Rudolph to offer plea in Ala. case

Sources tell NBC that rifle found at one campsite

MSNBC/June 3, 2003

Birmingham, Ala. -- Eric Rudolph is to be arraigned Tuesday in federal court here - the first judicial step in what Attorney General John Ashcroft expects to be a "relatively short and straightforward" trial for the 1998 bombing of an abortion clinic that killed an off-duty policeman. Rudolph, who also faces later trials for three other bombings, including the 1996 Olympic park attack, is expected to enter a plea at the afternoon appearance.

Evidence Gathered after the Birmingham bombing led to Rudolph being identified as the lone suspect in all the explosions, which killed two people and injured more than 150. The evidence includes a witness who saw a man - later determined to be Rudolph - walking away from the Birmingham bombing. And a truck registered to Rudolph was spotted moments after the blast.

Rudolph could face the death penalty if convicted. Arrested Saturday in the town of Murphy, N.C. after five years on the run, he was transferred Monday to Birmingham.

Rifle Found

The FBI has been searching the forest around Murphy for evidence against Rudolph, including what they suspect were two hideouts.

At one where he is thought to have spent warm weather months, investigators found dried bananas, onions, tomatoes, books and current magazines. That camp was only a half-mile away from the store where he was captured, NBC's Kerry Sanders reported from Murphy.

Ten miles further into the forest, investigators found a winter campsite as well as a .223 caliber assault rifle, sources with the investigation told NBC News.

Mike Curtis, a long-time hunter and tracker in the Natahalia National Forest, where Rudolph hid, doesn't believe Rudolph could have hidden out for five years on his own.

"No. I don't believe he stayed out here," Curtis told NBC. "No, I don't believe he stayed out here two weeks."

Curtis said that when he saw a healthy-looking Rudolph in his latest mug shot, he was convinced Rudolph could never have lived off mountain berries, acorns and lizards while using caves for shelter - as the FBI once suspected.

"When you see a cave like this, do you really think someone could live back here? He might be able to stay in here about a week or something like that," Curtis said. "Could stay dry& keep the mosquitoes from eating you up. But it's a big difference from a week to five years."

Retracing His Movements

On Monday, sources told NBC News that Rudolph is refusing to talk to federal officials, even though he had spoken to local police - a sign, they said, of his disdain for the federal government.

A Florida native who moved to western North Carolina in 1981, Rudolph was believed to adhere to the teachings of Christian Identity, a white supremacist sect that is anti-gay, anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner. Some of the four bombs he is charged with planting included messages from the shadowy "Army of God."

FBI agent Chris Swecker said he believed that Rudolph's entire time on the run had been spent in the same mountains where he had worked as a carpenter, roofer and handyman.

But some suspect Rudolph had help from local residents.

Folks like Roy Dernall, who said that, had he known where Rudolph was, he would not have called police. "Knowing what I know today. & No, I would not have turned him in," Dernall told NBC.

Pockets of western North Carolina have had a reputation as a haven for right-wing extremists. Some there mocked the government's inability to find Rudolph with bloodhounds, infrared-equipped helicopters and space-age motion detectors - and some said they would hide him if asked.

"My heart aches for him. What he did was wrong, I know, but I understand where he was coming from," said Sarah Greenfield, 63, of nearby Marble. "People around here, they take care of their own. You can't put a price on a man's head, and I don't know anybody who would have given him up, even for a million dollars."

Not Seen Since 1998

Rudolph, a former soldier, hadn't been seen since July 1998 after he took supplies from a health store owner in Andrews, N.C., a town near Murphy

The search for Rudolph began a day after the Birmingham blast. He was initially sought as a witness: A gray 1989 Nissan pickup truck registered in his name was seen near the clinic following the explosion.

He was tied to the bombings when authorities who searched a storage locker he had rented in Murphy found nails like those used in the clinic attacks.

At its height, the search for Rudolph in the mountainous region in western North Carolina included more than 200 federal agents. In 2000, it was scaled back to less than a handful of agents.

Rudolph is thought to have planted a bomb in a backpack at the Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta. One person was killed and 111 others were injured in that attack.

Two years later, Rudolph was charged with that attack and implicated in three others: the 1997 bombings of a gay nightclub in Atlanta and a building north of Atlanta that housed an abortion clinic; and the 1998 Birmingham abortion clinic bombing.

How He Was Caught

Rudolph was captured Saturday when Murphy Police Officer Jeff Postell spotted a man going through a trash bin around 3:30 a.m. local time.

Rudolph offered no resistance and no weapons were found.

Police said Rudolph first gave them a false name. When that didn't check out and they asked him again for his name he admitted he was Rudolph.

Rudolph had been on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list and the FBI had offered a $1 million reward for his capture.

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