1996 bombing of the Centennial Olympic Park, and, after a frenzy of media coverage, exonerated. In Birmingham, U.S. attorney Alice Martin for the first time named the two bystanders who spotted Rudolph leaving the scene of the Birmingham bombing. One scribbled Rudolph’s license plate number on a McDonald’s cup and read it to police, leading authorities to his hometown of Murphy, N.C.
Then there were the searchers who spent five years trying to arrest Rudolph. Attending the hearings were dozens of men and women in uniform – park rangers, FBI agents, sheriffs’ deputies, police, and agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Rudolph was caught in 2003 in Murphy by a rookie cop who discovered him rummaging for food in a Dumpster behind a grocery store.
For many, Wednesday offered the first clear view of a man who dominated a long stretch of their careers. “It reinforced my belief about this man that I have had since day one when I saw Robert Sanderson’s body that he has no soul whatsoever,” said G. Douglas Jones, who was U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Alabama at the time of the clinic bombing. “He is a cold, callous individual whose personal political beliefs trump anything – life, death, or human emotion.”
Fallon Stubbs, who was 14 when her mother, Alice Hawthorne, was killed beside her in Centennial Olympic Park, said she had hoped to feel sympathy.
“I was looking for a man,” said Stubbs, 22. “I found a monster.”
Rudolph’s treatise sheds some light on lingering mysteries surrounding the bombings. He wrote that in 1996, he decided on a spectacular attack on the Atlanta Olympics, whose purpose, he said, “is to promote the values of global socialism.” He hoped to force the cancellation of the Games, “to confound, anger and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand.”
He hoped to do so without harming civilians, he wrote. Rudolph said he tried to clear the area by giving the location of the bomb in two 911 calls but both calls were aborted before he could do so. Hawthorne died in that blast, and more than 100 were injured.
“The result of all this was to produce a disaster – a disaster of my making and for which I do apologize to the victims and their families,” he wrote.
Rudolph also described a plan that could have killed or wounded dozens of federal agents. In 2000, he wrote, he buried a bomb containing 25 pounds of dynamite next to the National Guard armory in Murphy, the headquarters of the search operations. But at the last minute, he wrote, he decided not to detonate it.
“Perhaps after watching them for so many months, their individual humanity showed through the hated uniform,” he wrote. “I had no hatred for them as individuals. Even though they served a morally bankrupt government, underneath their FBI rags, they were essentially fellow countrymen.”
In his statement, Rudolph called abortion “the vomitarium of modernity” and reveled in the injuries “the abortionist Lyons” suffered. He explained that he targeted the Otherside Lounge in Atlanta, a lesbian nightclub, because he felt that the gay rights movement “is a direct assault upon the long-term health and integrity of civilization.”
After the afternoon pleading in Atlanta, U.S. Attorney David Nahmias celebrated the completion of the plea agreement. In exchange for the plea deal, Rudolph gave authorities directions to four stashes of dynamite and a bomb, any of which could have exploded if they were jostled.
Prosecutors reached an agreement with Rudolph’s lawyers April 4, he said, and by the following Friday, agents had uncovered 250 pounds of dynamite that Rudolph had left underground.
“Had we not entered these plea agreements, Eric Rudolph might have killed more people after he was imprisoned or executed than he did when he was free,” Nahmias said.