Serial bomber Eric Rudolph, who pleaded guilty to avoid a possible death sentence, may have had a better chance than he realized to beat the rap, according to a new book by one of his victims.
The account by Emily Lyons says federal prosecutors staged four mock trials as they prepared for his trial in the bombing of a Birmingham abortion clinic -- and Rudolph was acquitted in three of them.
Lyons says in the book she co-authored, "Life's Been a Blast," that the mock juries failed to convict Rudolph because someone thought the victims "got what they deserved because they worked at an abortion clinic."
"I couldn't believe that they would let this guy go," Lyons said in an interview.
Lyons, a former nurse who nearly died in the 1998 clinic bombing in Birmingham, said prosecutors told her of the mock trials earlier this year as they explained Rudolph's plea deal, in which he admitted bombing Atlanta's Olympic park in 1996, a gay nightclub and a women's clinic in Atlanta in 1997, and the Birmingham clinic. One woman died and more than 100 were injured in the Olympic explosion; a police officer was killed and Lyons was critically injured in the Birmingham blast.
U.S. Attorney Alice Martin confirmed Tuesday that at least one mock trial was held but said Lyons "is mistaken in her understanding of the results."
In a statement, Martin said she fully expected Rudolph to be convicted had there been a trial and denied the outcome of a mock proceeding had anything to do with Rudolph's plea.
"The only reason the death penalty was removed was in exchange for pleas in all the Atlanta area bombings, and disclosure of the location and subsequent rendering safe of over 250 pounds of explosives on public land and rights of way in North Carolina," Martin said.
An acquittal in the Birmingham trial could have had far-reaching implications. Authorities have said the Atlanta cases hinged on evidence gathered after the Birmingham bombing, and Lyons says in her book that prosecutors told them "the Atlanta cases would fall apart if the Birmingham trial did not convict."
Under the plea agreement, Rudolph escaped a possible death sentence in return for accepting four life sentences. He was also required to reveal the location of about 250 pounds of stolen dynamite he had buried in the woods of western North Carolina.
A judge in Birmingham sentenced Rudolph to two life terms on Monday; his Atlanta sentencing is set for Aug. 22.
The lead prosecutor in Birmingham, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Whisonant, said he was confident of a guilty verdict but declined comment Monday on any mock trials.
Rudolph, who has portrayed himself as a Christian opponent of abortion, raised the possibility of an acquittal by antiabortion jurors when he released a statement after he pleaded guilty in April.
"The problem that they had was that a significant minority of the population, especially here in Northern Alabama, regarded what happened there at the abortion facility on that day of Jan. 29, 1998, as morally justified," Rudolph wrote. "It is my opinion some of these people were likely to vote not guilty no matter what evidence was presented to them."
But Rudolph also wrote that he likely would have been convicted in at least one of the four bombings, so he pleaded guilty and "deprived the government of its goal of sentencing me to death."
Two witnesses saw Rudolph in Birmingham after the clinic explosion, leading to his identification and eventual indictment in the bombings in Alabama and Georgia. Rudolph was captured in Murphy, N.C., in 2003 after spending more than five years as a fugitive.