TOPICS > Politics

The Unabomber Trial

January 23, 1998 at 12:00 AM EDT


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Theodore Kacyzinski pleaded guilty yesterday to all the federal charges against him, admitting he planned and executed all sixteen Unabomber incidents between 1978 and 1995. Under an agreement with prosecutors Kacyzinski accepted a sentence of life in prison, with no possibility of parole. We get more now from David Jackson. He’s San Francisco bureau chief for Time Magazine. David, what happened yesterday in court?

DAVID JACKSON, Time Magazine: Elizabeth, it began with the judge coming in and announcing that Kacyzinski would not be able to represent himself. Once Kacyzinski heard the result of the judge’s ruling, he had made some notes on the notepad in front of him; he made some comments to his attorneys; and they immediately asked for a side bar conference. After a very short side bar conference, the judge broke it up and announced to the courtroom that the trial would adjourn for a while the two parties pursued what he called certain matters. Later in the afternoon they all came back to the courtroom, and the final plea agreement was announced.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what happened then, once they’d made that announcement? Then one of the prosecutors read each charge?

DAVID JACKSON: Yes. First what they did is the judge questioned Kacyzinski in open court to make sure for the record that Kacyzinski knew exactly what he was doing; that he knew that he was giving up all rights to appeal; that he knew that he was giving his right to a trial; that he was doing it not under duress or under threat, and Kacyzinski answered all of his questions in a very strong voice and with a lot of confidence. At that point one of the prosecutors then went through every Unabomb bombing since 1978, not only the four that were at issue in the Sacramento trial, but also the New Jersey fatal bombing, which he had also been charged with, plus the eleven uncharged bombings. And this took an hour to go through all these incidents.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And after he read each bombing incident, did the judge then–I couldn’t understand. What happened exactly? The judge announced, “Is that a correct reading of what happened?”

DAVID JACKSON: Right. He–after every description the judge then asked Kacyzinski, “Is this a factual representation of the event?” And Kacyzinski said, “Yes, Your Honor,” to every one.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what was Kacyzinski’s demeanor during this time?

DAVID JACKSON: Kacyzinski’s demeanor was very confident. He answered in a very strong voice. He–there was no faltering at all by him. He clearly–to observers, he knew what was going on. He just wanted to get this over with, and he answered all the questions without hesitation.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: David, how did–I mean, how did David Kacyzinski, who first alerted federal authorities that the Unabomber might be his brother, react?

DAVID JACKSON: David Kacyzinski and his mother, Wanda Kacyzinski, sat, as always, right behind their brother and son, Theodore Kacyzinski. And they were moved by this proceeding. Obviously, this to them was a very welcome decision that Kacyzinski would end this procedure with his life; he would spend the rest of his life in prison, but he was escaping the death penalty. After the proceedings were over, Kacyzinski left the courtroom once again without acknowledging either his mother or his brother. And then the two of them left and faced reporters really for the first time. And they thanked the prosecutors. They expressed sympathy for the victims, and they said that it was a great relief that this was over.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What was the reaction of the victims, or the victims’ families?

DAVID JACKSON: Most of the victims still haven’t really talked to the public. Connie Murray, the widow of Gil Murray, who was the California Forestry Association official who was killed in a fatal bombing here in Sacramento in 1995, issued a statement through an FBI chaplain in which she too welcomed the decision, and said she supported the decision to accept a guilty plea. But there was also some evidence of some bittersweet feelings on her part. She seemed to be a little disappointed that there was not a trial in which people could see just how heinous these crimes were.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: David, how did the psychiatrist finding that Theodore Kacyzinski was paranoid schizophrenic and yet competent to stand trial, how did that fit into all of this?

DAVID JACKSON: That was clearly a significant factor. And the lead prosecutor, Bob Cleary, cited it as one of the reasons that the government decided to accept the plea. But the real deciding factor for why the government decided to accept this plea was the fact that for the first time they had a plea with no strings attached. What had happened after the judge’s decision yesterday morning in the time they came back into the courtroom in the afternoon was that the defense removed the remaining condition that they had attached, and that was they wanted to hold out for the right to appeal the legality of the government’s search of the Montana cabin. And once they had–the government could not accept a conditional plea–they very rarely accept conditional pleas in any cases, and never with capital cases–but once the defense removed that condition, the lead prosecutor reported it back to the Justice Department. It went all the way up to Attorney General Janet Reno. She vetted it, said it was okay. The prosecutors then talked to the families. The families said they would accept it, and the deal was done.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And you said that the psychiatrist ruling that Kacyzinski was paranoid schizophrenic did play a role. What role?

DAVID JACKSON: It did play a role. This was the first time that the government’s own psychiatrist had found that Kacyzinski was, in fact, paranoid schizophrenic, which had been the claim of the defense all along. And suddenly, they had a case where the person that they were seeking the death penalty against was agreed to be psychotic by both sides. So this–this–according to Cleary, the prosecutor, was a factor in their consideration not to pursue the death penalty.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And this happened after the judge had told Kacyzinski that he could not represent himself. Is the implication that if he’d been able to represent himself, he might not have agreed to this?

DAVID JACKSON: Nobody’s said for sure, and Kacyzinski has not addressed that issue, but the argument from the defense all along is that Kacyzinski found it unbearable to be described as mentally ill. If he had been allowed to represent himself, his intention was to present a defense that would not have raised the mental illness issue. So presumably absent that defense, he would have proceeded. But the judge was ruling that out. And he then was facing the prospect of going forward with his own attorneys, and those attorneys being allowed to present a defense that raised questions about his mental state, which, again, for Kacyzinski they had said was an unbearable situation. He has the right to decide whether to accept a plea or not, and he asserted that right.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: David, what about the sentence, is the sentence mandated under this plea agreement?

DAVID JACKSON: Yes. There will be no surprises when it’s formalized on May 15. He will get life imprisonment. There’s no possibility of release. There’s no parole in the federal system. He has no right to appeal the sentence, or even his own agreement to plead guilty. It’s a done deal. There’s–he will die in prison.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: David Jackson, thanks, and thanks for your coverage of this these last weeks.

DAVID JACKSON: Thank you, Elizabeth.