A suspect in a string of bombings, including the deadly 1996 explosion at the Olympic Games in Atlanta and a 1997 attack at the Otherside Lounge, a predominantly lesbian bar in Atlanta, appeared before a federal judge Monday for the first time since his capture, acknowledging his identity but not entering a plea. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Eric Rudolph will face trial first in Birmingham, Ala., where an abortion clinic was bombed in 1998, and then in Atlanta.
Rudolph, wearing a blue bulletproof vest over an orange prison jumpsuit, spoke only briefly at the 30-minute hearing before U.S. district judge Lacy Thornburg. He sat, straight-faced, next to attorney Sean Devereux, appointed because Rudolph says he doesn't have the money to pay a lawyer, while assistant U.S. attorney Jill Westmoreland read the charges against him. "The defendant is waiving his right to enter a plea of guilty here and instead will face charges where those charges are pending," U.S. attorney Robert Conrad said after the hearing.
Rudolph faces six charges of using an explosive against a facility in interstate commerce and could face the death penalty. One person was killed and more than 100 were wounded at the Centennial Park bombing. A police officer was killed and a nurse was critically wounded in the Birmingham attack. And five people were hurt at the Otherside Lounge bombing.
The 36-year-old Rudolph is a former member of the Army's 101st Airborne Division and is described by acquaintances as a white supremacist who hated gay men and lesbians, foreigners, and the government and was opposed to abortion. He was last seen publicly on July 7, 1998, and is believed to have spent the past five years camping and hiding in caves in the mountains in and around North Carolina. He was arrested Saturday morning in Murphy, N.C., while he was rummaging for food behind a grocery store.
News of Rudolph's arrest brought back painful memories for 35-year-old Memrie Wells Creswell, the patron most seriously injured in the February 21, 1997, attack at the Otherside Lounge. "I thought I was getting better, but I guess the arrest kind of sparked some hidden emotions," Creswell told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I am ready to see Rudolph get his just rewards."
Creswell told the paper that she had gone to the bar on the night of the attack in order to celebrate a friend's birthday. She was sitting on a stool inside the club watching a friend play pool when she heard something that sounded like shots and saw other bar patrons hit the ground. "I felt numb and immediately started sweating. I felt cold." she said. "Then I looked down and saw my arm shaking and saw blood spewing out. I told my friend, 'I think I've been shot.'" Doctors later found that a large nail had pierced her upper right arm, severing the brachial artery. "I almost bled to death in the bar," she said.