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Plea Bargain Negotiations in Kaczynski Case Resume

Court: Source says lawyers for Unabomber suspect contacted prosecutors last week about reopening talks. The government previously rejected an offer of a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence.

January 12, 1998|MARK GLADSTONE and RONALD J. OSTROW | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SACRAMENTO — A month after plea bargain talks stalled, the Justice Department and attorneys for Unabomber defendant Theodore Kaczynski reopened negotiations last week, a government source confirmed Sunday.

"The defense was back to negotiating" last week with the prosecution, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Another source close to the case said the defense again contacted the prosecution late last week about a plea bargain.

But, the source cautioned, the matter is not scheduled to come before a special Justice Department panel that makes recommendations to Atty. Gen. Janet Reno.

What is unclear is whether talks between the opposing sides will be going on this week while Kaczynski begins a court-ordered psychiatric examination to determine whether he is competent to stand trial and possibly represent himself.

The murder-by-bombing trial of the professor-turned-hermit was scheduled to begin last week but was thrown into turmoil and delayed until at least Jan. 22.

First, Kaczynski sought to fire his lawyers because they planned to present evidence of his alleged mental illness.

When that move failed, the Harvard University-educated mathematician apparently tried to commit suicide, prompting U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. to put the trial on hold while Kaczynski's competence is evaluated, beginning today, by a U.S. Bureau of Prisons psychiatrist.

Kaczynski, 55, has pleaded not guilty in connection with two fatal bomb blasts and two blasts that seriously injured two academicians. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

On Sunday, Paul Seave, the U.S. attorney in Sacramento, declined to discuss the latest report of revived plea-bargain discussions. Newsweek magazine, however, quoted a senior Justice Department official as saying: "The chances of a deal are better now."

Last month, the government rejected a defense proposal that would have exchanged a guilty plea for a sentence of life in prison. A government source familiar with the matter said last month that it was turned down "after a a great deal of study and review."

On Sunday, prosecution spokeswoman Leesa Brown said she has never commented on the details of those confidential discussions. But, she said, "It's the government's duty to listen to any credible offer by defense counsel at any time."

Kaczynski was arrested in April 1996 at his tiny Montana cabin. Government officials said he was the notorious Unabomber, responsible for a nearly 18-year bombing spree in which 29 people were injured and three killed across the nation.

After the Unabomber's 35,000-word anti-technology manifesto was printed in 1995 in the New York Times and the Washington Post, Kaczynski's brother, David, saw similarities with his brother's views on industrial society. He eventually alerted the FBI.

During the past week, David and his mother, Wanda, have sat in court in Sacramento, often weeping, as Theodore Kaczynski sat nearby. It was the first time either had seen Theodore, a Chicago native, in at least a decade.

David Kaczynski has lashed out at the government for rejecting the earlier plea bargain.

On Sunday, his attorney, Anthony Bisceglie, said in a telephone interview from his home in Washington: "It would be in the best interest of the parties and the public to resolve the matter and I know that David Kaczynski would greatly appreciate it if every effort were made to bring this ordeal to a just and humane conclusion."

It is unclear whether the defense attached any strings to the latest plea offer, strings which may have blocked the government from going along with the earlier offer.

Another point that is unclear is whether a deal--if one is reached--would in any way limit California Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren or Sacramento County prosecutors from pursuing Kaczynski on state charges.

Gladstone reported from Sacramento and Ostrow from Washington.

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