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Search begins for Rudolph's hiding places as legal battle brews

Monday, June 2, 2003

MURPHY, N.C. -- Suspected Olympic park bomber Eric Rudolph remained under heavy guard in a county jail Sunday as federal agents in camouflage headed into the surrounding woods again, this time hoping to figure out how he eluded them for five years.

Dozens of law enforcement vehicles lined U.S. 74 across from Murphy High School, a short distance from the grocery store where Rudolph was caught early Saturday when a rookie police officer spotted him scrounging for food.

Activity centered on a trail leading from the highway into the woods, where investigators were believed to be examining a campsite Rudolph had occupied. In normally quiet downtown Murphy, streets leading to the jail were blocked off, and residents took snapshots and home movies of the activity.

"We're following logical leads as to where he might have been," said Chris Swecker, special agent in charge of the FBI in North Carolina. "Any site we find will be methodically processed."

Rudolph, a 36-year-old former soldier and survivalist, is scheduled to appear in federal court this morning in Asheville.

He faces six federal counts of using an explosive against a facility in interstate commerce. The charges stem from the explosion in Atlanta's Olympic Centennial Park during the 1996 summer Olympics; a 1998 bombing at an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Ala.; and 1997 bombings in Atlanta outside a gay nightclub and an office building that housed an abortion clinic.

In all, two people were killed and about 150 were injured. Rudolph could face the death penalty if convicted.

At today's hearing, federal prosecutors are expected to say whether they want Rudolph moved to Birmingham or Atlanta -- a decision that was to be made by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's office.

Doug Jones, who was the top federal prosecutor in north Alabama during the height of the Rudolph manhunt, said he feels that Rudolph should be tried first in Birmingham.

Rudolph, who had been working as a carpenter and handyman in North Carolina, first came to investigators' attention when a truck registered in his name was spotted leaving the scene of the Alabama explosion. It was also the first bombing with which he was charged.

"My view is that the Atlanta case depends on the Birmingham evidence. There was nothing to link him to the Atlanta bombing before Birmingham," said Jones, the former U.S. attorney for the state's northern district.

In Murphy, a small community of about 1,600 residents in the mountains of western North Carolina, local police, deputies and federal agents were joined by dozens of investigators, including FBI forensics experts and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Rudolph's arrest early Saturday was the first publicized sighting of the fugitive since July 7, 1998, when he took supplies from a health food store owner in nearby Andrews -- the base of the original search.

Rudolph had been on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list, and the government had offered a $1 million reward for information leading to his capture, but the reward was never claimed.

The initial manhunt had brought hundreds of agents to the area five summers ago and engendered hard feelings among many residents, some of whom have said that while they don't support Rudolph's methods, they agree with his beliefs.

Swecker said investigators this time would try harder to avoid angering the area's residents.

He said agents were interviewing people who knew Rudolph, and the FBI was offering confidentiality to callers with tips about Rudolph's whereabouts during his time in hiding, though he couldn't guarantee that anyone who helped Rudolph wouldn't be prosecuted.

Despite questions about whether sympathetic locals aided Rudolph during his years on the run, Murphy seemed to be enjoying its moment in the spotlight.

A marquee in front of a tire store read, "Got Rudolph? Murphy Does!"

And behind the Save-A-Lot supermarket where Rudolph was caught, bemused workers watched as a steady stream of people came to have their picture taken in front of the trash bin where Rudolph was believed to have been scavenging for food.

Ed Maniotis drove from nearby Hayesville with a friend, Sam Scarboro of Atlanta, who said they were drawn by "curiosity, and just the news of it all."

"They should set up concessions," Maniotis said.


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