Kaczynski's acts are bogging down Unabomber trial
SACRAMENTO -- Is Unabomber defendant Theodore Kaczynski trying to
manipulate the criminal justice system by stalling his federal death penalty trial
with unending disruptions?
Or is he, as defense lawyers say, helplessly gripped by a mental illness so severe
that he can't recognize that it is motivating his actions?
The apparent jailhouse suicide attempt reported by authorities Thursday wasn't
the first monkey wrench Kaczynski tossed into a trial in which opening
arguments now have been put off three times.
Earlier, through defiant opposition to testing by government psychiatrists, he
maneuvered his lawyers into dropping plans to call their own medical experts to
tell jurors he is mentally ill.
Defenders Quin Denvir and Judy Clarke, who said in court for the first time
Thursday that they consider their client incompetent to make defense decisions,
viewed such evidence as the only means of avoiding a death sentence.
As jurors arrived at the courthouse Monday for opening statements, the dispute
within the defense appeared to have been resolved. But to U.S. District Judge
Garland Burrell, Kaczynski, 55, protested his lawyers' plans to get their
mental-incapacity message across through lay witnesses.
In the judge's chambers, Kaczynski moved to fire his defense team in favor of a
lawyer who said he would do his bidding.
Burrell delayed the trial's start for three days to handle the flare-up. On
Wednesday, he denied Kaczynski's request for a new lawyer. Further, he ruled
that Denvir and Clarke could call the shots on the mental status issue.
Kaczynski may be expressing his unhappiness with the rulings: He allegedly
tried to hang himself with his underpants. And Thursday, again just moments
before jurors could be sworn in, he brought proceedings to a halt by moving to
become his own lawyer.
When Clarke announced that Kaczynski wanted to represent himself, his mother,
Wanda Kaczynski, 80, and his brother, David Kaczynski, 47, burst into sobs in a
Reversing himself, Kaczynski promised Burrell he will cooperate in the
psychological testing the judge ordered from local doctors -- a process that could
take a week to a month.
"I trust him," said Burrell, who repeatedly said Thursday that he is inclined to
declare Kaczynski mentally competent to defend himself.
It wasn't clear, when the judge said that, whether federal marshals had informed
Burrell of Kaczynski's apparent suicide try. They didn't tell prosecutors, says
prosecution spokeswoman Leesa Brown. Denvir wouldn't say whether defense
lawyers were told.
The legal standard for competence to defend oneself, says chief prosecutor
Robert Cleary, is the same as for competence to stand trial: Whether the
defendant can understand the charges and choose among legally available
If Burrell declares Kaczynski competent, says Clarke, his options are to let him
handle his own defense or to try to pressure Denvir and Clarke into staying, on
Kaczynski's terms. It's a more favorable position for Kaczynski than he had a
His ultimate goal, courthouse observers speculate, may be to get the Justice
Department to drop its demand for the death penalty and allow him to plead
guilty in return for a life sentence. A high-level Justice Department committee
rejected the Kaczynski plea overture last month.
Is Kaczynski steadily getting his stormy way through wiliness? "Absolutely not,"
says Denvir. "He's in desperate straits."
Bisceglie, who helped the unsuccessful effort to secure a plea bargain, says: "It's
a circus, and everyone should have known it was going to be a circus. It's not an
effort at manipulation. It's just the nature of the guy's illness."
Everything Kaczynski has done, Clarke says, is grounded in the fear of being
labeled a "sickie" that he expressed in the diary seized at his 1996 arrest.
"He has lived with this fear all his life, the fear of being labeled as mentally ill,"
Contributing: Jonathan Lovitt