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US Attorney in Eric Rudolph Case Explains Deal

Aired April 13, 2005 - 16:43:00   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: These are live pictures from Atlanta, Georgia. The prosecution team that put together the case against Eric Rudolph -- he is the accused serial bomber who he today pled guilty in four different bombings, one of them in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1998, the other three in Atlanta in 1997 and 1996, including the bombing at the Atlanta Olympic Park.
Let's listen in. This is the prosecution team who put the case together against Eric Rudolph. U.S. attorney David Nahmias.

DAVID NAHMIAS, US ATTORNEY: Good afternoon. I'm David Nahmias, United States attorney for the northern district of Georgia. I'm joined here today by my prosecution team for the Rudolph case. The first assistant, United States attorney Sally Yates (ph), and assistant U.S. attorneys Phyllis Sumner (ph), Joey Barbi (ph), and John Horn (ph). I'm also joined by FBI special agent in charge Greg Jones (ph); ATF special agent in charge, Vanessa Mclamore (ph); GBI director Vernon Keenan (ph); Major Sullivan O'Brien, commander of the major crime section, representing the Atlanta Police Department; Fulton County Police Chief George Coleman; Todd Lecter (ph), the FBI's inspector in charge of the bomb task force; Joe Kennedy (ph), the resident agent in charge of the ATF; and Russ Arthur (ph) supervisery agent for the U.S. Forest Service.

On July 27, 1996, less than a mile from here in Centennial Olympic Park, Eric Robert Rudolph began a reign of terror by placing a huge pipe bomb wrapped with nails in a park where 50,000 people were celebrating the Atlanta Olympic games. When the bomb exploded, it killed an innocent 44-year-old mother and wife, Alice Stubbs Hawthorne, seriously injured more than 100 other people, and put a permanent black ribbon on the memory of the most important and largest event in this city's history.

Today, Eric Rudolph's reign of terror ended in courts of law and justice. It ended with certainty, immediacy, finality and protection of public safety. Eric Rudolph has admitted he is guilty of all four bombings in Atlanta and Birmingham. There can be no doubt anymore about who is responsible for these crimes, and there can be no uncertainty about the results of long and complex trials. Eric Rudolph is guilty today. There will be no further delays in obtaining justice for the public and the many victims of his terrorist activity. Eric Rudolph is guilty forever. There will be no long appeals in this case. And Eric Rudolph is no longer a threat to the public.

As a result of information obtained pursuant to these plea agreements, last week in western North Carolina, agents found and rendered safe a fully constructed bomb that Rudolph had hidden near a major road, a second nearly completed bomb, several containers filled with bomb making tools and components, and home made detonators and a massive amount of volatile nitroglycerin dynamite.

Eric Rudolph will now spend the rest of his life where he belongs, locked in a prison cell hurting no one and, we hope, thinking more about his victims and the tremendous harm he caused to them, this city, our region, and our country.

It is appropriate today to recognize the hard and talented work of the many agents of the FBI and ATF and my great team of prosecutors, who dedicated literally years of their lives, some of them almost a decade, to identifying and arresting this serial bomber and bringing justice to his victims. These men and women spent countless hours conducting the incredibly detailed forensic investigation, and the tens of thousands of witness interviews that it took to build the solid cases that ultimately convinced Eric Rudolph that he should plead guilty. Today is a rewarding day for these men and women.

But we wouldn't be here today without three other partners in law enforcement. First, our colleagues in state and local law enforcement agencies. From the first responders who cleared the crowd away from the bomb in Centennial Park and spared other people from death and injury, to the alert Atlanta police officer who spotted the second bomb outside the other side lounge and saved lives there. To the GBI agents who were full partners in our bomb task force for years. To the North Carolina officers who helped for the search for Rudolph and the search for his explosives, and especially to the two North Carolina officers who are here today who captured Rudolph and ended the long man hunt for him.

