April 13, 2005
Rudolph pleads guilty in Birmingham to clinic bombing
‘He just sounded so proud of it,’ victim says
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — With a hint of pride in his voice and a wink at prosecutors, Eric Rudolph pleaded guilty Wednesday to setting off a deadly blast at an abortion clinic, the first of a string of bombings that will send him to prison for life.
“I certainly did, your honor,” Rudolph told the judge when asked if he had placed the bomb. He was expected to plead guilty to three other bombings in Atlanta later Wednesday, including the blast at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
With his admission, a nurse who was nearly killed in the blast began weeping in the front row of the courtroom.
“He just sounded so proud of it. That’s what really hurt,” said Emily Lyons, who lost an eye in the bombing and has had more than a dozen surgeries.
Case ‘just barely’ made
Rudolph, dressed in a red jail uniform, winked toward prosecutors as he entered court and spoke tersely to answer questions from the judge, saying the government could “just barely” prove its case if it went to trial.
He drummed his fingers on the side of a podium as a prosecutor told of how shrapnel from the bomb included a Wal-Mart hose clamp found inside the body of the off-duty police officer who died, then described pieces of a remote control receiver found in Lyons’ body.
Rudolph’s most elaborate statement was about the attorneys who helped him cut a plea agreement to save his life. “They’re very, very good, superlative attorneys,” he told the judge.
He arrived at the federal court in Birmingham in a car surrounded by 10 marked and unmarked police vehicles. Under the plea agreement, Rudolph will receive four consecutive life terms instead of facing the possibility of a death sentence.
Outside the courthouse, Lyons said she was “nauseated” that Rudolph’s plea will allow him to dodge the death penalty.
“We’ve always felt the death penalty is what he deserved. The punishment should fit the crime,” Lyons said. “It’s just a sickening feeling.”
Written explanation expected
Rudolph didn’t make any kind of apology in his brief court appearance, but his attorneys have said he planned to eventually release a written statement explaining how and why he committed the string of bombings that killed two people and wounded more than 120.
Believed to be a follower of a white supremacist religion that is anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-Semitic, Rudolph eluded a manhunt for more than five years in the Appalachian wilderness. He was captured in Murphy, N.C., in 2003, scavenging for food behind a grocery store.
As part of the plea agreement, Rudolph provided authorities with the location of more than 250 pounds of dynamite buried in the mountains of western North Carolina. The government said some of the explosives were found near populated areas and could have become unstable and detonated.
Under the plea deal, Fulton County prosecutors agreed not to pursue future state charges in Georgia against Rudolph at the request of federal authorities, said Erik Friedly, a spokesman for District Attorney Paul Howard. In Alabama, Jefferson County District Attorney David Barber said he wouldn’t comment on the possibility of any state charges there until after sentencing.
Authorities plan to hold Rudolph, 38, at the county jail in Birmingham while he awaits sentencing, which will likely be held within three months, court officials said.
Worse than death?
Deborah Rudolph, the ex-wife of Eric’s brother Joel, said Rudolph is hardly getting off easy. She said being kept in solitary confinement with only one hour a day of fresh air is a fitting punishment for an outdoorsman who hated the government.
“Knowing that he’s living under government control for the rest of his life, I think that’s worse to him than death,” she said from her home in Nashville, Tenn.
The judge in Birmingham said Rudolph will receive two consecutive life sentences for the abortion clinic bombing, $200 in special assessments and an undetermined amount of restitution to the victims to be decided when he is officially sentenced.
Diane Derzis, the owner of the Alabama clinic that Rudolph bombed, sat in court Wednesday with Lyons and Felicia Sanderson, the widow of police officer Robert Sanderson, who was killed in the blast.
She had hoped Rudolph’s confession would lead to the arrest of others she believes assisted in the attack, but prosecutors said Rudolph told authorities he acted alone.
Lyons said it seems Rudolph is being punished only for the bombs themselves and not the deaths and injuries that the bombs caused.
“We were a freebie for him,” she said.
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