- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2005

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Eric Rudolph has agreed to plead guilty to setting off a deadly bomb at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and three other blasts in a deal that allows the anti-government extremist to escape the death penalty, Justice Department officials said yesterday.

“The many victims of Eric Rudolph’s terrorist attacks … can rest assured that Rudolph will spend the rest of his life behind bars,” U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said.

Hearings have been scheduled in Birmingham and Atlanta Wednesday, where Rudolph is expected to admit his guilt. The plea deal calls for four consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. Rudolph had faced a potential death sentence.

Defense attorney Bill Bowen did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Rudolph, thought to be a follower of a white supremacist religion that is anti-abortion, anti-homosexual and anti-Semitic, was charged with carrying out a series of blasts in Georgia and Alabama in the late 1990s.

One woman was killed and more than 100 people were injured in the Olympics blast, caused by a bomb in a backpack. In the next two years, he is believed to have set off bombs at a lesbian nightclub in Atlanta and at two abortion clinics — one in Alabama and one in Atlanta. The Alabama abortion clinic blast killed an off-duty police officer and critically injured a nurse.

Rudolph, 38, then fled to the mountains of western North Carolina, where the former soldier used survivalist techniques to live off the land for more than five years — all while being on the FBI’s list of 10 Most Wanted fugitives. Then in May 2003, he was captured after being seen scavenging for food near a grocery store trash bin in Murphy, N.C.

Jeff Lyons, whose wife was severely injured and left blind in one eye in the Alabama bombing, said he and his wife were “extremely disappointed” in the life sentences for Rudolph.

“As they say, let the punishment fit the crime. That was a death sentence,” he said.

But Mr. Lyons said he understood prosecutors’ reasons for agreeing to a plea deal after Rudolph directed them to the explosives — something that likely would not have happened had the case gone to trial.

Word of the plea bargain came amid reports that federal agents have been in western North Carolina this week detonating explosive materials in the region where Rudolph spent his time in hiding.

Under the deal, Mr. Lyons said Rudolph confirmed the location of about 250 pounds of dynamite that he had hidden in the mountains of western North Carolina.

“He told them where the stuff was, pointed it out on a map, as I understand it,” Mr. Lyons said.

Rudolph became an almost a mythic figure to some residents of the region during a search across 550,000 acres of Appalachian wilderness that at one time involved 200 agents. Many in the region mocked the government’s inability to root him out.

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