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California and the West

Wilson Urges No Plea Deal for Kaczynski

Trial: Federal prosecutors should continue to seek the death penalty for Unabomber suspect, governor says.

January 15, 1998|MARK GLADSTONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Pete Wilson on Wednesday urged federal prosecutors not to cut any deals with alleged Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski that would prevent them from pursuing the death penalty.

"The governor does not believe the federal government should plea-bargain away the death penalty . . . for convenience's sake," said Sean Walsh, Wilson's press secretary, noting the chaotic atmosphere of the Kaczynski trial, which is on hold until next week.

"This individual committed a series of brutal terrorist acts that murdered Californians," Walsh said.

Wilson's stance follows reports that the U.S. Justice Department and attorneys for Kaczynski last week reopened negotiations on a plea bargain, just a month after similar talks had snagged.

Under such an arrangement, Kaczynski would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence in prison without the possibility of release. The government is seeking the death penalty against Kaczynski, who has pleaded not guilty.

Kaczynski's lawyers last Friday raised the question of more discussions, and the government did not reject that move.

The talks apparently are now on hold, pending the outcome of a mental competency examination of Kaczynski ordered last Friday by U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr.

Among public officials, Wilson beat the drum the loudest for the death penalty before U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno last spring decided to pursue the prosecution as a capital case.

Walsh said Wilson doesn't plan to send Reno a formal letter, nor is he now calling for a trial on possible state murder charges against Kaczynski should a plea bargain be struck.

Still, Wilson's views put the Democratic administration in Washington on notice that California's top Republican is keeping a close eye on the proceedings unfolding just a few blocks from his Capitol office.

Quin Denvir, Kaczynski's lawyer, could not be reached for comment on Wilson's renewed plea for the death penalty.

Anthony Bisceglie, an attorney for David Kaczynski, whose tip led to his brother's arrest and who has sought to spare his life, said he "can appreciate the governor's concern for the citizens of California."

"But David Kaczynski's decision to approach the authorities may well have saved the lives of some of those same citizens," Bisceglie said.

Moreover, Bisceglie said, "The family would hope that the governor would take the time to familiarize himself with all the facts and circumstances involved in this complex case before reaching any final conclusions."

Kaczynski, 55, was arrested last April at his Montana cabin and is charged in two Sacramento bombing deaths and two blasts that seriously injured a geneticist in Tiburon, Calif., and a computer scientist in New Haven, Conn.

Authorities say he is the anti-technology Unabomber responsible for a string of bombings beginning in 1978 that also killed a third person, in New Jersey.

Kaczynski was scheduled to start trial Jan. 5, but at the last minute sought to fire his lawyers and hire San Francisco defense counsel J. Anthony Serra, triggering closed-door meetings with Burrell.

Burrell said it was too late for Kaczynski to get a new attorney. When Burrell blocked that move, Kaczynski apparently tried to commit suicide and then made a bid to be his own attorney.

In an interview Tuesday night with KPFA radio in Berkeley, Serra said Kaczynski contacted him shortly after his arrest and told him he wanted "an anti-technocracy" defense based on his own ideology.

Serra said he had been in contact since then with Kaczynski by telephone and fax.

On Wednesday, Kaczynski was cooperating with U.S. Bureau of Prisons psychiatrist Dr. Sally Johnson, who was in the third day of conducting Kaczynski's court-ordered mental exam at the Sacramento County Jail.

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