Rudolph calls bombings a blow against abortion
ATLANTA -- In the end, Eric Rudolph proclaimed himself willing to take the lives of others in his personal war on abortion -- but he was not willing to sacrifice his own life.
Bargaining away his freedom in order to escape the death penalty, Rudolph pleaded guilty Wednesday to bombing the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and carrying out three other attacks on abortion clinics and a gay nightclub across the South.
He issued a statement laced with Bible verses to justify bombs packed with roofing nails and screws, saying the attacks were eye-for-an-eye retribution for a society and a government that sanctioned abortion.
"Because I believe that abortion is murder, I also believe that force is justified ... in an attempt to stop it," Rudolph wrote in the rambling statement handed out after he entered his pleas in back-to-back court appearances, first in Birmingham, Ala., then in Atlanta.
The statement -- on 11 typewritten, single-spaced pages -- marked the first time he offered a motive for the attacks.
In return for his guilty plea -- and for revealing where he buried a cache of explosives -- the 38-year-old Rudolph will get four consecutive life sentences without parole for the four blasts that killed two people and wounded more than 120.
While victims and their survivors got some answers as to why they were targeted, they heard little remorse, and a lot of defiance.
In the Atlanta courtroom, he sat stone-faced and answered questions calmly and politely. But in Birmingham, he winked toward prosecutors as he entered court, said the government could "just barely" prove its case, and admitted his guilt with a hint of pride in his voice.
With his head tilted back, Rudolph looked down his nose slightly as U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith in Birmingham asked whether he set off a 1998 blast at an abortion clinic there that killed an off-duty police officer and maimed a nurse.
"I certainly did, your honor," Rudolph said.
Emily Lyons, who lost an eye -- and nearly her life -- in the clinic attack, wept and said she was almost physically ill as she watched in court from her front-row seat.
"He just sounded so proud of it. That's what really hurt," she said.
In his statement, Rudolph said the purpose of the attack on the Olympics "was to confound, anger and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand."
The plan, he said, "was to force the cancellation of the games, or at least create a state of insecurity to empty the streets around the venues and thereby eat into the vast amounts of money invested."
He said that because he was unable to obtain the necessary high explosives, he "had to dismiss the unrealistic notion of knocking down the power grid surrounding Atlanta and consequently pulling the plug on the Olympics for their duration."
The bomb that exploded at the Olympics was hidden in a knapsack and sent nails and screws ripping through a crowd at Centennial Olympic Park during a concert. A woman was killed and 111 other people were wounded in what proved to be Rudolph's most notorious attack, carried out on an international stage amid heavy security.
Rudolph said that he had planned a much larger attack on the Olympics that would have used five bombs over several days. He said he planned to make phone calls well in advance of each explosion, "leaving only uniformed arms-carrying government personnel exposed to potential injury." But he said poor planning on his part made that five-bomb plan impossible.
"I had sincerely hoped to achieve these objections without harming innocent civilians," he said. He added: "There is no excuse for this, and I accept full responsibility for the consequences of using this dangerous tactic."
He said he blew up four other bombs in a vacant lot in Atlanta and left town "with much remorse."
Rudolph also admitted bombing a gay nightclub in Atlanta, wounding five people, in 1997, and attacking a suburban Atlanta office building containing an abortion clinic that same year. Six people were wounded in that attack, which consisted of two blasts, first a small one to draw law officers, then a larger explosion.
In his statement, he also condemns homosexuality, saying: "Like other humans suffering from various disabilities, homosexuals should not attempt to infect the rest of society with their particular illness."
Rudolph hid out after the attacks for more than five years in the mountains of western North Carolina, apparently using the survival skills he learned as a soldier.
He was captured in Murphy, N.C., in 2003, scavenging for food behind a grocery store, after becoming something of a folk hero to some people in the countryside for his ability to elude an all-out manhunt by the government.
As part of the plea agreement, Rudolph told authorities where to find more than 250 pounds of dynamite buried in North Carolina. The government said some of the explosives were near populated areas and could have become unstable and blown up.
He offered no apology or explanation in either court appearance, waiting until later to issue his written statement. In it, he said his plea bargain was "purely a tactical choice on my part and in no way legitimates the moral authority of the government to judge this matter or impute my guilt."
"I am not anarchist. I have nothing against government or law enforcement in general," he said. "It is solely for the reason that this govt has legalized the murder of children that I have no allegiance to nor do I recognize the legitimacy of this particular government in Washington."
At times Rudolph rocked in his chair in the Atlanta courtroom but otherwise stared straight ahead as federal prosecutors detailed the Atlanta-area bombings down to the brand of nails, duct tape and plastic food containers used to make the bombs.
In court in Birmingham, he drummed his fingers on the side of a lectern as a prosecutor told of the Wal-Mart hose clamp that was found inside the body of the off-duty officer and the pieces of a remote control receiver in the nurse's body.
Deborah Rudolph, Rudolph's former sister-in-law, said he 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.
In the Atlanta courtroom, as prosecutors read details about the bomb that killed 44-year-old Alice Hawthorne at the Olympics, Hawthorne's daughter, Fallon Stubbs, 22, crossed her arms and looked at her feet. Hawthorne's widower, John, rocked slightly and covered his head with his hands. Other family members wept.
Afterwards, Stubbs described the day as "exhausting, to say the least" and said she would address the court at Rudolph's sentencing.
"It'll be my time to get it out," she said.
Richard Jewell, the security guard who was initially hailed as hero for helping evacuate the park just before the blast, but was later reported to be under FBI investigation, was also in the courtroom but refused to comment on the plea.
Jewell was eventually cleared by the FBI and now works as a police officer.