BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Eric Rudolph has agreed to plead guilty
to carrying out the deadly bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and
setting off three other blasts in a deal that allows the
anti-government extremist to escape the death penalty, Justice
Department officials said Friday.
"The many victims of Eric Rudolph's terrorist attacks ... can
rest assured that Rudolph will spend the rest of his life behind
bars," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said.
Rudolph, 38, is scheduled to admit his guilt Wednesday in court.
The plea deal calls for four consecutive life sentences without the
possibility of parole. Rudolph had faced a possible death sentence.
Defense lawyer Bill Bowen did not immediately return a call
Rudolph, thought to be a follower of a white supremacist
religion that is anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-Semitic, was
charged with carrying out a series of blasts in Georgia and Alabama
in the late 1990s that killed two people and injured more than 120.
One woman was killed and more than 100 people were injured in
the Olympic blast, caused by a bomb in a backpack. In the next two
years, he allegedly set off bombs at a lesbian nightclub in Atlanta
and at two abortion clinics -- one in Birmingham and one in Atlanta.
The Birmingham attack killed an off-duty police officer and maimed
Rudolph then slipped away into the mountains of western North
Carolina, where the former soldier used survivalist techniques to
live off the land for more than five years -- all while being on the
FBI's list of 10 Most Wanted fugitives. Then in May 2003, he was
captured after being seen scavenging for food near a grocery store
trash bin in Murphy, N.C.
Jury selection in the Birmingham bombing began this week.
Linda Bourgeois, administrator at the Birmingham abortion
clinic, said a couple of employees "jumped [up] and down and screamed"
in excitement over the news of the plea deal. "We think it's a
victory for all women everywhere," she said.
Under the plea deal, Rudolph also provided authorities with the
location of more than 250 pounds of dynamite buried in the
mountains of North Carolina, including one fully constructed bomb
with a detonator. The Justice Department said the explosives were
located and safely disposed of.
Jeff Lyons, whose wife was left blind in one eye in the Alabama
bombing, said he and his wife were "extremely disappointed" in
the life sentences. "As they say, let the punishment fit the
crime. That was a death sentence," he said.
But Lyons said he understood prosecutors' reasons for agreeing
to a plea deal since Rudolph directed them to explosives --
something that likely would not have happened had the case gone to
trial. The government said some of the explosives were found
"relatively near populated areas."
Rudolph became an almost a mythic figure to some residents of
the region during a search across 550,000 acres of Appalachian
wilderness that at one time involved 200 agents. Many mocked the
government's inability to root him out. He inspired two
country-western songs and a top-selling T-shirt bore the words
"Run Rudolph Run." A $1 million reward offer from the government
Investigators suspect that sympathizers in the countryside might
have assisted Rudolph during his time on the run.
Charles Stone, a retired Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent
who helped oversee the Rudolph bombing probe, said a life sentence
might be a more fitting punishment for a man who thrived in the
"He'll be caged for the rest of his life, and from a
retribution aspect, that's probably worse than a death sentence for
him," Stone said.
After the Olympic bombing, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
reported that security guard Richard Jewell was being investigated
in the bombing. But he was cleared by the FBI three months later
and eventually filed a civil lawsuit against the newspaper that is
Jewell's attorney said Friday that the plea deal should be a
final vindication. "One does not have to speculate a great deal to
imagine how he will feel when he does receive this final and total
vindication," attorney L. Lin Wood said.
Justice Department officials chose the Birmingham bombing as the
one to try first, and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft decided
to seek the death penalty if Rudolph was convicted. Right after
Rudolph's capture, Ashcroft predicted the Alabama trial would be
"relatively short and straightforward."