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Rubin Is Said to Improve

The militant Jewish Defense League leader's wife says he has shown signs of brain activity.

November 06, 2002|David Rosenzweig and Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writers

With his family claiming he was improving, Irv Rubin remained in grave condition Tuesday as new details emerged about what authorities called his suicide attempt in federal prison.

The firebrand national director of the Jewish Defense League suffered serious head injuries Monday when, according to officials, he slashed himself with a razor, then leaped over a railing at the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles.

Rubin's 18-foot fall occurred only hours before he and his chief lieutenant were to appear in U.S. District Court for a hearing on charges that he had plotted to bomb a mosque and a congressman's office.

On Tuesday, Shelley Rubin said her 57-year-old husband had showed signs of brain activity.

"Irv is not brain-dead," she said in a statement released by the JDL. "His heart is fine. He is breathing on his own, although he is still connected to a respirator. But the doctors said he was 'breathing over' the respirator."

As authorities wrapped up the initial, on-site phase of their investigation, an FBI spokesman said there was no indication that Rubin's injuries were anything but self-inflicted.

"All the evidence indicates this was an attempted suicide," said Agent Matthew McLaughlin.

That conclusion was reached after agents interviewed more than 15 witnesses to Rubin's fall, including corrections officers and inmates, McLaughlin said.

In addition, he said, FBI agents have determined that no one was within 15 feet of Rubin when he began cutting at his throat with a razor blade and then plunged over a prison railing.

Although authorities recovered the blade, taken from a prison-issued disposable razor, no suicide note has been found, according to officials.

At County-USC Medical Center, trauma physicians were taking a wait-and-see position before offering a prognosis on Rubin's chances of recovery, according to his wife.

The hospital declined to provide information on Rubin's condition.

Though he could not address specifics of Rubin's condition, U.S. marshal spokesman William Woolsey said his staff had allowed the family more visits to the hospital "to discuss what the options are" with physicians.

A JDL spokesman said the doctors would not be able to make an assessment until the swelling in Rubin's brain subsides, which is expected in two or three days.

Defense attorney Peter Morris, who had put out word Monday that Rubin was near death, said late Tuesday that he had revised his view after receiving confirmation from federal officials that Rubin was not brain-dead.

Those mildly optimistic accounts on Rubin's condition could not be independently corroborated. But they caused lawyers in the bombing conspiracy case to consider a number of possible scenarios, depending on whether Rubin lives.

Mark Werksman, attorney for Earl Krugel, who is the other man charged in the case, said Monday's incident would make the prosecution's case much easier.

"In the unlikely event Irv survives and recovers, we may be back on track," said Werksman, a former federal prosecutor.

But if Rubin dies, Werksman said, the U.S. attorney's office will need to prosecute only one defendant, whose purported role in the case always has been more pronounced.

"Earl was on 80% of the [government's] tapes. He had a much more forward role in this so-called conspiracy," Werksman said of his client.

"From the government's standpoint, it makes the prosecution immeasurably simpler not to have to deal with Irv and his charges of being targeted," Werksman said.

As a result, he said, he might be forced to negotiate a plea agreement for his client instead of going to trial if Rubin dies.

On Monday, Rubin was scheduled to appear in court on what Werksman said would have been a "watershed" hearing at which the defense was seeking any evidence of prior FBI investigations of the JDL.

Krugel, the JDL's West Coast coordinator, contends that he was the victim of illegal entrapment by a former JDL member-turned-FBI informant.

Rubin's defense team built its case around a claim of government bias against its client.

Rubin and Krugel face at least 35 years in prison if convicted.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Gregory Jessner said Tuesday that he would be willing to talk to Werksman about a deal.

Jessner said that if Rubin survives his injuries but incurs so much brain damage that he can't participate in his defense, the case against him probably will be dropped with the court's consent.

And if he survives but faces a lengthy period of recovery, then "he would probably get his wish and have trial of his case severed from Krugel's," Jessner added.

Rubin's lawyers had asked U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew for a separate trial, contending that the jury would be prejudiced because of racist comments made by Krugel during secretly recorded conversations with the FBI informant.

Lew was scheduled to hear arguments on that motion and others Monday morning.

After Rubin's injuries, the hearing was put off until Dec. 2. The trial was scheduled to begin Jan. 21.

Before Monday's incident, there had been seven suicides among inmates at the federal prison, opened in December 1988, according to Associate Warden Brian Hoyt.

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Times staff writer George Ramos contributed to this report.

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