Unabomber cops a plea No death penalty: Sentence of life without parole should provide some peace of mind.

January 26, 1998

IN THE END, the mad bomber who insisted his acts were rational did something that made sense. Theodore J. Kaczynski pleaded guilty. By doing so, he avoided the death sentence that a jury might be reluctant to impose on someone diagnosed as mentally ill.

The plea saved the nation from having to relive his insanity in an expensive courtroom spectacle in which Kaczynski was likely to clash with his own lawyers. Testimony could only lead to the same conclusion: He did it.

The Unabomber's mayhem began in May 1978. From then until April 1995, the anti-technology terrorist left a trail of 16 bombs across the United States that killed three people and maimed more than 20. He offered to end his war if a national newspaper published his 35,000-word manifesto criticizing the corrupt and dehumanizing influences of post-industrial society. The New York Times and Washington Post jointly financed publication of the manuscript. They could only hope he would keep his word.

But publishing the rambling essay had an unexpected benefit. Mr. Kaczynski's brother, David, read it and thought the themes sounded familiar. He found copies of letters to newspapers from Ted Kaczynski dating to the 1970s. The letters protested the abuses of technology in language disturbingly similar to what David Kaczynski had read in the Unabomber manuscript. The Kaczynski family eventually went to the FBI with its suspicions and the subsequent investigation led to an arrest.

Ted Kaczynski was found in April 1996 in a little cabin without water or electricity in the woods of Montana. With unkempt hair, matted beard and torn jeans, he looked like someone capable of doing the unthinkable. The FBI said he matched perfectly its profile of a person who could be the Unabomber. Kaczynski graduated from Harvard in 1962 at age 20, received a master's degree in math at Michigan in 1964 and a doctorate in 1967. He became a professor at the University of California at Berkeley but in 1969 abruptly resigned.

Who knows what set off Kaczynski, one incident or an accumulation of episodes that saw a child genius become a man who never seemed able to fit in with other people?

To the end, Kaczynski fought any portrayal of himself as sick. Most likely it was the knowledge that he couldn't prevent court testimony about his mental condition that led to the unexpected decision to plead guilty rather than be tried. It is for the best. He will never kill again. A trial would not have revealed more than the world has already learned through his despicable acts.

Pub Date: 1/26/98

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