TERENCE SMITH: Eric Rudolph pleaded guilty today four times, taking credit for bombings at abortion clinics and at the summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. And among those present in the Atlanta courtroom this afternoon was Don Plummer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Don, welcome to the broadcast. What was Rudolph's manner in the courtroom today as his pleas were recorded?
DON PLUMMER: Well, Terry, the defendant was the same as he has been for the last two years. He was polite, deferential to the judge, smiling at times and nodding to people, especially members of the defense team, but he was in no way disrespectful or defiant. And that's what makes this statement that he issued after the plea all that more compelling.
Is that in a two-page statement that he put out after entering the plea, he essentially corroborated every aspect of the motive that had been assigned to him by prosecutors and investigators. He is against abortion. He is against federal authority and he's against the "new world order" as he calls it, which is an internationalism that he sees as destroying this country and is against the open expression of homosexuality.
TERENCE SMITH: And so I see in his statement, for example, he went on to say that, "Because I believe abortion is murder," he wrote, "I also believe that force is justified." So there was no contrition there.
DON PLUMMER: No, none at all. In fact, this document states that the real target in his Birmingham bombing was the doctor running the clinic and that essentially Emily Lyons and Robert Sanderson were collateral damage because they just happened to be there and Sanderson discovered the bomb so he went ahead and set it off.
TERENCE SMITH: Were there victims' families present in the courtroom? What was their reaction?
DON PLUMMER: They were. Emily Lyons was there. The husband of Alice Hawthorne and her daughter were there. They were visibly upset during court. I saw John Hawthorne wiping away tears. Afterwards Fallon Stubs, who is Alice Hawthorne's daughter, said that she pities Rudolph, that she said, "I wish he could have grown up in the same kind of household that I grew up in. He's obviously a product of the home in which he was raised."
TERENCE SMITH: Now the prosecution struck a bargain basically, a plea agreement with Eric Rudolph. Why did they do that? Was it because of concerns about the case or getting a conviction?
DON PLUMMER: I don't believe so because the Birmingham case was fairly strong. I believe this was probably a classic deal with the devil. They got something that they felt was more important than putting Eric Rudolph to death, and that is the location of more than 200 pounds of explosives that he had secreted around western North Carolina especially around Murphy, North Carolina.
At least one location was right outside of the armory where the manhunt had been headquartered. And it was a bomb that was ready to go off. The only thing that was missing was the detonator. There was another fairly large cache of explosives found buried near some homes and businesses. Prosecutors and law enforcement officials have told me that they were concerned that if they didn't find this explosive that somebody in the future would inadvertently be either injured or killed.
TERENCE SMITH: So this was Rudolph's bargaining chip in effect.
DON PLUMMER: Yeah.
TERENCE SMITH: To strike a deal.
DON PLUMMER: Absolutely.
TERENCE SMITH: And avoid the death penalty.
DON PLUMMER: Absolutely. And it was probably the only thing that he had to offer them. I have been told that he has not said anything about anyone assisting him or any accomplices in this. The law enforcement officials that I've spoken with who followed this case from day one said that they believe that would be consistent with his personality -- that he, if he did have people who provide him with assistance, he probably would not have given them up.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, what have you learned about that? Were there people providing him assistance? I mean he was on the run for more than five years. He managed somehow.
DON PLUMMER: Well, this statement doesn't get into that. In fact it says that he adapted and survived and learned in his first year in the woods. I did speak with one former nurse from Murphy who said that she had provided some assistance with him.
This was a woman who was already in jail and was later convicted of firing a shotgun through the window of a women's clinic in Ashville where abortions were performed. And I have talked with several people in the Murphy area who said that they might have helped him if he had come to them. I haven't found anybody else who has been willing to admit to felonies though.
TERENCE SMITH: He was found, he was caught, arrested rummaging for food. So it looks as though perhaps it was getting a little hard for him.
DON PLUMMER: Well, yeah. It looks it was, although he was fairly clean and well kept. He had a fresh haircut. One of the camps contained a uniform from a local fast food place. There was some concern that perhaps he might have even been coming in and out of Murphy, North Carolina, either without people noticing him or with people just looking the other way over the years. So it's not out of the question that perhaps he was getting some assistance, but he also knew the area very well. He was able to plant that fairly large explosive within sight of the armory and get away with it.
TERENCE SMITH: What happens now? There's still a sentencing hearing, I gather?
DON PLUMMER: There is. The sentence, of course, is set. He'll get four life terms without the possibility of parole. Each one would be served in what the judge calls consecutive fashion, one after the other. Plus he gets 120 years for other charges. Eric Rudolph will never leave prison alive under this deal.
The judge in Atlanta did not set a sentencing hearing. The judge in Birmingham the set one for July 18. Judge Pannell in Atlanta said he didn't want to hurry the sentencing process because he didn't want to overlook or give too little time for victims. There are more than 120 here in Atlanta so, he wanted everyone to have a chance to either provide a written statement or to be able to speak to him before he imposes sentence.
TERENCE SMITH: Don Plummer of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, thank you very much.
DON PLUMMER: Thank you.