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Court denies Unabomber’s demand for trial

The Associated Press
Tuesday February 13, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court denied Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski’s bid for a trial Monday, saying he failed to present evidence he was coerced into pleading guilty to three fatal mail bombings. 

Kaczynski, who entered his plea in January 1998 in a mail-bombing spree that killed three people and injured 23, had told the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals he felt pressured to plead guilty as a way to avoid being portrayed as mentally ill by his defense attorneys. 

But Kaczynski “admits that this is speculative and that no proof for it is possible,” Judge Pamela Ann Rymer wrote in the 2-1 decision. 

Kaczynski had claimed a federal judge violated his rights by allowing his lawyers to use his mental condition as a defense, over his objections, and denying his request to represent himself. He had wanted a trial even if it meant getting the death penalty but was given a life sentence in exchange for his guilty plea. 

Kaczynski pleaded guilty in 1998 to a nearly 20-year bombing spree. Kaczynski, 58, dubbed the Unabomber, led authorities on the nation’s longest and costliest manhunt before his arrest at his remote Montana mountain cabin in 1996. 

In correspondence with The Associated Press, Kaczynski said he was innocent. 

“People sometimes plead guilty without being so simply because that may represent their least undesirable alternative in a given legal situation,” he wrote in one of two letters to The AP. 

The Justice Department initially sought a death sentence for Kaczynski but accepted a life sentence after a court-ordered psychiatric examination, conducted over his objections, concluded he was a paranoid schizophrenic. 

He said in his appeal that it was necessary to plead guilty to avoid a trial at which he would be portrayed as mentally ill by his court-appointed defense attorneys. 

In handwritten court papers, Kaczynski referred to himself in the third person and wrote that the guilty pleas “were induced by the threat of a mental-state defense that Kaczynski would have found unendurable, as well as by deprivation of constitutional rights.” 

The Unabomber wrote that his “counsel’s portrayal of him as a grotesque lunatic would have been broadcast nationwide, and this was a prospect that anyone might have found unendurable. Suicide to avoid public humiliation is by no means unknown.” 

Kaczynski attempted suicide in jail after his lawyers told him of their plans. 

The Unabomber told The AP that if he was granted a new trial, he might argue that the government falsified evidence against him. 

“I may use, for example, a defense that will emphasize, among other things, the dishonesty and incompetence of the FBI,” he wrote to The AP. 

Michael Mello, author of “The United States of America versus Theodore John Kaczynski,” said Kaczynski deserved a trial. 

“Had he been able to hire his own lawyers, he would have been represented in a way if we were paying $300 per hour,” Mello said. “He was too poor to hire Johnnie Cochran and company.” 

In a sole dissent, Judge Stephen Reinhardt agreed with Mello’s conclusion. 

“This case involves the right of a seriously disturbed individual to insist upon representing himself at trial, even when the end result is likely to be his execution,” Reinhardt wrote. 

Kaczynski wrote to the court that he “repeatedly made it clear to his attorneys that if presented with a choice between life imprisonment and a death sentence, he would just as soon have the death sentence.” 

The Harvard-trained mathematician turned Montana recluse is serving a life sentence at a federal maximum-security prison in Florence, Colo., for the string of Unabomber attacks between 1978 and 1995. Two were killed in Sacramento and the other in New Jersey. 

The government labeled him the Unabomber because many of his attacks were directed at university scholars. Kaczynski’s writings have connected the attacks to his campaign against what he considered the tyranny of technology. 

J. Tony Serra, a prominent San Francisco defense attorney who volunteered to represent Kaczynski, said the Unabomber, if granted a new trial, would have needed to put on a so-called “political defense” as his only, albeit slim, chance of avoiding a death sentence. 

Serra said that Kaczynski told him during a prison visit more than a year ago that the Unabomber told him that “he always wanted to go to trial. He wanted to air his principles, his ideology behind his actions. He thinks he was saving the world.” 

Timothy McVeigh offered a similar and unsuccessful political defense, claiming he killed 168 people by blowing up a federal building in Oklahoma City as retribution for the FBI’s attack on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. 


On the Net: 

9th Circuit opinions: 

The case is United States vs. Kaczynski, 99-16531.