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Eric Rudolph Caught

Aired May 31, 2003 - 12:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Here's what we know at this hour -- authorities have captured the suspected Olympic Park bomber. Attorney General John Ashcroft confirms Eric Rudolph is now in custody in North Carolina. Authorities say a man was discovered rooting through garbage early this morning in the town of Murphy, and that's in the far western part of the Tarheel state. A rookie police officer found Rudolph during a routine patrol about 4:00 a.m. Eastern time, little past that. The capture comes nearly seven years after the Centennial Olympic Park bombing here in Atlanta, just across the street from CNN global headquarters. That explosion, you just saw there, killed one woman, injured more than 100 people, could have been a lot worse, authorities say.
Authorities link Rudolph to a string of deadly bombings across the southeast. He was also charged with two bombings at a women's clinic at an office building in Sandy Springs, just north of Atlanta. That was in January 1997. One month later, the bomber struck again. Where? A gay nightclub here, in Atlanta. Several injuries in those two incidences, no one was killed. In January, 1998, in Birmingham, Alabama, a police officer was killed when a bomb went off at a women's health clinic in that city. Rudolph's pickup truck was later found near the scene. As Henry Schuster's been saying all morning, that was really the case that really broke things open. Police discovered Rudolph in the same mountainous region of North Carolina where he lived for many years. Rudolph, of course, described as a skilled outdoorsman, able to survive for long periods in the wilderness. Rudolph is 36 years old, he's listed on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list, with a million-dollar reward offered for his capture. His name has still not been crossed off the list, last we checked, just a second ago.

Attorney General John Ashcroft describes Rudolph as, quote, "the most notorious American fugitive on the most wanted list." Once again, Eric Rudolph captured this morning in North Carolina.

We're joined now by Sophia Choi to continue our coverage here. We're anticipating the press conference could have been at 12, not sure, also might be at 1:00, so we're just -- it's a very fluid situation we're following.

SOPHIA CHOI, CNN ANCHOR: It is still a fluid situation. We're going to continue to cover this developing story for you, in fact, right now, we want to take you to the first site of the bombing, the Olympic Centennial Park, and that's where we find Marty Savidge.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Sophia. Yes, this is Olympic Centennial Park, located in the heart of downtown Atlanta and as you point out this was the scene of the crime. A lot has changed topography-wise, terrain-wise here in this particular park since that night of the blast. But still, we can point out roughly the way things were. If you look up on this tier, up here, this is the area where the sound platform was located. That was the platform that was the -- the high, built-up sort of area where the sound technicians were using the night of the concert. And it was at the base of that tower where explosive device, according to authorities, had been placed inside of a backpack.

When that blast went off, in the early morning hours, of course shrapnel went everywhere. It also came down in this general direction. And, you come up to this piece of artwork, here. This artwork was erected in tribute to the Olympics in June of 1996 and it was here that Alice Hawthorne, 44 years of age, a mother from Albany, Georgia, was struck and killed by the shrapnel from the blast. If you look carefully, up at this particular piece of artwork, you can still see, such as here, indentations that appear to come from the shrapnel was in the bomb itself. Quite clearly there is the outline of what looks like a piece of nail. Nails were part of the explosive device, according to authorities, in fact, so powerful was the blast that evidence of the explosive device, the nails, were found on rooftops of buildings in downtown Atlanta. Some of those buildings were 15 to 20 stories tall.

We want to bring in, now, Kent Alexander. Kent Alexander was the chief prosecutor at that time, in 1996 working on the case, obviously. He is now chief legal council for Emory University, who is also located here in Atlanta, Georgia.

Kent, first of all, let me as you, your reaction to the news of the arrest?

KENT ALEXANDER, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY: I'm ecstatic. This is a long time in coming. We've had so many law enforcement people, so many media, so many citizens, looking for the bomber, who created the Olympic bombing, the Otherside Lounge bombings, the Sandy Springs abortion clinic bombing, and the Birmingham bombing. I think I'm -- I'm ecstatic, now, I think a lot of people, including me, can rest easier.

SAVIDGE: Did you think this day would come? Did you think he would be found?

