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Kaczynski Plea Bargain Talks Resume

By Roberto Suro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 12, 1998; Page A08

Defense attorneys and federal prosecutors in the trial of Unabomber suspect Theodore J. Kaczynski have renewed discussions of a plea bargain that would allow federal prosecutors to avoid a risky trial and spare Kaczynski the threat of the death penalty, according to Justice Department officials.

The issue was raised by Kaczynski's lawyers Friday but is unlikely to be acted upon by the government until after a court-ordered psychiatric exam to determine Kaczynski's mental state has been completed, the officials said.

Prosecutors and a Justice Department committee that reviews death penalty cases rejected a similar offer by defense attorneys in mid-December. The psychiatric examination, which is due to be completed Friday, could produce a new evaluation of Kaczynski's mental state that would justify dropping the death penalty prosecution, the officials said.

The new plea discussions, first reported by Newsweek yesterday, came after a tumultuous week in the Sacramento courtroom where Kaczynski faces two federal homicide charges that potentially carry the death penalty. The charges stem from an alleged terror campaign conducted for nearly two decades with carefully constructed bombs.

Kaczynski, a Harvard-trained mathematician who spent most of his adult life secluded in a Montana cabin, twice halted proceedings by informing the judge that he was unhappy with his attorneys' intention to conduct a mental illness defense on his behalf. Although the government believes there is overwhelming evidence against him, some Justice Department officials have become concerned about the possibility of a mistrial or a successful appeal that would void Kaczynski's prosecution.

Justice Department officials noted that the upcoming exam, which will look at his "capacity to stand trial," will mark the first time Kaczynski's mental condition has been examined by experts who are not employed by his defense team. Defense experts have diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia in Kaczynski, but he declined to be examined by government psychiatrists.

Under the agreement originally proposed by Kaczynski's lawyers, he would plead guilty to murder charges and the government would withdraw its intent to seek the death penalty, according to Justice Department officials. Kaczynski would then be liable to a life sentence without the chance of early release.

Defense attorneys also have sought government assurances about the conditions of Kaczynski's incarceration and a promise to help, to the extent possible, in shielding Kaczynski from death penalty prosecutions in the state courts, the officials said.

Although no detailed negotiations have taken place since Friday, it does not appear the terms of the offer differ from the original.

Attempts to reach Kaczynski's trial attorneys, Quin Denvir and Judy Clarke, for comment last night were unsuccessful.

After the plea bargain was rejected last month, Kaczynski's lawyers told prosecutors that they hoped that the government would reconsider, officials said. Prosecutors, who regularly speak informally to the defense team, have maintained that the government would reconsider if new facts came to light that changed the balance of aggravating and mitigating factors the Justice Department is obliged by law to weigh in every death penalty case.

When the possibility of new plea bargain negotiations arose at the end of last week, both sides expressed an interest in finding a means to settle the case, officials said.

Staff writer William Booth contributed to this report from California.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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