January 22, 2008

January 22 | R. Budd Dwyer

November 21, 1939 - January 22, 1987: Age 47

Budd Dwyer was the Treasurer of the State of Pennsylvania in the 1980s when a scandal emerged relating to bids for a government contract. One firm, owned by a local Pennsylvania man, used a series of personal connections and bribes in order to obtain the contract. Among the evidence found on the business owner's computer was a list of names and amounts, including the name of Budd Dwyer beside a figure of $300,000. Dwyer was convicted on the strength of this, and on testimony from the business owner and other indictees, all obtained as a result of plea bargains. Unindicted co-conspirators also testified against him, but the government refused to release their names, making it difficult for Dwyer to defend himself.

Dwyer himself was offered a plea bargain, but refused it, vehemently protesting his innocence. He was found guilty, and was facing the possibility of more than 50 years in prison and a large fine, although it is unlikely he would have received that, as his co-defendant was given just a year in prison and later returned to politics, getting elected in 1999.

Dwyer was still State Treasurer, under law, until his sentencing on January 23. The day before that he called a press conference to "provide an update on the situation". There were many cameras present, both still and television. He began by reaffirming his innocence and stating that he would not resign. He then went on to give a rather long statement, during which some of the press began to pack up and leave. He asked them to stay, and apparently skipped a number of pages, ending with the following final words:
I thank the good Lord for giving me 47 years of exciting challenges, stimulating experiences, many happy occasions, and, most of all, the finest wife and children any man could ever desire.

Now my life has changed, for no apparent reason. People who call and write are exasperated and feel helpless. They know I'm innocent and want to help. But in this nation, the world's greatest democracy, there is nothing they can do to prevent me from being punished for a crime they know I did not commit. Some who have called have said that I am a modern day Job.

Judge [Malcolm] Muir is also noted for his medieval sentences. I face a maximum sentence of 55 years in prison and a $300,000 fine for being innocent. Judge Muir has already told the press that he, quote, "felt invigorated" when we were found guilty, and that he plans to imprison me as a deterrent to other public officials. But it wouldn't be a deterrent because every public official who knows me knows that I am innocent; it wouldn't be a legitimate punishment because I've done nothing wrong. Since I'm a victim of political persecution, my prison would simply be an American gulag.

I ask those that believe in me to continue to extend friendship and prayer to my family, to work untiringly for the creation of a true justice system here in the United States, and to press on with the efforts to vindicate me, so that my family and their future families are not tainted by this injustice that has been perpetrated on me.

We were confident that right and truth would prevail, and I would be acquitted and we would devote the rest of our lives working to create a justice system here in the United States. The guilty verdict has strengthened that resolve. But as we've discussed our plans to expose the warts of our legal system, people have said: "Why bother?" "No one cares." "You'll look foolish." "60 Minutes, 20/20, the American Civil Liberties Union, Jack Anderson and others have been publicizing cases like yours for years, and it doesn't bother anyone."

At this point he stopped, and asked several staff members to approach him — his office was arranged so that there was a large table between him and the rest of the room. He gave them several envelopes, which later turned out to include organ donor information, a letter to his wife, and a letter to the State governor.

He then pulled a gun out of a manila envelope, advising the people in the room to "please leave the room if this will offend you". Then, amid cries of shock, he put the gun barrel in his mouth, pulled the trigger, and slid to the ground in a seated position against the wall, blood pouring from his nose. All this was filmed by several television cameras.

There ensued a debate among the television stations as to whether to broadcast the footage or not. In the end, many did: some simply broadcast stills from the conference but did not show his body; others ran the tape right up to just before he pulled the trigger; others froze the picture just before the shot but let the audio run. In the end, two stations showed the actual suicide.

Because Dwyer died while technically still in office, his widow was able to collect full survivor benefits, including a pension. Since the family had been financially ruined by legal bills, this was a major motivator for Dwyer. Once sentenced he would be automatically taken out of office, and his family would no longer have been entitled to the benefits. To this day, the family and others still maintain his innocence.

It is possible to view his death on the Internet. I've looked at it a few times, and decided not to offer the link here, as it is very graphic. If you're determined to watch it, however, it's not hard to find.

Sources: Wikipedia, R. Budd Dwyer Tribute Site

1 comment:

Daap said...

I stumbled upon your blog looking up information on Carl McCunn and just kept reading, starting on Dec 31 working back then eventually forward. I have not felt the need to post something until now. I appreciate all the hard work the you must have gone through to provide the information and the links, also refusing to provide the R. Budd Dwyer link, because I dont think people will be ready like me. I have learned much from this and will continue to read and comment. Thank you!