ALEXANDER: I figured he would be found, dead or alive, but would be found and I wasn't sure if it was in North Carolina, whether it be a skeleton or a skeleton with flesh on it and it was the later obviously. I suspect he just got tired of running and I'm glad he did.

SAVIDGE: Take us back to that night of the 27th of July, in 1996. You were down here shortly after the blast. What was the scene like then and what struck you most?

ALEXANDER: Sure. It was early morning, the 27th, it was after midnight when the blast went off. This place was just littered with bodies. One thing we always hear about is the tragic death of Alice Hawthorne. But, what we don't hear so much about is over 100 people were injured, so we had ambulances, EMT's, people all over bringing folks to Grady Hospital and elsewhere. It was really pandemonium, and, I guess, I don't think the that city had seen anything quite like this. It was like being in the streets of Jerusalem after a suicide bombing, but with a particularly powerful bomb.

SAVIDGE: What did you think at the time as to who may be responsible and what was behind it?

ALEXANDER: The difficult thing with the Olympics is you never know who might be behind it, because you have countries that have bones to pick, you have groups -- extremist groups with bones to pick, you have domestic terrorism groups, so right from the start we had a thousand suspects. I mean, it just -- it was a very difficult case to chip down and find out who actually did it.

SAVIDGE: And at that time, Eric Rudolph was not on the list, though, was he?

ALEXANDER: No. No, he wasn't. You know, at the time there were thousands and thousands of people milling through here, even at that late hour. We had -- there were cameras set up on telephone poles, in a given 10 second swatch, you would see over 100 people going through, so as I say, not just a thousand suspects, thousands of suspects. But, Eric Rudolph wasn't part of it at the time.

SAVIDGE: And what was the evidence was gathered? How much material did you have?

ALEXANDER: At the time -- what we did originally -- when I saw "we" it's, FBI, ATF, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, local law enforcement, they actually marked every single piece of shrapnel in the area. They had the little flags with pieces of shrapnel so you could see the bomb pattern from the blast. And they were trying to figure out where the bomb was, where it was set, interviewing everybody in the area. It was just -- interviews were the key thing at the time, and then cordoning off the area to try to get any kind of traces to figure out who came in and who did this. But, it was one of the hardest crime scenes in the history of criminal prosecution investigation in America, because literally you had thousands and thousands of people who could have done it. It was like being in a major shopping center mall on Christmas Eve day; it was that kind of throng of people going.

SAVIDGE: How do you think the prosecution's going to go now? How easy will it be to prosecute?

ALEXANDER: Based on the evidence, I -- as I understand it, I think the government's got a strong case and, of course, the question of where it's going to be prosecuted. But, part of the ease of prosecution will probably turn on what Eric Rudolph does or doesn't say, now that he's been captured. If he confesses the whole thing then it becomes very easy. If he says that he didn't do it, then the government's put to the test and then you go forward. And then it's a matter of ballistics, ID's in Birmingham, conversations with other people, just a whole trail of evidence, much of it circumstantial.

SAVIDGE: Any idea where he might go first when it comes to trial?

ALEXANDER: That's to be up to the Justice Department and the attorney general and I'm sure they'll make that decision some time after this have a chance to speak with Eric Rudolph.

SAVIDGE: And if he comes to Atlanta, I mean, should Atlanta be the first point, because it was the first blast?

ALEXANDER: Well, as far as U.S. attorney in Atlanta, I think it should come to Atlanta, of course, but that's not a decision for me to make, but you've got basically four bombings, a lot of people hurt, you've got, someone who was killed here, you've got someone killed here, you've got someone who was killed in Birmingham. Wherever it goes, if he did it, I just hope the prosecution's successful and I trust it will be.

SAVIDGE: Kent Alexander, thank you very much for joining us. He was the chief prosecutor at the time and now is chief legal counsel for Emory University here in Atlanta -- Sophia.

CHOI: All right, Marty. I want to bring in Henry Schuster, here, CNN senior producer and he's got a question for you, Marty.

