Richard A. Jewell; Wrongly Linked to Olympic Bombing

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 30, 2007

Richard A. Jewell, 44, a security guard portrayed as a hero, suspect and media victim of Atlanta's fatal Centennial Olympic Park bombing in 1996, was found dead Aug. 29 at his home in Woodbury, Ga.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation reportedly planned further tests to determine the cause of death. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted the Meriwether County coroner as saying that Mr. Jewell had diabetes and "had been going downhill."

In 1998, federal authorities charged anti-government extremist Eric Rudolph with the Atlanta park bombings.

After a five-year manhunt, Rudolph was captured. He pleaded guilty in 2005 to the Olympic Park attack in addition to bombings of women's clinics and a gay nightclub, receiving a life sentence.

Before Rudolph emerged as the chief suspect, Mr. Jewell was the target of media speculation and law enforcement investigations into the Atlanta park bombing. To many, he became a symbol of a life damaged by FBI leaks and news coverage laced with innuendo.

Mr. Jewell had an erratic career on the fringes of Georgia law enforcement before he was hired as a security guard for the Olympics. On July 27, 1996, he spotted a crudely made pipe bomb inside a green knapsack near a concert stage.

At first, he was praised for his decisive handling of the situation. He hurried people away and called for backup. His actions were credited with reducing casualties; one woman died, and 111 people were injured at the scene.

Within three days, Mr. Jewell's status as a hero was challenged after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called him "the focus" of the FBI investigation into the bombing. The FBI neither arrested nor formally charged Mr. Jewell, but the scrutiny that descended on him was invasive and crude.

One television outlet featured an interview with a psychologist who said Mr. Jewell resembled a "lone bomber." On NBC, Tom Brokaw said, "The speculation is that the FBI is close to 'making the case,' in their language. They probably have enough on him to arrest him right now . . . but you always want to have enough to convict him as well."

The New York Post called him a "fat, failed former sheriff's deputy."

In October 1996, the FBI cleared Mr. Jewell. In a news conference, he called his 88 days under suspicion a nightmare for him and his mother, with whom he lived near the Olympic park.

"In its rush to show the world how quickly it could get its man, the FBI trampled on my rights as a citizen," he said. "In its rush for the headline that the hero was the bomber, the media cared nothing for my feelings as a human being. In their mad rush to fulfill their own personal agendas, the FBI and the media almost destroyed me and my mother."

In 1997, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said Mr. Jewell deserved an apology for government leaks to the media.

Mr. Jewell threatened to sue media organizations for defamation. NBC, CNN and the New York Post reached undisclosed settlements with him, reportedly in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Atlanta newspaper continued to fight lawsuits, maintaining that its articles describing Mr. Jewell as a suspect had been neither malicious nor inaccurate at the time of publication.

Richard Allensworth Jewell was born Richard White in Danville, Va., on Dec. 17, 1962. He was adopted by his stepfather and grew up in suburban Atlanta.

After attending a technical school, he was an auto mechanic, a manager of a frozen yogurt store, a store detective and a hotel house detective. News reports subsequently described him as a "frustrated police wannabe" and "an overzealous officer" during his law enforcement assignments as a sheriff's deputy and college security guard in rural Georgia.

In the early 1990s, he was charged with impersonating an officer at an Atlanta apartment complex. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct.

After the Olympics, Mr. Jewell found periodic law enforcement work in small Georgia towns. Last year, Mr. Jewell said he spent most of the money he won from lawsuits on legal fees and a new home for his mother.

He married in recent years, and his wife is among his survivors.

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