Today In History: Kaczynski Pleads Guilty To Being the Unabomber
Today in 1998, the notorious Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, pled guilty in a Sacramento courtroom to spending seventeen years sending bombs through the mail. Kaczynski pled guilty to all charges brought against him.
He was born in 1942 and proved to be an exceptionally intelligent young person. After attending Harvard for his undergraduate degree, he got a PhD in mathematics from the University of Michigan. This parlayed into an assistant mathematics professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
Becoming increasingly paranoid about the creep of modern technology, Kaczynski quit his professorship in 1969 and retreated to a remote cabin in Montana. There, Kaczynski lived without most modern amenities. He was without running water, without heat, and without electricity. It was from this cabin that he would begin sending explosives through the post. Kaczynski’s bombings were responsible for three deaths and over twenty injuries.
The FBI inadvertently gave Kaczynski his “Unabomber” nickname, when they named the task force assigned to investigating the bombings the “UNABOM Task Force.” The acronym stood for “University and Airline Bombing,” in reference to Kaczynski’s focus on sending his bombs to colleges and a 1979 American Airlines flight. In 1980, he also attempted to mail a bomb to the home of the president of United Airlines.
The Unabomber’s identity remained an almost impenetrable mystery for a long time. There was only one eyewitness identified, whose description of Kaczynski rendered the now famous 1987 police sketch of a man wearing a hoodie and sunglasses.
The Washington Post and the New York Times published Kaczynski’s anti-technology manifesto in 1995. The 35,000 word document caught the eye of David Kaczynski, Ted’s brother, who recognized the voice. He went to the police, and his tip led to Ted’s arrest in April of 1996. Investigators found bomb parts and manifesto drafts in his cabin.
Kaczynski, arrainged in Sacramento, rejected his lawyer’s advice to try for an insanity plea. He attempted to kill himself in jail in 1998 and then conceded to cooperate with a psychiatric evaluation. He also appealed to represent himself in court but was denied by U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell Jr.
He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The diagnosis resulted in a plea bargain. An ethically messy potential capital punishment case involving a mentally ill man was avoided.
After his guilty plea on January 22, 1998, Ted Kaczynski was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He also relinquished any possibility of appealing the sentence.
Kaczynski later claimed that the guilty plea had been compulsory, and tried to retract it. His appeal was denied in a federal appeals court. Kaczynski was transferred to a Colorado prison where he is still serving out his sentence.