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Nightmare Seems Endless for Olympic Bombing Victim Richard Jewell

Atlanta: Though FBI cleared the man initially identified as a suspect, life is still a trial. Cameras are gone, but so are his privacy, good nature and good name.

July 20, 1997|CHELSEA J. CARTER | ASSOCIATED PRESS

ATLANTA — Richard Jewell just wanted to be an anonymous fan at a recent Atlanta Braves baseball game.

No such luck.

"Are you going to blow up the new stadium too?" a group taunted the former Olympic security guard.

Nearly a year after the bombing at Centennial Olympic Park, Jewell is fueled by anger. He spends most of his days reliving the nightmare.

His career aspirations and social life are over, and his good nature has been replaced by paranoia and distrust.

When he's not fending off accusations from strangers, he's in his lawyers' office working on lawsuits against those he says have ruined his life.

"Every time somebody walks up to me, I've got to wonder what they want. Do they want to kill me? Do they want money? Do they want to sell their story?" he said during a recent interview at his attorneys' office.

Jewell, 34, was a security guard working a temporary job for low pay. He was called a hero for spotting a suspicious package and helping to evacuate people before the July 27 explosion.

Three days later, he became a villain when his name was leaked to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a suspect in the bombing. The media descended on his apartment, monitoring his every move for nearly three months. He was cleared by the Justice Department in October.

There have been no arrests in the bombing, and the FBI now believes that whoever set the blast is also responsible for blasts at an Atlanta abortion clinic in January and at a gay nightclub in February.

Jewell filed a libel lawsuit against Cox Enterprises Inc., the parent company of the Journal-Constitution, last January. He also plans to sue the people who leaked his name as a suspect--if he can find out who they are.

In December, he reached a settlement with NBC over comments anchorman Tom Brokaw made on the air shortly after the bombing. The Wall Street Journal has said the settlement was worth $500,000. He also settled with CNN for an undisclosed amount.

Jewell has used part of the money to buy a home, and he helped his mother pay for a condominium. But almost all of his money is going to fight the newspaper and the federal government, said Lin Wood, one of Jewell's lawyers.

"He's not a rich man by any means. A good part of the money has obviously gone to pay for an incredible amount of legal bills," Wood said. "This isn't about money. Justice demands that the media and the federal government be held accountable for their actions."

Jewell has accepted a job as a construction worker to help make ends meet. He is expected to start work this month.

"It isn't by any means what he wanted, but it will do," Wood said.

Much of the boyish, "aw shucks" demeanor he displayed in television interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Larry King and Ted Koppel, among others, has disappeared.

During a recent 90-minute interview, Jewell's face reddened and his voice rose. Scolding, he shook his finger as he talked about "you guys in the media" and "those FBI agents."

"I've got two of the biggest monsters--the FBI and Cox Enterprises Inc.--in the country that I'm dealing with. It's just me and my four [attorneys]," Jewell said. "There's two monsters and I've only got one rock. I'm waiting for the two of them to line up, and then I'm going to bean them as hard I can."

He's riled at those who called him a publicity-seeker and who said he fit a profile of a hero-cop-wannabe shortly after the bombing.

Even as his goddaughter--bright-eyed, talkative 6-year-old Heather Dutchess--sat next to him, drawing pictures of houses, flowers and her favorite "uncle," Jewell couldn't let it go.

"I'm angry, yes. And I'm going to stay angry until I make sure they don't do this to someone else," he said.

His attorney and longtime friend, Watson Bryant, says the last year has cost Jewell his trusting nature.

"He's lost his innocence. He used to trust people. Now he's cynical and paranoid," Bryant said.

Thanks to ex-employers and so-called friends who sold stories about Jewell's life, and a woman who went on a date with him, then sold the details to a tabloid, Jewell has little trust left in people.

Jewell spends his free time playing basketball with friends, trying to lower his blood pressure, which he says shot up during the investigation.

"What happened is in the past. You can't go back and fix what happened," he said. "I can't get over this . . . not until they become accountable for what they did to me."

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