HENRY SCHUSTER, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Marty, I wonder if you could ask Kent about the bomb itself, because what had been described was that the bomb had been knocked over, inadvertently by a group of drunk teenagers, in that -- by doing that it directed the blast upward. Perhaps Kent could tell us a little bit more about what might have happened if the bomb had been as it was originally placed by Eric Rudolph -- or the person accused ...

SAVIDGE: Kent, on of the questions being asked from the set is -- there was some speculation the explosive device, that the night that it went off, that it may have been accidentally tipped over -- knocked over before it exploded and thereby sent the shrapnel flying in different directions, maybe in Alice Hawthorne's way. Did we know anything about this?

ALEXANDER: It could have been and I -- because I was involved in the investigation, I won't get into many details. But, you had a extraordinarily large and powerful pipe bomb in a knapsack and depending on how it's positioned, the shrapnel could have gone straight out, straight up, to the side and there were a lot of people in the area afterwards and there was a possibility it was kicked over and, if fact, I think it was kicked over and the direction changed, which was -- absolutely tragic, in any event, for Alice Hawthorne, but could have been a lifesaver for a lot of other people. The biggest surprise about this bombing, to me, is more weren't killed.

SAVIDGE: And as it was over 100 people were injured as it was. Henry there's your answer for you. And we're live down here at Olympic Centennial Park -- Sophia.

CHOI: All right, Marty, we'll take it back, right here. Thank you.

Eric Robert Rudolph is said to be a very proficient outdoorsman. He used those skills to elude authorities after the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta. CNN's Art Harris joins us more with more on the elusive Rudolph -- Art.

ART HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You were just seeing the scene at the park, which the night that the first bomb went off was pandemonium. But, there was a rock concert going on. One of the interesting things about the investigation, and Henry I'm sure, remembers -- is that the FBI took the tape of the rock concert and tried to get the exact time of the song playing when the blast went off. Took that video and then, in terms of the investigation, went about collecting photographs and home movies from everyone who had been at the event, and were able to come up with that first hooded sketch of Eric Rudolph from some of these videos, and they had a whole room at the Atlanta FBI Bureau devoted to this photograph project.

But that night in the park, there was -- there was real chaos and a miracle that these teenagers had kicked that knapsack over or the shrapnel would have gone out into the crowd. They were even talking about taking that knapsack into a nearby nightclub, which would have been just devastating, so as a result -- I mean, tragic, that -- you know, the victim -- one victim was killed, another died of a heart attack, many injured, it could have been far, far worse. Back to you.

CHOI: Art, you've been tracking Rudolph right behind the FBI and other authorities. Tell us about the home that he once used to live in and what you saw there.

HARRIS: We went to North Carolina to meet the family that -- who bought the home from Eric Rudolph and it is nestled at the base of two mountains and it has a little trout pond. He had fish that they froze and they got so sick and tired of eating trout, because that was their main -- their main protein. There was supposedly a goat at one point, the house is somewhat rustic. We were taken through the house.

Here, you see a home video that we obtained from Eric Rudolph, showing the prospective family who bought the home around this house. He had -- there was about, I think, three bedrooms, there was a bobcat on the wall that he had killed, there were carvings in some of the furniture. Here you see a secret room downstairs. He wouldn't call it a secret room; he called it his root cellar where he grew hydroponic high-grade marijuana.

He bought the seeds in Amsterdam, made several trips back and forth, supposedly smuggled them through Canada, and then started growing this high-grade pot, which he would grow not only in the house, but believed to have had fields up in the National Forest. Would bring it back into his home, dry it there, and then take it in duffel bags with coffee grounds to mask the smell, by greyhound bus to Nashville, where he had a few women who would go into the parking lots at the Nashville studios and sell it. He would say -- stay back at the apartment of his brother-in-law or brother and he would smoke pot and watch Cheech and Chong movies, as my producer, Henry Schuster, has told you about. But this was a guy who liked the area, who did not veer far from his home, as we've seen, from where he was captured. One of the theories was that the fugitive would not range far from where he grew up and we've seen that theory has borne out today in North Carolina, with the capture of Eric Rudolph, five years after the last time he was spotted near his home.

