A Hermit Goes Into The Dock

EVER SINCE FBI AGENTS stormed his squalid Montana cabin 19 months ago, Theodore Kaczynski has been a model prisoner. The suspected Unabomber appears in court in a tweed blazer, his once wild hair tamed and his beard neatly clipped. He smiles and shakes hands with his lawyers and is helping them index the stacks of documents that will emerge when his trial in Sacramento, Calif., begins next week. Last December he even sent his legal team Christmas cards. But it will take more than courtroom pleasantries for Kaczynski to convince a jury that he isn't a murderer who conducted a 17-year campaign of terror in which he killed three and wounded 23 others.

Kaczynski's lawyers tried to get all the evidence found in his cabin thrown out on the ground that agents had searched it illegally. But the judge refused. Early on, says a source close to the defense, the lawyers had ruled out an insanity defense--that Kaczynski was incapable of understanding his actions. As the evidence mounted--his writings were lucid, his plans methodical--it became clear to his lawyers that no jury would believe he was out of his mind. Though they still maintain he is a paranoid schizophrenic, a source close to the defense says his attorneys believe he is likely to be found guilty; the most they may be able to do for their client, who faces the death penalty, is to keep him from being executed. Instead of mounting an insanity plea, they will try to argue that Kaczynski suffered from a ""diminished capacity,'' a hazy legal term they hope will create enough doubt among jurors about Kaczynski's state of mind that they'll let him live out his days in prison.

Kaczynski isn't making it easy for his lawyers to defend him. Last month he refused a court order to undergo psychological evaluation by prosecution experts. That means the judge will probably instruct the jury to discount the opinions of defense psychologists testifying on his behalf. Even more daunting for Kaczynski's team is how to overcome evidence that he painstakingly planned and deftly executed the 16 bombings. Among the papers investigators found inside the Montana cabin were journals in which Kaczynski described, in clinical detail, the results of each of his ""experiments.'' He ""would write how disappointed he was when a bomb failed to kill someone and the satisfaction he had when a bomb succeeded,'' Jim Freeman, former head of the FBI's Unabom task force, told NEWSWEEK. One entry, dated Aug. 21, 1978, is especially blunt: ""I came back to the Chicago area in May, mainly for one reason: So that I could more safely attempt to murder a scientist, businessman, or the like . . .''

Prosecutors also want to introduce evidence of ""nonbombing acts of violence,'' proving Kaczynski had a ""desire to kill'' long before he allegedly mailed his first bomb. FBI sources tell NEWSWEEK that Kaczynski once ""flew into a rage'' over a distant neighbor's noisy snowmobiles. When the neighbor was away, Kaczynski broke into his house with an ax and chopped up his belongings. Federal sources also say he once shot at a passing helicopter and strung pieces of wire across mountain paths to snag trail bikers.

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Defense experts think Kaczynski's lawyers should argue that the evidence shows their client is not a serial killer but a deranged hermit with strongly held political views. The defense has already requested that Kaczynski's dank, foul-smelling cabin be moved to Sacramento. ""They're trying to show that this guy lived in a hole like an animal in a burrow,'' says San Francisco defense lawyer Marcus Topel. The point is clear: who else but a crazy man would choose to live like that? They may even try to turn Kaczynski's own writings to their advantage. A source close to the trial says the diary is filled with ""naive ramblings'' that could help undermine the prosecution's image of a calculating serial killer.

But Kaczynski's real defense may not begin until after the jury renders its verdict. If he is found guilty, his lawyers will likely use emotional tactics during sentencing to win the jury's sympathy--not necessarily for Kaczynski but for his family. Relatives may be allowed to give impassioned pleas on his behalf. His brother, David, could have the most impact. It was his tip to the FBI that led to Kaczynski's arrest, and jurors may not want to saddle him with the guilt of leading his brother to the execution chamber. It's a long shot. But it may be the only one Theodore Kaczynski has left.

A Hermit Goes Into The Dock | News