Serial Bomber Eric Rudolph Gets Life in Prison

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Eric Rudolph, who admitted to the deadly attack that marred the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and two other bombings, was sentenced Monday to life in prison for a 1998 bombing at a women's clinic in Birmingham, Ala. Madeleine Brand speaks with Adam Hochberg in Atlanta about the mood surrounding the court proceedings.


From NPR West and Slate magazine online, this is DAY TO DAY. Alex Chadwick is off today. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Coming up, will Karl Rove survive the CIA leak scandal?

But first, to Birmingham, Alabama, where serial bomber Eric Rudolph was sentenced today to life in prison. Earlier this year, he confessed to setting off explosions at a women's clinic in Birmingham, as well as at three Atlanta sites, including the 1996 Olympics. In all, he killed two people and wounded more than a hundred before spending five years as a fugitive. Rudolph's plea agreement means he does not face the death penalty. NPR's Adam Hochberg is in Birmingham, and he joins us now.

And, Adam, what was the mood at the courthouse today?

ADAM HOCHBERG reporting:

It was a very dramatic day in federal court. Not because of the sentence; that was a foregone conclusion with the plea agreement--but because Eric Rudolph spoke to the judge himself, the first time we have heard him deliver a long address in court. And it really sounded something like a political manifesto. It was long, rambling talk about 10 minutes. He referenced everybody from Howard Stern to Madonna to characters in the Bible, and he was unrepentant about his attacks. He said deadly force was justified to end what he called infanticide. He's talking about abortion and referring to the explosion at a clinic in Birmingham that performs abortion. He said that when he bombed that clinic, he was, in his words, `pulling back the lid on a stinking vat of vomit.'

Just before Rudolph spoke, some of his victims also spoke. One woman, who lost her husband, a man who was a police officer at the clinic, she called Rudolph a piece of garbage. Meanwhile, a nurse who was wounded very seriously in the bombing addressed him directly and said, `Eric, you didn't shut down the clinic, and you're not going to shut me down, either.' That woman, Emily Lyons, noted that one of the many injuries she suffered in the bombing was a fused middle finger on her right hand, and she said in court to Rudolph, `That's one injury I'd like to show you.'

BRAND: Hmm. Well, these crimes happened many years ago. Remind us exactly what he's admitted to doing.

HOCHBERG: Well, the hearing today was for 1998 bombing at the Birmingham clinic that killed the off-duty police officer and injured the nurse, as I That is one of four bombings that he's pleaded guilty to. The others all happened in Atlanta: one at a clinic there, one at a gay nightclub and,n perhaps most famously, at a downtown park during the 1996 Olympics. All told, his four bombs killed two people, injured more than a hundred. And the reason it's taken so long to sentence him for those crimes, of course, is that he eluded police for five years when he hid out in the North Carolina mountains.

BRAND: And tell us more about that plea agreement.

HOCHBERG: Well, the Justice Department had considered seeking the death penalty against Rudolph, but there was one big reason that they say they didn't. And that was that while Rudolph was hiding out in the woods, he hid some 250 pounds of dynamite. He buried it somewhere in North Carolina. And prosecutors were afraid that that might detonate accidentally and cause a large loss of life and a lot of injuries. And they the plea bargain was the only way to get Rudolph to tell them exactly where the dynamite was so that it could be safely removed.

BRAND: NPR's Adam Hochberg outside the federal courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama.

Thanks, Adam.

HOCHBERG: Thank you.

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