CHOI: And from what you've learned about the investigation, how are authorities linking Rudolph to the crimes?

HARRIS: They have, over the years, from the bombings; they have the powder from the first bombing. They have nails that were found in the knapsacks and in the victims, two possible nails that he bought. They have a steel plate that may have been cut from a metal shop in North Carolina, he may have obtained that from there and they have obtained a lot of physical evidence from a storage shed in North Carolina, the town of Murphy, where he was living at the time.

He vanished from a trailer. In that shed are nails that matched some of the nails from the earlier bomb, so they are going to put together a case that is very forensic in its nature, I understand, as well as a case that will include a bit of evidence from that home video, the home video you just saw, which shows in it if you slow it down, you can see the truck that was spotted leaving the scene of the crime in Birmingham, the same truck that was scene outside the home that he sold to these -- these people -- this couple from Florida, whose son made the home video that shows the truck that Eric Rudolph was apparently driving or seen in by a witness. So, the case will be a fascinating one, when it hits federal court, either in Birmingham or Atlanta. Back to you.

CHOI: All right, Art, I want to bring in Henry Schuster, once again, CNN senior producer and he's got a question for you.

SCHUSTER: Well, I was just going to point out when Art mentioned about the -- about the witness in Birmingham, that was the crucial -- that was the crucial thing that allowed them to identify Eric Rudolph. Because, for 18 months, there had been a bomber out there and they didn't know who it was. But, as we learned, there was a medical student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who was looking out of his window when he heard the bomb blast and noticed somebody walking away from the site of the explosion.

He thought it was curious because everybody else seemed to walking towards the site of the explosion. Ran downstairs, jumped in his car, and started chasing the guy in his car. Now, he's heading up the side of a -- up towards a park in Birmingham, the guy disappears into the woods. So, he keeps driving up the hill, looking for a phone. The closest pay phone he can get is at the McDonald's. Well, as he's at the phone at the McDonald's trying to call the Birmingham police, he sees the guy coming out of the woods again.

So, he puts down the phone, he gets in the car again and starts going after the guy and trying to trace him and he doesn't think the guy knows that he's being followed. So, what happens is, the guy gets into a pickup truck -- a gray Nissan pickup truck, this guy writes down his number, tries to follow him. But at a certain point, the guy turns onto the freeway and he can't. And it was that break, in writing down that license plate number that allowed them to trace that truck and allowed them to trace to Eric Rudolph and a no -- put a face to a name and have a suspect.

CHOI: So many times in cases like this it is an ordinary citizen that has that crucial tip for police.

SCHUSTER: Absolutely, and not only did that help identify Eric Rudolph, but that person is sure to be an eyewitness at the trial. Now, he didn't see Rudolph or anybody else who might have detonated the bomb. All he has is -- he saw a man leave and we're not quite sure about the visual identification, but he certainly spotted the truck, in other words, we never -- he had looked at photos, certainly in a line -- certainly given photos later to look at, but, you know, he wrote down the license plate number. That license plate got put out in an all point's bulletin and eventually, that's how Eric Rudolph heard that he was wanted, because it got onto the news and Eric Rudolph was in the midst of going about his business in North Carolina -- he had never been -- Sophia, he had never been in these previous bombings, identified. Had no reason to think anybody was onto him.

CHOI: But, initially authorities came out, saying they wanted to question, as a witness, not a suspect.

SCHUSTER: Absolutely. But I think, you know, it was -- Eric Rudolph took off. And, I think it was -- I think he knew and so...

CHOI: That they were onto him...

SCHUSTER: ...that they were onto him. So, he went to a -- he had rented a home video. He went to a grocery store, he stocked up on some food, which authorities later told us could have lasted him for six months, gets in this truck and he takes off and abandons the truck and, we presume, heads into the woods.

CHOI: Well, we will likely find out much more information when a news conference begins. We are still awaiting for that news conference by the FBI and other authorities in Cherokee County, North Carolina. In the meantime let's take a quick break. We'll be right back with more of this continuing coverage.


