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S P E C I A L The Unabomb Trial

Kaczynski may have tried suicide

Theodore Kaczynski
Theodore Kaczynski  

Unabomb suspect agrees to undergo mental exam

Latest developments: January 8, 1998
Web posted at: 10:32 p.m. EST (0332 GMT)

SACRAMENTO, California (CNN) -- Theodore Kaczynski, the man accused of being the elusive Unabomber, may have tried to use his underwear to hang himself overnight Wednesday in his cell at the Sacramento County Jail.

Undersheriff Lou Blanas said that when Kaczynski was transferred from the jail to the federal courthouse Thursday morning, U.S. marshals noticed that Kaczynski had a red mark on the right side of his neck and that his underwear was missing.

When questioned, Kaczynski told the marshals he lost his underwear in the shower. While an initial search of his cell turned up no evidence of the underwear, a subsequent search found it in a plastic bag in Kaczynski's trash can, Blanas said.

"The underwear appeared to be stretched," Blanas said. "It appeared to be used in the type of way we thought he did -- putting it around his neck and trying to hang himself."

Kaczynski to be monitored 24 hours a day

After Kaczynski returned from the first day of his trial Monday, Blanas said the defendant seemed depressed. As a result, jail staff began visiting his cell every 30 minutes. But there had been no indication he was a suicide risk.

"He's been a model prisoner for the last 18 months," Blanas said.

Lou Blanas
Lou Blanas
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"... Kaczynski attempted to hang himself."
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    Sacramento, California, Undersheriff Lou Blanas talks to reporters.

    Though he is on trial in federal court, Kaczynski has been housed in the county jail and then transferred to federal custody for court proceedings.

    He will now be moved to a cell in the jail's psychiatric unit, where he will be monitored with a camera 24 hours a day and kept on a heart monitor, Blanas said.

    Defendant agrees to mental evaluation

    News of Kaczynski's suicide attempt came on the same day he finally agreed to undergo psychological testing -- but only in an attempt to show that he's competent to be his own lawyer, not to present a mental illness defense.

    Kaczynski has been at odds with his court-appointed lawyers, who want to present evidence of mental illness to jurors. Kaczynski objects to that defense strategy, and he had strongly resisted undergoing a psychiatric evaluation.

    Kaczynski had previously told Judge Garland Burrell he was not interested in representing himself. But Burrell said he believes Kaczynski changed his mind Wednesday after the judge ruled the defendant's attorneys could decide what defense will be used. Burrell on Wednesday also rejected a last-minute attempt by Kaczynski to change attorneys.

    In court Thursday, one of Kaczynski's lawyers, Judy Clarke, told the judge that Kaczynski "feels he has no choice but to go on as his own counsel." She said a mental illness defense was one the defendant feels "he cannot endure."

    But Burrell said Kaczynski's competency would have to be established before he could be allowed to act as his own lawyer.

    Judy Clarke
    Judy Clarke

    Prosecutors demanded that he be sent to a federal facility for a 30-day psychiatric evaluation. But after Kaczynski's attorneys objected -- and Kaczynski indicated that he would willingly participate in a mental evaluation if it was done locally -- Burrell turned down the prosecution's request.

    "I'm going to trust him," Burrell said.

    Lawyer: Kaczynski not manipulating system

    Lawyers were to meet on Friday to determine when and how the exam will be carried out at the jail.

    Clarke rejected suggestions that Kaczynski was merely trying to delay the trial and manipulate the proceedings.

    "We've tried to explain, and I think the court understands, and I think the folks in the courtroom understand, this is an unbearable situation for him," she said.

    "He has lived with this fear (of being branded mentally ill) all his life," she said. "This is a very heartfelt reaction on his part."

    Thursday's events latest in string of delays

    Kaczynski, 55, is accused of being the Unabomber, a shadowy figure who sent 16 package bombs to targets across the United States over an 18-year period. In Sacramento, he faces a 10-count indictment covering four attacks that killed two local men and injured two scientists. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.

    His trial was to begin Monday. But Kaczynski brought the proceedings to a halt when he announced he had a statement to make. He then met with his attorneys and Burrell in closed door conversations, reportedly demanding that he be allowed to fire his lawyers.

    Burrell brought in an outside attorney, Kevin Clymo, who has previously mediated between Kaczynski and his lawyers.

    In a hearing on Wednesday, Burrell announced that the dispute was resolved -- only to have the defendant immediately request a new defense team led by San Francisco lawyer Tony Serra.

    The prosecution objected, saying Kaczynski was only trying to delay the trial. After quickly considering, Burrell agreed it was too late for Kaczynski to switch defense teams.


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