Our second partner in this case has been the public, the many observant people who provided tips and information to help build this case, and the people of western North Carolina who assisted our task force over the years of looking for Eric Rudolph. I particularly want to thank the remarkable and courageous young man in Birmingham who followed Eric Rudolph from the scene of the bombing there and got his license plate on his pickup truck. That was the lead that finally gave our agents a clear suspect to focus on, and once we identified Rudolph and got him on the run, the bombings ended. And we know now that is the only reason the bombings ended. Saving how knows -- who knows how many lives.

Our final and perhaps most important partner in this case has been the many victims of these attacks. Their courage and their patience and support have inspired us to keep going on the hardest days and it is fitting that these guilty pleas come during National Victims' Rights Week. We are pleased that today's guilt pleas ensure the maximum penalty under law that can be imposed against Rudolph for the crimes against all of the surviving victims, life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. We are pleased that the sentence is acceptable to the survivors of Alice Hawthorne, the woman murdered in Centennial Olympic Park and the survivors of Robert Sanderson, the police officer murdered in Birmingham.

Finally, I want to commend the agents who spent last week locating and rendering safe a dynamite bomb filled with nails and huge quantities of nitroglycerin dynamite in western North Carolina. These men and women are truly heroes.

You may not appreciate how much dynamite 250 pounds is, until you realize that Rudolph's bombs that caused so much devastation in Atlanta and Birmingham each contained only five to 15 pounds of dynamite. You may not appreciate how dangerous that dynamite left in North Carolina was because improperly stored dynamite becomes so volatile it can be detonated unintentionally by even slight vibrations. The dynamite at one location was buried only yards away from a fence where the driving of a new fence post could easily have caused huge explosion and killed people.

Two other even larger dynamite stashes were buried in popular hunting and camping areas where a tent stake driven into one of the containers by a Boy Scout group could have detonated the dynamite and killed them. In every instance, the dynamite was so volatile that it could not be safely removed, and had be to be destroyed in place by experience explosives experts.

We are distributing some photos and videotape of the Render Safe Operation. We have some of the brave agents who were involved here today to answer some of your questions. And we'll make it available over the next few days additional information on the operation, so that you can get a better understanding of the true danger that those materials posed. We thank God that no one was hurt by that bomb and the other dynamite stashes during the years they remained hidden.

Until last week, a part of western North Carolina was literally a hidden minefield. And indeed, had we not entered these plea agreements Eric Rudolph might have ended up killing more people after he was in prison or executed, than he ever did when he was free. I have a former colleague who would say, when we have a good day in court, this is a good day for the people. Today is a very good day for the people of this city, this region and this country. Now it's my pleasure to introduce the special agent in charge of the Atlanta field division of the FBI, Greg Jones.

GREG JONES, FBI: Thank you, Mr. Nahmias. Good afternoon ladies an gentleman. Today we are a step nearer to closure of a painful chapter in the history of our city and our nation. Nearly nine years ago Atlanta found itself the focus of the world's attention as a violent bombing campaign targeted first the Olympic Games, then a women's health clinic and then finally a local nightclub. What followed was a criminal investigation and manhunt unprecedented in size and scope. Involving over 27,000 initial leads, 2,800 -- excuse me, 28, 000 witness interviews, and over 1,000 pieces of evidence which were submitted for analysis to the FBI laboratory. And to those numbers add over 30,000 photographs and 1,700 videotapes and case files for these three Atlanta bombings now total nearly 112,000 entries.

And while we are, too, pleased with the conviction in this case. Our pleasure is tempered by the remembrance of those that have suffered and lost loved ones. It is our hope that today's proceedings will serve to honor the memory of Alice Hawthorne, as well as help heal the physical and emotional wounds inflicted on so many of Atlanta's residents and visitors.

While no court of law or law enforcement agency can bring back a family member or wash away the trauma of the past, we hope there is some comfort among victims and families in knowing that justice has been served here today. I briefly mentioned the enormous work, the amount of work which went into this case, the vast majority of which was under taken by the southeast bomb task force. Many of those members are with me here today and are here at the podium. And you'll have a chance to talk with them and ask some questions. This task force consisted of over 50 full-time agents. But grew at times to over 250 agents as needs arose. These numbers do not include thousands of agents and law enforcement officers around the country and across the globe who gathered information, tracked down leads, and helped the task force piece together what was an enormously complex investigation.

