Federal Prosecutor Guy Lee Goodwin, 79

Guy Lee Goodwin prosecuted violent antiwar activists and the makers of the Dalkon Shield contraceptive, and he investigated the Ku Klux Klan and Patricia Hearst's kidnappers.
Guy Lee Goodwin prosecuted violent antiwar activists and the makers of the Dalkon Shield contraceptive, and he investigated the Ku Klux Klan and Patricia Hearst's kidnappers. (Family Photo)
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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 6, 2008

Guy Lee Goodwin, 79, a federal prosecutor who sought to smash the "revolutionary terrorists" of the antiwar left during the early 1970s and also investigated the Ku Klux Klan and the makers of the Dalkon Shield, died of a stroke Dec. 10 at Georgetown University Hospital. He had lived in Washington for 38 years.

Mr. Goodwin was chief of the Justice Department's special litigation section of the internal security and criminal divisions during the Nixon administration. Charged by his superiors to pursue anti-Vietnam War demonstrators suspected of bombings, break-ins and conspiracies to kidnap high-ranking officials, Mr. Goodwin became a traveling prosecutor, supervising grand jury investigations and returning more than 400 indictments from Seattle to Miami.

A tough, relentless investigator, he was often assailed for pursuing violent activists and Nixon's political opponents. Columnists Jack Anderson and Les Whitten dubbed him "Witch-Finder General" in their nationally syndicated articles. A fellow federal lawyer filed a formal complaint against him, citing abuse of the grand jury system and noting that fewer than 25 percent of his indictments resulted in convictions. Vietnam Veterans Against the War filed a $1.8 million civil suit against him.

Few knew that Mr. Goodwin was a liberal Democrat who opposed the war and deeply disliked the Nixon administration, said a former colleague, Robert Dierker. But Mr. Goodwin saw his job as prosecuting criminal violations of the law, although he agreed in theory with some of those he prosecuted, Dierker said.

"His focus was completely apolitical. Politics were never the issue," Dierker said. "On any given day, we could have been out demonstrating against the war [as soon] as prosecuting cases. . . . But he thought killing other people to make your political point was not the way to go about it."

The rule of law, and his belief in holding accountable those who violated it, led him to pursue Ku Klux Klansmen who firebombed school buses in Pontiac, Mich.; to prosecute Jeffrey MacDonald, a Marine physician who was convicted of killing his pregnant wife and two daughters; and to indict the A.H. Robbins Co. for marketing the defective Dalkon Shield contraceptive device. He also investigated the Symbionese Liberation Army's kidnapping of heiress Patricia Hearst.

Mr. Goodwin was born in Kansas City, Kan. He served in the Army just after World War II, based in Los Alamos, N.M. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1952 with a combined bachelor's and law degree.

He practiced law with his father before becoming an assistant U.S. attorney in Wichita, appointed by then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. He moved to Washington in 1969 as a criminal trial lawyer in the Justice Department's general crimes division, where he demonstrated a talent for civil disturbance cases. When then-Attorney General John Mitchell and his assistant, Robert C. Mardian, revived the Justice Department's internal security division, Mr. Goodwin became its chief.

Mr. Goodwin, an immaculate dresser with a full head of well-styled hair, was often described as soft-spoken and unflappable. When supporters of Weather Underground activists, whom Mr. Goodwin prosecuted, rained urine, oil and abuse on the federal team as they emerged from a Seattle courthouse, Dierker, who was also on the prosecution team, became livid. "Guy just shrugged his shoulders and said, 'Calm down. Kids will be kids,' " Dierker said.

But he was dogged on the job, and critics called him overzealous. While investigating a plot in 1970 to transport explosives from Arizona to California, Mr. Goodwin had a grand jury subpoena five witnesses. When they refused to testify, they were jailed for six months for contempt of court, until the grand jury's term expired.

As the witnesses left jail, they were subpoenaed again by a newly formed grand jury under Mr. Goodwin's direction. Faced with 18 more months in jail, three of the five testified. A fourth was not pursued. The fifth was again held in contempt and appealed to the Supreme Court, which reversed the citation.

As protests against the Vietnam War grew violent, Mr. Goodwin argued for the jailing of nuns and priests who were charged with planning to kidnap Henry Kissinger, then the national security adviser. Mr. Goodwin also pursued other cases against Weather Underground, whose members had set off bombs in the Pentagon and the Capitol and planned to bomb other federal buildings.

Antiwar Vietnam veterans were accused of planning to bomb the Republican National Convention in 1972, and some later sued Mr. Goodwin, saying that their constitutional rights to effective legal counsel were violated because he falsely testified that there were no government informers in the group. A U.S. appeals court ruled that Mr. Goodwin was immune from their lawsuit.

Mr. Goodwin retired from the Justice Department in 1998, confident that his investigations had disrupted domestic terrorism plots and saved lives, Dierker said. The department gave him its John Marshall Award.

A daughter, Washington Post copy editor Alison Goodwin Thresher, disappeared in 2000 in an unsolved case that police declared a homicide.

Survivors include his wife of 55 years, Frances M. Goodwin of Washington; a daughter, Sarah Goodwin Thomas of Kensington; and three grandchildren.

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