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State Treasurer Had Learned Day Before Suicide of Pardon Denial

January 24, 1987

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) _ State Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer, who committed suicide publicly after proclaiming he was wrongly convicted of bribery-conspiracy, learned he had been turned down for a presidential pardon the day before his death, a U.S. senator’s aide said Friday.

Sen. Arlen Specter had talked with Dwyer on the telephone Wednesday for about 10 minutes and told him such a bid was premature and unrealistic, said Dan McKenna, an aide to Specter.

On Thursday morning, Dwyer pulled a revolver out of a manila envelope and committed suicide at a news conference.

Specter had told Dwyer a pardon was not possible until the judicial process, including appeals, had run its course, according to McKenna. He added the senator had not detected that Dwyer was despondent.

″He (Dwyer) seemed to accept what Arlen said pretty well,″ McKenna said.

In a handwritten note to Specter dated Dec. 23, Dwyer said he desperately needed help and that if the guilty verdict was not vacated or if he was not pardoned by Jan. 22, ″my family will be destroyed even though I’ve done nothing wrong.″

Dwyer had been scheduled to be sentenced Friday in federal court in Williamsport on charges he signed a computer contract with a small California firm in return for a promised $300,000 payoff. Dwyer was convicted last month on charges of mail fraud, interstate transportation in aid of racketeering, perjury and conspiracy to commit bribery.

″I’ve not bothered you about this before, but now my family and I desperately need your help,″ Dwyer wrote. Then in a portion that was underlined, the memo said: ″Please help us.″

An hour before the suicide, Dwyer, 47, and aide Robert Daughenbaugh discussed their future, Daughenbaugh said Friday.

″In the half-hour we spent together, we talked about what we’d be doing five or seven years from now,″ said Daughenbaugh, director of public assistance disbursements for the Treasury Department. ″He was telling me, ‘I have no future,’ but I wasn’t seeing it.‴

By that time, however, Dwyer had already typed and photocopied a 22-page statement that concluded with a two-paragraph suicide note, and had another note at his home in Hershey that said he had lost hope. He had taken a .357- caliber Magnum revolver to work in his briefcase.

Shortly before 11 a.m. Dwyer stuck the six-inch barrel of the gun in his mouth and fired a single shot. He died instantly, with more than two dozen reporters, photographers and aides as witnesses.

On Friday, Dwyer’s lawyer, Paul Killion, said the treasurer turned down a plea-bargain agreement before going on trial.

″Without an instant’s hestitation, he said absolutely, positively not,″ said Killion. ″He said he wouldn’t plead guilty to anything. He said he was innocent.″

Acting U.S. Attorney James West had offered to allow Dwyer to plead guilty to one count if he would resign and cooperate with the government’s continuing investigation, said Killion. The single count was not specified, but would have carried a maximum five-year jail term, he said.

A memorial service is planned Saturday in Hershey.

Until his legal troubles began in 1984, Dwyer was regarded by many fellow Republicans and some Democrats as the best treasurer the state ever had. He modernized an antiquated record-keeping system, streamlined procedures for issuing checks and prided himself on investing the state’s money skillfully.

At his trial, witnesses portrayed him as a high-powered state official, a willing participant in a scheme to receive a $300,000 bribe in return for awarding a computer contract.

Friends recalled him as affable but angered and upset at his conviction on 11 counts, which meant up to 55 years in jail and the surrender of his office. State Sen. Robert Jubelirer, who served with Dwyer in the Legislature, said Dwyer ″was a very sensitive, caring individual. Nobody was closer or loved his family more than Budd Dwyer.″

Richard and Sue Kellner, Dwyer’s neighbors in Hershey, described him as a family man who liked to work in the yard with his wife, Joanne, and two children.

One witness at Dwyer’s trial said co-defendant Robert B. Asher once referred to Dwyer as ″a bumpkin fromMeadville.″ Dwyer seemed to relish the label, and on his 47th birthday, which occurred during the trial, reporters covering the case presented him with a blue T-shirt that had the saying in gold across the front.

Dwyer’s public service career began as a Problems of Democracy teacher at a high school near his home. The podium he used for his final news conference was made by his students in 1962.

He became a state representative in 1965, moved to the Senate in 1971, and was elected to his first of two terms as treasurer in 1980.

There, he didn’t hestitate to pick fights with Gov. Dick Thornburgh, even though they were both Republicans. When he learned state police were driving the governor’s sons to and from school in New England, Dwyer went public. He also announced that he would not use state money to pay for the governor’s wife to accompany him on an overseas trip.

Dwyer insisted Thursday that Thornburgh’s friendship with acting U.S. Attorney James West was the only reason he was tried and convicted. He repeatedly maintained his innocence.

Many of his friends and colleagues said they believed him.

″The system let him down,″ Crawford County Commissioner Gene Rumsey said Friday.

Rob Dwyer, 21, said his father had given no indication of what he intended to do.

In the suicide note left home, ″he said he’d given up hope in a country that didn’t believe in innocent men,″ the younger Dwyer said.

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