CNN logo
Message Boards 

CNN Networks 

Quick News 
Video Vault 
News Quiz 

Pathfinder/Warner Bros

Barnes and Noble

Main banner

S P E C I A L The Unabomb Case

Kaczynski pleads guilty, avoids death sentence

David/Wanda/Ted sketch
His brother,David, and mother, Wanda, look on as Kaczynski makes his plea  

In this story:

January 22, 1998
Web posted at: 9:32 p.m. EST (0232 GMT)

SACRAMENTO, California (CNN) -- "The Unabomber's career is over," said prosecutor Robert Cleary on Thursday after Theodore Kaczynski pleaded guilty to being the Unabomber in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Kaczynski, the 55-year-old math professor turned woodland hermit, formally entered the plea at a hearing Thursday afternoon in Sacramento federal district court.

U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell said he would sentence Kaczynski on May 15, but Cleary said the law requires a life without parole sentence. Cleary said the agreement binds only the federal government. State and local jurisdictions are still free to bring their own charges against Kaczynski.

David Kaczynski makes a statement
icon 4 min. 32 sec. VXtreme video
Robert Cleary, prosecutor, makes a statement
icon 3 min. 46 sec. VXtreme video

As part of a last-minute deal struck just before the trial was to begin, prosecutors dropped their request that Kaczynski be given the death penalty and asked that he be given life in prison without parole.

Cleary said Kaczynski agreed to plead guilty "with absolutely no strings attached." Cleary also said that the families of Kaczynski's victims were consulted throughout the legal proceedings, including the plea bargain.

Cleary also praised Kaczynski's brother David for providing the information that lead to his brother's arrest.

"The Unabomber's career is over. . ."
icon 544K/25 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

"He is a true American hero," Cleary said.

David Kaczynski read a statement after the hearing saying that he and his mother, Wanda, "feel it is an appropriate, just and civilized resolution to this tragedy in light of Ted's diagnosed mental illness."

He continued, "My mother and I wish to reiterate our deep sorrow and regret to the victims...(and) to reach out in whatever way possible to ease their pain and express our love."

As his mother wiped away a tear, he added, "You will be in our hearts and thoughts forever."

David/Wanda Kaczynski
David Kaczynski addresses the media:

"You will be in our hearts forever. . ." .
icon 544K/25 sec. AIFF or WAV sound
". . .our reaction to today's plea agreement is one of deep relief.".
icon 544K/25 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

'He will never, ever kill again'

Attorney General Janet Reno praised the work of federal agents assigned to the Unabomber Task Force.

"Justice has been done, and Theodore Kaczynski will never threaten anyone again," Reno said in a statement, adding, "Our hearts will always be with the victims and their families."

Connie Murray, wife of Gil Murray, one of the men killed by one of Kaczynski's letter bombs in Sacramento, issued a statement saying she and her sons "concur" with the plea bargain.

"He will never, ever kill again," the statement said. "No one will ever have to go through this again with this killer."

"This was a gain for justice, but a loss for the media," said Professor Greg Rustigan, a criminologist at San Francisco State University who has studied the Unabomber case. "They would never have gotten the death penalty, but it would have been quite a show."

Kaczynski was charged in Sacramento with four bombings in 1985, 1993 and 1995 that killed two people and maimed two. But the plea bargain resolves all federal charges against him -- including those filed in New Jersey -- growing out of the 17-year string of 16 bombings that killed three people and injured 29.

The terms of the agreement stipulate that Kaczynski plead guilty to the deaths of all three men killed by his letter bombs.

Cleary said the key to the agreement was that Kaczynski agreed to accept life in prison or a federal psychiatric facility without the possibility of parole. In exchange, he was guaranteed that he would not be executed.

As part of the plea agreement, the government is requiring that Kaczynski's future earnings go to pay restitution to the families of his victims.

Kaczynski leaves court
Kaczynski leaves court after his guilty plea  

'My jail inmate'

During his court appearance, Kaczynski appeared to be alert and aware, and at one point corrected the judge as he read part of the agreement aloud.

Asked what his occupation was, he said, "My occupation, I suppose, is jail inmate." He then explained that he was once a college professor.

The agreement not only spares Kaczynski the death penalty -- the evidence that he was the Unabomber was overwhelming from the beginning -- but also enables him to avoid being portrayed in court as a madman, something he vehemently opposed.

It also allows the prosecution to avoid giving the impression that it was trying to execute a man who is mentally ill.

Kaczynski quit a tenure-track position at the University of California, Berkeley in 1969 to build a shack near Lincoln, Montana, and lived there without running water or electricity for more than 20 years.

It was from his 13-by-13 foot shack that he waged his 17-year "anti-technology" bombing campaign. Along with the deaths and injuries he inflicted, he threatened to blow up airplanes, and placed a bomb on one flight in 1979, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing when a fire broke out in the cargo hold.

At one point, he was able to force newspapers to print his 35,000-word manifesto, which denounced technology and the destruction of the environment. Its similarity to letters he sent to his family alerted his brother, who made the painful decision to turn Kaczynski in.

Kaczynski was arrested at his cabin in April 1996.

Psychiatric report was a factor

A plea bargain had been discussed for months but was repeatedly turned down by the government because Kaczynski insisted on certain conditions -- among them, that he would retain certain rights on appeal and that he would not be put in a federal mental hospital.

The trial had three false starts, and Judge Burrell said Thursday he blamed Kaczynski for manipulating the criminal-justice process.

After an apparent suicide attempt in his jail cell two weeks ago, Kaczynski asked the judge to allow him to fire his attorneys and take over his own defense. He indicated that he wanted to base his defense on his belief that technology is destroying humanity.

Kaczynski agreed to undergo tests by a federal psychiatrist, Dr. Sally Johnson, to prove he was mentally competent to defend himself.

While Johnson concluded that Kaczynski was mentally competent, she also diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic. Those who suffer from the illness are prone to violence and delusions.

Cleary confirmed that the psychiatric report was "a factor," but said "other things" also influenced the decision to reopen plea bargain negotiations. He did not say what those other things were.

Correspondent Greg Lefevre and Reuters contributed to this report.

The Unabomb Case
Kaczynski Profile   |   Evidence Bin   |   Unabomber's Trail   |   Read the Manifesto

Infoseek search  

Message Boards Sound off on our
message boards & chat

Back to the top

© 1998 Cable News Network, Inc.
A Time Warner Company
All Rights Reserved.

Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.