'insanity defense' and diminished capacity
United States v. Kaczynski
The federal case: United States v. Kaczynski
September 1997 -- pretrial
On September 20, 1997, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District
of California held a pre-trial hearing. At that hearing, federal prosecutor
Robert Cleary read from excerpts of 22,000 pages of documents seized by
investigators from Kaczynski's cabin. Cleary claimed that these excerpts,
taken from Kaczynski's daily diary, amounted to an "admission" to sixteen
of the UNABOM attacks.
December 1997 -- jury selection
On Monday, December 22, a jury was selected for the federal case. Nine
women and three men were selected. Although the judge ordered that the
identity of the jurors not be revealed, observers noted that their responses
to attorneys' preliminary questions revealed that they were generally conservative,
knew quite a bit about the case, and typically believed Kaczynski was guilty.
December 1997 -- mental state evidence still uncertain
As of the time of jury selection, attorneys for the prosecution and defense
had yet to come to an agreement on what could be said by the defense about
Kaczynski's mental state. In October 1997, attorneys for Kaczynski refused
to allow government experts to interview the defendant, so the prosecution's
latest proposal was for Kaczynski to submit to a battery of examinations.
Judge Burrell questioned attorneys for both sides, with an eye towards
formulating a court order regarding the matter. Throughout the proceedings,
Kaczynski remained steadfast in his rejection of a strategy that would
have required him to plead insanity or otherwise argue that he was unfit
to stand trial. Nonetheless, defense attorneys planned to introduce his
Montana cabin - which was loaded onto a trailer and carted to Sacramento
in early December - as evidence of his diminished capacity.
Judge Burrell met with Kaczynski, defense team
Also on Friday, December 19, Judge Burrell held a closed-door meeting with
Kaczynski and his defense attorneys, out of the presence of prosecutors.
According to attendees, it involved "matters of attorney-client communications."
Observers of the trial suggested it most likely concerned serious differences
between Kaczynski and his attorneys over his defense strategy, and likely
involved their differences over the issue of his alleged paranoid schizophrenic
In a statement after the meeting, Judge Burrell said he held the meeting
because of letters he had received, in which Kaczynski complained about
his appointed counsel, Quin Denver and Judy Clarke. Reports surfaced that
after the meeting, Kaczynski agreed to proceed with this defense team.
Guilty plea offered, rejected by prosecution
In mid-December, Kaczynski offered to plead guilty in exchange for an agreement
by prosecutors not to pursue the death penalty. A Justice Department death
penalty review panel rejected the offer
January 1998 -- final preparations for the trial
On December 31, prosectors and defense attorneys agreed that, although
Kaczynski was only charged with four bombings, the jury would be told about
all sixteen bombings which comprise the UNABOM case. This was intended
to expedite the trial. Kaczynski's attorneys also agreed that they would
not present a mental deficiency defense.
On January 2, defense attorneys clarified their position regarding a
mental deficiency defense. They stated that, although they would not pursue
a defense at the main trial, if Kaczynski were convicted, they would present
mental deficiency evidence to avoid the death penalty during the penalty
phase of the trial.
In response, prosecutors again requested to have Kaczynski examined
by government psychiatrists.
Increasing rift between Kaczynski, defense attorneys
The trial was scheduled to begin on the morning of Monday, January 5. However,
just before the trial began, Kaczynski notified the court that he had "very
important" complaints regarding his attorneys. The court then met with
Kaczynski and his attorneys for over four hours. At the close of the meeting,
Judge Burrell postponed the opening of the case and threatened that, if
the issue were not resolved by Thursday, he would look into some "other
type of proceedings."
On Tuesday, January 7, Kaczynski announced that he wanted to dismiss
his court-appointed attorneys, because they would not agree to drop any
mental illness defenses. As a replacement, Kaczynski offered another California
defense attorney, who he said had agreed not to use a mental deficiency
defense. Judge Burrell replied that Kaczynski's request was too late, since
the trial was prepared to begin. The judge also ruled, over Kaczynski's
strenuous objections, that the defense team would be permitted to proceed
with a mental illness defense.
January 8 - Suicide attempt
On Wednesday morning, prison officials announced that Kaczynski had attempted
to hang himself in his prison cell. Later that morning, one of Kaczynski's
attorneys, Judy Clarke, announced to the court that he wished to dismiss
his attorneys and represent himself. Judge Burrell again postponed the
case. Legal experts suggested that Burrell would now be forced to hold
a hearing as to whether Kaczynski was mentally competent to represent himself
-- a legally separate issue than whether he was competent to stand trial.
Kaczynski ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation
Following the fiasco of the week, on Friday, January 9, Judge Burrell ordered
Kaczynski to undergo evaluation by government psychiatric specialists,
in order to determine whether he was competent to stand trial. If Kaczynski
refused, Burrell said he would place Kaczynski in a federal psychiatric
institution for observation. Burrell then scheduled a competency hearing
for Thursday, January 22, and postponed the trial until after that hearing.
Over the weekend, Kaczynski again offered to plead guilty, in exchange
for life in prison, rather than the death penalty. After a weekend of talks,
federal officials again rejected Kaczynski's offer.
On Monday, January 12, Dr. Sally C. Johnson, a Federal Bureau of Prisons
psychiatric specialist, met with Kaczynski to begin the evaluation. The
purpose of the evaluation was to determine whether Kaczynski understood
the nature of the charges against him, and could assist in his defense.
Defense concedes competence
After a week of evaluation, defense attorneys conceded that he was competent
to stand trial. On Tuesday, January 20, Judge Burrell announced that the
trial would proceed, and that he would enforce Kaczynski's agreement to
proceed with a mental deficiency defense, at least in the penalty phase
of his trial. Burrell scheduled the trial to begin on Thursday, January
22. Johnson's sealed report, which was delivered to Burrell shortly before
the agreement, stated that she found evidence of paranoid schizophrenia,
paranoid personality disorder, and avoidant and antisocial features.
On Wednesday, both defense and prosecution attorneys submitted briefs
to the judge, stating that they felt that Kaczynski had a constitutional
right to represent himself at trial. Given the psychiatrist's conclusion
that he was competent to stand trial and to assist in his defense, attorneys
for both sides apparently rejected Judge Burrell's conclusion that his
request to defend himself was invalid because it was untimely.
Plea agreement reached
The growing circus over Kaczynski's rights to defend himself and his mental
competence ended, at least in the federal courts, on Thursday, January
22, when federal prosecutors finally agreed to Kaczynski's plea offer.
Under the agreement, Kaczynski pleaded guilty to the four bombings, and
will serve life in federal prison without parole.
Coming soon: state trials
Although Kaczynski has now been convicted of four of the UNABOM bombings,
two states, New Jersey and California, may now prosecute him for murder.
The federal trial did not address at least two of the fatal bombings, which
occurred in those two states. Kaczynski's mental competence to stand trial
is expected to play a major role in those trials as well.