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Reno to seek death penalty in Unabomber case

May 15, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Attorney General Janet Reno ordered prosecutors today to seek the death penalty for Unabomber suspect Theodore Kaczynski despite pleas from his family that he be spared, a family spokesman and Justice officials said.

``The family is devastated by this development and they are in seclusion at this time,″ said family attorney Anthony Bisceglie. ``We believe that the attorney general’s decision is a terrible mistake, but we remain hopeful that justice will ultimately prevail in this tragic case.″

Reno agreed to a request by prosecutors in the case to seek the death penalty and planned to file her decision in court later today, according to Justice officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity after Bisceglie’s announcement.

Bisceglie indicated that he had been advised of her decision and had told Kaczynski’s brother, David, and his mother, Wanda. They had turned in Theodore Kaczynski last year after authorities had mounted an unsuccessful 18-year search for the Unabomber.

Prosecutors contend he is responsible for 18 years of bombings that killed three people and injured 23 others in a campaign against technology.

The family argued that other families in the future might be reluctant to turn in relatives if a death sentence were imposed in this case.

Although Reno personally opposes the death penalty, President Clinton supports it and she has pledged to enforce it. Already she has authorized requesting the death penalty 58 times.

The 54-year-old math professor-turned-hermit faces a Nov. 12 trial in Sacramento, Calif., on 10 federal counts covering four explosions that killed two people there and maimed two others. He faces a later trial in Newark, N.J., on federal charges that he mailed a package bomb that killed advertising executive Thomas Mosser in New Jersey. Kaczynski has pleaded innocent in both cases.

He was arrested April 3, 1996 at his remote cabin near Lincoln, Mont. After years of fruitless search for the elusive bomber, authorities were directed there by the Kaczynski family.

David Kaczynski, younger brother of the Harvard-trained mathematician who later taught at the University of California at Berkeley, had recognized his brother’s ideas and phrasing in manifestos. The documents were sent by the Unabomber and printed by The New York Times and The Washington Post at the request of the Justice Department.

During a drawn-out, closed-door Justice Department review before a panel of department officials which is conducted in all potential death penalty cases, the family and their lawyer Anthony Bisceglie argued strenuously against a death penalty.

``If there is a death sentence in this case, then families down the road might not turn in their relatives,″ Bisceglie said in an interview. Justice Department regulations for the death penalty require the panel to consider any law enforcement-based reason for seeking or not seeking it.

Department officials pointed out that turning in a bomber was the right thing to do regardless of the penalty and that no bomber could expect to escape the death penalty by turning himself in. Further, they said, relatives of future criminals would still have a motive for cooperating with authorities: Arranging a peaceful arrest and trial that avoided shooting at capture.

Finally, department officials said diaries seized in Kaczynski’s cabin show he carefully planned the bombings, designed them for maximum harm to people, criticized his own work when blasts left only minor injuries and vowed to build bigger, more harmful devices for later attacks.

The family also argued that Kaczynski suffered from mental illness dating from childhood, which can be a mitigating factor under death penalty law. David, the younger brother, told The Washington Post earlier this year that Theodore suffered from ``unpredictable mood swings, a preoccupation with disease, extreme phobias, compulsive thinking and an inability to let go of minutiae.″ The department historically has been unsympathetic to mental illness defenses.

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