CHOI: We want to catch you up to date with what we know with Eric Rudolph. Authorities have captured the suspected Olympic Park bomber. Attorney General John Ashcroft confirms Eric Rudolph is now in custody in North Carolina. Authorities say a man was discovered rooting through some garbage early this morning in the town of Murphy, that's in the far western part of the Tarheel state. A rookie police officer found Rudolph during a routine patrol at 4:00 a.m. eastern time. The capture comes nearly seven years after the Centennial Olympic Park bombing here in Atlanta, just across the street from CNN global headquarters. The explosion, there, killed one woman and injured more than 100 people. Authorities link Rudolph to a string of deadly bombings across the southeast, he was also charged with two bombings at a women's clinic at an office building in Sandy Springs, just north of Atlanta. That was in January 1997. One month later, the bomber struck again at a gay nightclub in Atlanta. There were several injuries in those two incidents, but no one was killed.

Then in January 1998, in Birmingham, Alabama, a police officer was killed when a bomb went off at a women's clinic that city. Rudolph's pickup truck was spotted leaving the bombing scene. Police discovered Rudolph in the same mountainous region of North Carolina where he lived for many years. Rudolph is described as a skilled outdoorsman. Rudolph, able to survive for long periods in the wilderness. Rudolph is 36 years old and is listed on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list, with a million dollar reward offered for his capture. His name has still not been crossed off the list, by the way.

Attorney General John Ashcroft describes Rudolph as, quote, "The most notorious American fugitive on the most wanted list." Once again, Eric Rudolph captured this morning in North Carolina.

And now we want to take you live to Cherokee, North Carolina, where we are waiting -- a news conference, by FBI. In fact, I think it's starting now. Let's listen in.


CHOI: Okay, it has yet to start. We're still waiting for it to start. You can see people being miked up there. We expect the FBI to make a statement and when they begin to talk, we will take you back there.

In the meantime, we want to bring in Art Harris, again. He is joining us live from Modesto, California. He's been tracking the Eric Rudolph case. And,

Art, earlier, when we were talking, you were telling us about that storage shed where investigators found some nails that were linked to the bombings -- to the bombs themselves. But they haven't found the actual site where Mr. Rudolph allegedly made these bombs. How crucial is that to investigators? Have you heard from them on that?

HARRIS: Well, they have been looking for the bomb making site for all, well, all these years, they have not found it. But, it could be in on of the caves up there, some think. And, after the theft of about 500 pounds of dynamite, several years ago, in North Carolina, agents have told me that they wondered if, in fact, that dynamite is in a cave, possibly, and if that's where he made his workshop. We don't know at this point, but they believe they have a very solid case as it stands, from the nails, from the forensics that they found at the scene, that could make a solid case against the fugitive -- Sophia.

CHOI: Of course witnesses will play a key role in the prosecution of this case. Are investigators worried at all that so much time has lapsed and perhaps witnesses might have forgotten some of the details? HARRIS: Well, some of the witnesses, you know, like the medical student and a couple of others, who saw this truck leave Birmingham that day, which was the lucky break that the case got at the -- outside the abortion clinic there. They believe they will be good witnesses in linking the truck to Eric Rudolph. That was the truck and the license tag was found in Birmingham, and then tracked to his trailer in North Carolina, so they believe that witnesses will survive and provide good eyewitness accounts.

CHOI: You know, investigators all along have said that, more than likely, they would capture Rudolph in the same area where he was accustomed to hiding out in those woods in North Carolina and, I assume, they got that profile from talking with family members and friends. What have you learned about this man from talking with those people?

HARRIS: This is a man who lived in the woods and loved the woods, loved solitude, when he was growing up, he loved to play army up in the mountains, beneath the ledges, in the Nantahala National Forest, five hundred acres of wilderness and one of the agents told me that he interviewed some friends who said Eric taught them how to hide beneath ledges and you couldn't see him if you were standing two or three feet away. So, this is someone who studied herbal medicine, who gave a friend whose father was dying of cancer a book about herbal remedies. Who hated the government, his father had died of cancer at a young age and he'd seen his mother try to get the doctor to allow her to give him Latril, it is an alternative medical treatment made from apricot pits. That was not allowed and so some of the agents believe this profile of hatred for authority, for government came from a belief that, perhaps, the government killed his father.