In addition to our law enforcement partners on the southeast bomb task force, we were fortunate to be partnered with very competent government attorneys. And Mr. Namias my hat is off to you and your staff for a job well done. I also want to personally commend the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Office, ATF and SAC Vanessa McClamore (ph) for the fine work and resources that they supplied, the ATF supllied to the task force in assisting the FBI, as we work partnered together and shouldered together to bring the events as they unfolded today in this courtroom.

I also want to commend officer Jeff Postel (ph) who is here with us today. And officer Charles Kibly (ph) of the Murphy Police Department. And Deputy Sean Matthews of the Cherokee County, North Carolina sheriff's office for their heroic efforts which led to Eric Rudolph's capture.

And in the early morning hours of May 31, 2003, Officer Postel and Deputy Matthews and Officer Kibly were doing what good police officers do on a day-to-day basis, they were working their beats. They were checking out suspicious activity, and leaving nothing to chance. Sometimes technology and forensics can take only -- can take you only so far, and you have to rely on good old fashioned police work. The outstanding police work of these three men resulted in the arrest of one of the FBI's top 10 fugitives. Thank you very much.

NAHMIAS: Now let me introduce Vanessa McClamore (ph) the special agent in charge of the Atlanta office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives.


WOODRUFF: As we listen to this news conference by the prosecution team to put together the case against Eric Rudolph, who today pled guilty to four different bombings in the late 1990s in Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama. Let's bring in CNN's senior producer Henry Shuster who has spent a long time looking at the Eric Rudolph story. He's written a book titled "Hunting Eric Rudolph."

Henry, as you listen to the police -- to the prosecution team explain how long it took, I think many people wonder why it took as long as it did to find this man.

HENRY SCHUSTER, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER: Well, Judy, some of the answer comes in a statement from Eric Rudolph, that we just got handed by the defense team. It's a multipage statement. And in it -- in it he talks about his years in the woods, but mainly he talks about why he did the bombings. He said he did them because "Abortion is murder."

He said that his initial plan at the Olympics was to force the cancellation of the Olympics, because he wanted to embarrass the U.S. government on their stand about abortion. And that he actually had planned to setoff five bombs on five successive days.

That the bombing in the Centennial Park was supposed to have happened a week earlier during the opening of the games. That he claims he made a second call the night of the Olympic Park bombing to warn people. That he admits to the other bombings, at the abortion clinic in Atlanta to the gay and lesbian nightclub in Atlanta, and to the abortion clinic in Birmingham.

He also says that once he fled into the woods he planned on doing another bombing. First he was going to do it at an abortion clinic in Asheville, North Carolina. And then he talked about doing it to time before the presidential election, and that he was going to do this bombing -- he was going to bomb their task force headquarters in Andrews, North Carolina.

He eventually talks about why he decided that all the years on the run took its toll. That he spent most of it was involved -- he uses the phrase after so many years ducking and hiding and eating crappie food, you tend to let your guard down. And this is what led to my capture in Murphy in 2003. And as he says as to a -- he says as for what -- how he feels now, I say to you people that by the grace of God, I am still here, a little bloodied but enthusiastically unbowed. And Judy, I think in fairness, you mention my book, there's a post script statement, which is two pages in which he attacks me and my co- author Charles Stone saying we distorted his position. That he -- that it, in fact, this was all about abortion.

WOODRUFF: Henry Schuster, CNN's senior producer who's followed the story of Eric Rudolph. And as we mentioned, has written a book about him.

Henry, thank you very much.

Again, the prosecutor saying a moment ago that Eric Rudolph's, in his words, reign of terror ended today with certainty and finality in courts of justice. Eric Rudolph pleading guilty to four different bombings in the late 1990s.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" is going to have much more on this story, right after the break. I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington. Thank you for watching.




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