Eric Rudolph has been sentenced to four life sentences without parole for the deadly 1996 Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta and attacks at two abortion clinics and a gay nightclub.
But the chances are that by the time most of us heard the news of Rudolph’s sentence, we had long since forgotten another name that was prominent in the Olympic Park case.
That name is Richard Jewell.
And some see what happened to him as part of a disturbing pattern of behavior by the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other law enforcement agencies.
Richard Jewell was working as a security guard at Olympic Park, where the bomb exploded. He spotted a suspicious object and reported it. He thus helped save lives that might otherwise have been lost.
Richard Jewell was hailed as a hero. TV networks and newspapers interviewed him. He seemed to have a bright future in law enforcement.
But only three days after the explosion, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a story saying police were investigating the possibility that Jewell had planted the bomb. FBI agents interviewed Jewell and searched his apartment. Their aggressive questioning led him to ask for an attorney. A large crowd of journalists and TV crews watched as the security guard’s property was hauled away as evidence.
Jewell told reporters he was innocent. Two bombing victims filed suit against Jewell. A few days later, Jewell’s mother, Barbara Jewell, appeared on television, was weeping as she asked President Bill Clinton to exonerate her son.
But U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno refused to clear Jewell or apologize to him. He was labeled a ‘person of interest’. The FBI would neither confirm nor deny he was a suspect.
It was not until the following October that a US District Judge said he thought Jewell was not, at that time, a suspect. The US Attorney then told Jewell that he was no longer under investigation.
In August 1997, a year after the event, then Attorney General Janet Reno publicly apologized to Jewell and deplored the leak to the media that made his name known as a suspect. “I regret very much the leak that made him an object of so much public attention,” Reno commented. “I don’t think any apology is sufficient when somebody has gone through . . . what Mr. Jewell has gone through.”
But by that time Richard Jewell had lived for months under a very dark cloud. He appeared at a televised news conference, and said, “I am not the Olympic Park bomber. I am a man who has lived 88 days afraid of being arrested for a crime I did commit.” He said the FBI latched onto him “in its rush to show the world it could get its man.”
Another high-profile ‘person of interest’ is Dr. Steven Hatfill, a former researcher at the Army's infectious disease research laboratory at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. Hatfill, 50, has been under FBI scrutiny since the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people and sickened 17 others. He has never been charged with a crime, simply designated a ’person of interest’.
The former Army researcher has denied involvement in the anthrax mailings and claims he was fired from a job because of the media coverage of the case. The Washington Times, which claimed that Hatfill might have been the culprit, eventually said Hatfill might have been framed by a team of government scientists.
His apartment and rubbish bins were searched several times. He has been under 24-hour surveillance. A swamp, near the government laboratory where he once worked, was drained by the FBI.
Hatfill told news media, "I've been in this field for a number of years, working until 3 o'clock in the morning, trying to counter this type of weapon of mass destruction, and, sir, my career is over at this time."
Hatfill sued then Attorney General John Ashcroft and the FBI, accusing the government of "a campaign of harassment" and unfairly singling him out. . Ashcroft had publicly called him a ‘person of interest’ in the anthrax probe in 2002.
Hatfill also sued the New York Times Co. and columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, claiming the paper defamed him in a series of columns that identified him as the likely culprit. The lawsuit said Kristof identified him as the anthrax killer to "light a fire" under investigators in their probe of the anthrax-spore mailings.
Hatfill accused Kristof of making "false and defamatory" allegations and the Times of engaging in "substandard and unethical journalism.''
In a series of columns in 2002, Kristof criticized the FBI for failing to
aggressively pursue a scientist he at first identified as "Mr. Z.'' He wrote
that the biodefense community had called Mr. Z a "likely culprit" and was
"buzzing about Mr. Z behind his back," in part because the scientist was
familiar with anthrax and was angered at the suspension of his top security
clearance less than a month before the attacks.
Kristof, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, later acknowledged that Mr. Z was
Hatfill. He also wrote that Hatfill deserved the "presumption of innocence" and
that "there is not a shred of traditional physical evidence linking him to the
No one has ever been charged in the investigation of anthrax-tainted letters mailed to media and government offices.
At the end of September 2003 – nearly two years after the anthrax attacks -- the new head of the FBI investigation says it is troubling that Hatfill was publicly labeled a "person of interest" in the case by top law enforcement officials. "The anthrax investigation has been beset by a number of leaks”, he said, and labeled this “unfortunate”.
Meanwhile, Hatfill remains unemployed, and perhaps unemployable.