Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ted Kaczynski: The Unabomber

Back to Court

Ted Kaczynski escorted to court (AP)
Ted Kaczynski escorted to
court (AP)

By January 22nd, both sides agreed Kaczynski was competent to stand trial and that he had the legal right to represent himself. But Judge Burrell had other ideas — he quashed Kaczynski's desire to serve as his own counsel, calling it "untimely."

The trial had already endured three false starts, and Burrell saw the defendant as "consistently and unequivocally" scheming to delay proceedings. The judge called the request "...unacceptable. It is patently unreasonable."

An hour later, it was announced that both sides had agreed to a plea bargain deal. Although one had been discussed for months, the government had consistently rejected the idea because Kaczynski demanded his conditions be met — mainly that he would retain the right to appeal and that he would not be sent to a mental hospital.

Because this would never be allowed, the compromise was reached, and events in court unfolded swiftly.

The Court: You wish to change your plea?"

Defendant: Yes, your honor," Kaczynski answered.

The Court: Mr. Kaczynski, how do you now plead to the charges in counts 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 and 10 of the indictment in this case and Counts 1,2, and 3 of the indictment in the District of New Jersey case: Guilty or not guilty?

Defendant: Guilty, your honor.

When the day ended, Kaczynski had pleaded guilty to thirteen counts for attacks in three states that killed three and injured two.

In keeping with the plea bargain, Kaczynski would serve life in prison with no chance of parole, but was spared the potential death sentence.

When the bomber left the court, he ignored his mother and brother, who were seated close behind him. The first time he'd sighted them during the trial, a martyred look was his only acknowledgement of their existence.

Final sentencing took place on May 4th 1998. The defendant and victims were allowed pre-sentencing statements — Kaczynski went first.

He complained that the prosecutors had distorted his motives and beliefs. He called their sentencing memorandum

"...purely political. By discrediting me personally, they hope to discredit the ideas expressed by the Unabomber...I only ask that people reserve their judgment about me... until all the facts have been made public."

Understandably, his victims' responses were unsympathetic.

Susan Mosser, whose husband Tom was killed in December 1994, made a strong statement as she described the killing:

"Nails. Razor blades. Wire. Pipe. Batteries. Everyday household items. Pack them together, explode them with the force of a bullet from a rifle, and you have a bomb. Hold it in your hand while it is exploding, as my husband Tom did, and you have unbearable pain... the excruciating pain of a hundred nails, cut up razor blades and metal fragments perforating your heart, shearing off your fingers, burning your skin, fracturing your skull, and driving shrapnel into your brain...

Please, your honor, make this sentence bullet proof, bomb proof... Lock him so far down that when he does die, he'll be closer to hell. That's where the devil belongs!"

Dr. Charles Epstein, injured in June 1993, believed he was

"... the only person in modern times who was targeted for death just for being a geneticist."

Epstein addressed Kaczynski directly:

"What right then do you have hiding in your shack in a forest to try to prevent me and my kind from trying to prevent the suffering of those who are afflicted by attempting to kill me and to intimidate the others?"

Epstein also damned the defense's use of mental illness as a way to present Kaczynski as a suffering person:

"By some convoluted form of logic, you were portrayed as the victim of a system of justice... What message. Theodore Kaczynski the victim!"

Unable to attend, Dr. David Gelernter sent a message to be read in court. In it, he wrote in favor of the death penalty:

"Imposing a death sentence isn't easy... Murdering people with bombs is easy, but doing the right and decent thing is usually hard.

We ought to have...done it for the good of the country and out of our duty to the three murdered men."

Gelernter praised the bomber's brother David "for his heroic decency."

Gary Wright, injured in Salt Lake City in February of 1987 spoke of the ongoing effects of Kaczynski's handiwork:

"To this day, I still remove pieces of shrapnel that continue to rise from below the surface of the skin."

Wright also praised David Kaczynski, his wife Linda and mother Wanda, noting,

"Without their honesty, integrity and ability to do what was right, Ted would still be in a position to kill or maim additional innocent victims."

The last victim to speak was Nicklaus Suino, injured in 1985. He spoke of the ongoing traumatic conditions the bombing left him with and reflected on the death penalty:

"If there ever was a model candidate for the death penalty, Mr. Kaczynski is that candidate... however, the most important goal for me in seeing him prosecuted was to ensure that he is unable to send his dangerous packages to anyone else.

Observing the bomber's strange evolution, he observed:

"He has actually become the very thing he once seemed to fear. Not a victim of progress, but an empty machine, devoid of conscience..."

In a moving close, Nick Suino counseled his fellow survivors:

"Please, don't let yourself become a victim. You and I, we have more important things to do. When we leave here today, we can go out of here and live."

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