CHOI: Art, if you'll stick with us, I want to take a moment here and explain to people what they're seeing to the right of their screen. That is a news conference that is about to begin. We're awaiting the FBI to begin tell some more details about the capture of Eric Rudolph. It's happening in Cherokee County, North Carolina. When they begin to talk, we will take that live, so you don't miss anything. In the meantime, Art, I have Henry Schuster here, senior producer for CNN. And he's got a question or comment.

SCHUSTER: Well, I was going to say that, it's not just the FBI, I mean, most importantly, you'll hearing from the Cherokee County sheriff and the Murphy police department who played a crucial role in apprehending Eric Rudolph early this morning. I think they've been waiting for the FBI to get there so that this could be a show of law enforcement, everybody who's been involved in this case over the years. Because this has really involved police in Atlanta, it's involved Georgia state police, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Birmingham city police, Birmingham Department of Public Safety, as well as the FBI. Even the National Guard was brought in at one point to help out. Remember, they had that extensive manhunt, I mean, to some residents in North Carolina, it was literally an invasion when everybody showed up with the helicopters...

CHOI: Hundreds of officers... SCHUSTER: Yes, to find out -- but remember, that they were also looking in an area that covered half a million acres. I mean, that's just a breath-taking amount and even in the five-mile radius where they thought he might be -- later thought he might be, you're talking about hundreds of mines and caves. This was an area that where all sorts of minerals were dug up over the past hundred years. So...

CHOI: And it is amazing that it came down to this tiny police department for this capture, a rookie police officer out on routine patrol, spots a man digging in a garbage dump, right behind a strip mall, I believe, and they go up to him -- he tries to stop him. Mr. Rudolph tries to run. He pulls out a gun, the officer does, and that's how he captures him.

Well, you know -- the wanted poster always said "Armed and dangerous" and the reason it said that was because they figured that this was a man -- in their profile, the person that they were looking at, even before the identified him as Eric Rudolph, was somebody who hated police, who hated the government and had deliberately killed a policeman, who had stood and watched and detonated a bomb in Birmingham, so they were very worried.

CHOI: All right, and I want to bring you back in here as we're talking about the profile of Eric Rudolph. You were talking about his skills as an outdoorsman. But he was also known, as a loner wasn't he?

HARRIS: He was a loner, and this was someone who would be at the dinner table, would be with his family, and would say I'm leaving. And would vanish into the woods. It would be very cold, and he would be gone for several days.

So this is one tip that the FBI later used to put together a profile. That this was somebody who could survive for days, weeks, months, and now we've seen, five years in the wilderness. Obviously you saw him or accounts of him being very thin now, in the home video that you'll see exclusively on CNN today, throughout the day.

CHOI: Art, I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I believe this news conference that we've been awaiting is beginning now, so let's go to that news conference now. And I understand that the arresting officer will be at this news conference. Let's listen in.


CHOI: And as we await that picture, we want recap what you heard in this news conference from various members of law enforcement agencies in the hunt for, and now capture of Eric Robert Rudolph.

We learned that they have not conducted a formal interview with him. They say he looks thin, he has a shorter haircut, but he has been fed, and he's being taken care of. Officers say he seemed relieved after his capture, and that he had been in that area the whole time. The whole five years that they have been on this hunt for him. Initially, Eric Rudolph gave the name of Jerry Wilson, but eventually he did admit that he was the suspected bomber, Eric Robert Rudolph. Real quickly, I want to bring in -- let me remind you about a special a programming note here.

At 3:00 p.m. eastern, we'll bring a CNN special report to you, "The Capture of Eric Rudolph". We'll bring you up to date on today's dramatic developments, and tell you what happens next. That's at 3:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

And tonight on CNN PRESENTS: THE HUNT FOR ERIC RUDOLPH featuring exclusive home video of the suspected Olympic Park bomber that we've been showing you here on CNN. That's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN PRESENTS.


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