YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

California and the West

Judge Rejects Kaczynski's Plea to Change Lawyers

Courts: Trial to begin today as Unabomber suspect loses attempt to exclude defense arguments about his mental health.

January 08, 1998| From Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — Theodore Kaczynski lost the battle Wednesday to hire a lawyer who would not paint him as a mental case, clearing the way for opening statements in the Unabomber trial to begin today.

The Unabomber defendant spoke up at a hearing late in the day to say that he had just heard from another lawyer--the flamboyant San Francisco defense attorney Tony Serra--who was willing to represent him for free.

"Based on the fact that Mr. Serra is willing not to present a mental health defense, I would like to be represented by him," Kaczynski said.

Saying that there would be a need for a delay if Serra stepped in, Kaczynski asked for time to meet with the new lawyer next week.

U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell Jr. refused, siding with prosecutors who said it was far too late in the process to change attorneys.

"I think counsel for the defense controls the mental status defense," the judge said.

In another key ruling, Burrell said that defense attorneys could present lay witnesses to testify about Kaczynski's troubled life--evidence that would introduce Kaczynski's mental state as an issue but would not involve testimony from psychiatric experts.

Kaczynski's mother, Wanda, and brother, David, who were seated in the courtroom front row, are scheduled to be among those witnesses.

Burrell also approved use by the defense of before and after pictures of Kaczynski that show his deterioration from a well-groomed math professor to a wild-haired mountain man.

Kaczynski has vehemently objected to the plan to portray him as a paranoid schizophrenic. But federal defender Quin Denvir said that Burrell's rulings had cleared the way for at least a partial mental defense and said his team was "ready to go."

In his speech to the judge--his second in three days--Kaczynski was forthright and self-assured. When the judge refused his request for new counsel, he sat back and began writing notes.

Burrell read into the record a letter faxed to the court by Serra, offering to step in only if it did not disrupt the trial and if Kaczynski had succeeded in removing his two federal public defenders.

Prosecutor Steven Lapham said the government believed Kaczynski had a perfect right to dictate his own defense.

"It's his life, not theirs, that's on the line," Lapham said.

"Isn't his life more on the line if he doesn't have that defense?" Burrell replied.

The judge then reaffirmed his ruling ordering Kaczynski to go ahead with his current lawyers and be ready to face the jury today.

Attorney Leslie Abramson, who has tried many high-profile cases, said the defense won a significant victory in retaining testimony from family members and lay witnesses.

"The point they want to make is that it's obvious he's crazy," Abramson said. "You don't need an expert to say that. If you get into a technical discussion, you've lost the game. You have got to show the jury he's extremely weird. Look at his lifestyle. . . . He lived a hard and unnatural life."

On a related matter, Burrell ruled that the government can use quotes from Kaczynski's journals in its opening statement.

Burrell had brought in another local defense lawyer, Kevin Clymo, to help mediate the dispute. Clymo met with Kaczynski, the lawyers and the judge Monday, Tuesday and again Wednesday, but left the courthouse several minutes before Burrell's announcement.

Burrell indicated Clymo would have no further role in the case.

Kaczynski, 55, is charged in a 10-count indictment covering four of the 16 bombings attributed to the Unabomber. If convicted in the last of the fatal bombings--the only one to occur after the federal death penalty was reinstated--he could be executed.

Kaczynski is also charged in New Jersey in a third fatal attack.

Although he is charged in only five bombings, the government will present evidence trying to link Kaczynski to all of the Unabomber's attacks, which killed three people and injured 29.

Los Angeles Times Articles