Defiant Eric Rudolph gets life in prison for bombing

Associated Press/July 18, 2005
By Daniel E. Martin

Birmingham, Ala. — By the time he was sent off to prison for life Monday, serial bomber Eric Rudolph had been compared with Ku Klux Klan killers, murderous Nazis and the Sept. 11 hijackers.

"Make no mistake: Eric Rudolph is an American terrorist," prosecutor Mike Whisonant said during the sentencing, invoking the image of planes flying into the World Trade Center.

But Rudolph didn't budge an inch. He nodded as a victim described him as a remorseless coward for a deadly abortion clinic bombing in Alabama and smirked at a description of him buying bomb components on Christmas Eve.

Blowing up a cop outside the abortion clinic was OK, Rudolph told the court in a deep, defiant voice, since the officer worked at an "abortion mill."

"The state is no longer the protector of the innocent, promoting values that challenge the darker angels of human nature, but now it is the handmaiden of the new hedonism, supporting the citizen in a lifestyle of selfishness and decadence," said Rudolph, gesturing with both hands.

Rudolph gave the impassioned defense as a judge sentenced him to two life sentences for setting off a remote-controlled bomb at a Birmingham abortion clinic in 1998, killing the off-duty officer and maiming a nurse. Next month, he will receive two more life terms for the deadly Olympic bombing and two other attacks in Atlanta.

Rudolph, 38, pleaded guilty to all the cases in April in a deal that let him avoid the possibility of a death penalty.

The wife of the policeman and the nurse confronted Rudolph in court for the first time Monday.

"I faced five pounds of dynamite and hundreds of nails yet I survived," said the nurse, Emily Lyons. "Do I look afraid? You damaged my body, but you did not create the fear you sought."

"In the name of faith you hate," said U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith. "For the professed goal of saving human life you killed. Those are riddles I cannot resolve."

Standing before the judge in a red jail uniform and with shackles around his ankles, Rudolph jabbed at the air as he compared legalized abortion to primitive rituals of killing newborns.

"Abortion on demand is a return to the ancient practice of infanticide," said Rudolph.

Abortion, he said, must be fought with "deadly force."

Rudolph nodded and occasionally shook his head as he was confronted by the wife of police officer Robert Sanderson, who was killed in the bombing outside the New Woman All Women Health Care, and Lyons, who survived devastating injuries including the loss of her left eye.

Felicia Sanderson said Rudolph robbed her of years with her husband and devastated the lives of her two sons, who were close to Sanderson. "Eric Rudolph is responsible for every tear my two sons have shed. He caused their pain, and I despise him for it," said Sanderson.

In sentencing Rudolph to life in the federal government's so-called "Supermax" prison in Colorado, the judge compared Rudolph to the killers of Nazi Germany and the Ku Klux Klansman who bombed a Birmingham church a few blocks away from the courthouse in 1963, killing four black girls.

He also faces sentencing Aug. 22 in Atlanta for the 1996 Olympics bombing that killed one woman and injured more than 100, as well as 1997 bombings at an abortion clinic and gay bar in Atlanta.

As a key part of the plea agreement, Rudolph directed authorities to about 250 pounds of dynamite hidden in the woods of western North Carolina, where he spent more than five years on the lam before his capture in 2003.

Diane Derzis, the owner of the abortion clinic, sat in the witness box just a few feet from Rudolph and talked about creeks, trees and all the little things in life the outdoorsman would miss while spending the rest of his life in prison.

"I think you chose a fate far worse than death," Derzis said of the plea deal. "So my wish for you is that you live a very long life."

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