Court: Sell Unabomber Writings to Aid Victims
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Before he was captured by the FBI, Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, killed three people and injured 23 others in a string of attacks spanning nearly two decades. Now a federal appeals court in California has ordered the government to sell scores of personal items seized from Kaczynski, including his infamous writings. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, money from the sale would go to the Unabomber's victims.
CARRIE KAHN reporting:
When Ted Kaczynski was arrested in 1996 at his cabin in rural Montana, federal agents seized his 35,000-word rantings on the evils of modern technology, known as the Unabomber Manifesto. His attorney, John Balazs, says agents took a lot more.
Mr. JOHN BALAZS (Unabomber Attorney): What we're talking about is probably thousands of pages of his personal journals, as well as correspondence, letters. There's also his everyday items that he had in his cabin.
KAHN: Most of those items are books Balazs says Kaczynski wants his family to have. And Kaczynski had arranged for all his papers and journal writings to be donated to the University of Michigan, where he was awarded an advanced degree in mathematics.
Mr. BALAZS: You know, he's a brilliant mathematician, and he spent a number of years solving one of these old mathematical theorems that had previously been unsolved. And we have the first few pages of that.
KAHN: He says the solution to the theorem is somewhere in the boxes of material the government has refused to return. First Amendment activists had charged that the government was violating Kaczynski's free speech rights by not allowing him to donate his writings to the University of Michigan's library dedicated to social and political movements. University librarian Julie Herrada says Kaczynski's work is an important part of the country's radical history and has been hotly debated. She says the only materials in the library now are those generated since his arrest.
Ms. JULIE HERRADA (Librarian, University of Michigan): So in order to round out the collection and therefore the story, we would want the whole thing.
KAHN: Any notion that the government is trying to stifle free speech is rubbish, says US assistant attorney Ana Maria Martel. She says the government feared that Kaczynski would sell his personal effects and profit from his notoriety. While any money Kaczynski makes will go directly to pay restitution to his victims, estimated at more than $15 million, Martel says the government doesn't want to do anything to help him lower that debt.
Ms. ANA MARIA MARTEL (US Assistant Attorney): Ted Kaczynski was an unknown nobody before we arrested him, and so because the only notoriety that he has obtained is because he's a criminal, he should not profit from being a criminal.
KAHN: Martel says the government is worried that the spectacle of such a sale would revictimize Kaczynski's victims. The judge has ordered the government to come up with a plan to maximize proceeds from the sale, but if the victims oppose that plan or if the items are found to have no value, then the government must return all materials back to Kaczynski. He's currently serving a life sentence in Colorado. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Los Angeles.
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