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Ted Kaczynski

On This Day: Unabomber Ted Kaczynski Pleads Guilty, Receives Life Sentence

January 22, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Jan. 22, 1998, Ted Kaczynski—aka the Unabomber—evaded the death penalty on a plea bargain.

Kaczynski Agrees to Life in Prison

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Ted Kaczynski sent his first mail bomb in 1978 to a university professor in Chicago, injuring a security guard who opened it. Between 1978 and 1995, he would send out 16 mail bombs to universities and airlines, killing three people and injuring 24. The FBI formed a task force in 1979 code-named “UNABOM,” beginning a 17-year search for the known as the “Unabomber.”

In the mid-90s, Kaczynski promised to cease his terror campaign in exchange for the publication of his 35,000-word manifesto, a polemic against the post-industrial world. The Washington Post, with the help of The New York Times, agreed to do so in 1995.

It was the printing of the manifesto that led to Kaczynski’s capture, as his brother David Kaczynski and his wife recognized his writing and alerted the authorities. The FBI tracked Kaczynski to a remote shack in the woods of Montana. FBI agents arrested him on April 3, 1996 and found his shack full of bomb-making materials and anti-technology writings.
Federal psychiatrist Dr. Sally Johnson diagnosed Kaczynski with paranoid schizophrenia, promoting the decision to sentence him to life rather than have him executed. Kaczynski continued to claim he was of sound mind and asked to defend himself in court.

On Jan. 22, the defense agreed that Kaczynski was fit to stand trial. However, U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell denied Kaczynski’s appeal to represent himself. Later that day, the defense reached a plea bargain with federal prosecutors for Kaczynski to receive life in prison without parole. “The Unabomber's career is over,” declared prosecutor Robert Cleary.

Biography: Ted Kaczynski

Theodore Kaczynski was born on May 22, 1942, and raised in a normal middle-class household in suburban Chicago. A gifted student, Kaczynski graduated high school at age 16 and attended Harvard. A social loner, he became increasingly distant during his time at Harvard and later Michigan, where he earned a Ph.D. at age 25.

Unable to form meaningful relationships with women, he questioned his sexuality and even considered a sex change. In 1971, he and his brother bought a plot of land in Lincoln, Mont., where he would build a shack by hand and live there for much of the next three decades. It was in this shack that Kaczynski wrote his manifesto and built bombs.

His writings describe him thinking seriously about planning to murder a scientist in 1971,” wrote Dr. Johnson in her psychological evaluation. “During the later 1970's, he began experimenting to create explosive devices that could succeed in killing individuals. He also describes thoughts of harming people whom he felt had humiliated him.”

Kaczynski is currently serving his sentence in AZX Florence, a supermax prison in Colorado that also holds Oklahoma City bombing accomplice Terry Nichols and Olympic Park bomber Eric Randolph. In an Oct. 18, 1999, prison interview with Time columnist Stephen J. Dubner, he claimed that he is not insane, and said of his brother David, “I think his sense of guilt is outweighed by his satisfaction at having finally gotten revenge on big brother.”

Dubner wrote, “Speaking with him, one is struck not by the burning anger that characterized his Una-bomber campaign but by a satisfaction that the world, at long last, is treating him like a valuable human being.”

Related Topic: The Oklahoma City bombing

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