U.S. Can Not Keep Unabom Papers
Bob Egelko, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle (Jan. 10, 2004)
A federal magistrate says the government must sell Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski's writings and give the proceeds to his victims or return the writings to Kaczynski, who wants to donate them to a university library.
In a decision issued Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Gregory Hollows of Sacramento said Kaczynski, the onetime UC Berkeley math professor now serving life without parole for three bombing murders, still has some legal rights to have his views aired through his past writings.
"The court will not permit Kaczynski's ideas to be censored, or otherwise kept from public view, no matter how bogus they may appear to the undersigned and others," Hollows wrote. His findings will be forwarded to U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell, who will make a final ruling after further arguments from prosecutors and Kaczynski's attorney.
Prosecutors contend the government is entitled to keep Kaczynski's property and oppose selling it at auction.
Kaczynski, now 61, pleaded guilty in 1998 to killing three people and wounding 23 in 16 bombings between 1978 and 1995. He was arrested in 1996 after his 35,000-word anti-technology manifesto was published by the Washington Post and recognized by his brother, who contacted authorities. He is serving his sentence in a federal maximum-security prison in Colorado.
Federal agents seized thousands of pages of journals and other writings from Kaczynski's Montana cabin when he was arrested. When Kaczynski sought their return last year, prosecutors argued that the government had the right to keep the papers as security for a court order requiring him to pay $15 million in restitution to his victims.
Prosecutors also objected to selling the items at auction to pay off the restitution because the sales price would let him take advantage of his notoriety.
"Were the property at issue sold to collectors of ghoulish memorabilia and the proceeds applied to Kaczynski's restitution debt, the United States would be assisting Kaczynski in profiting from his crimes," government lawyers said in court papers.
Hollows called the argument" circular and confusing" and said it raised questions about the government's commitment to the restitution payment.
"The government may not indirectly seek to suppress Kaczynski's writings and other First Amendment-protected materials by declining to sell them, but refusing their donation to a university," the magistrate said.
Apart from items that might be contraband, like some grayish powder found in a bottle in the cabin, the government must either sell Kaczynski's property at auction within 90 days or return it to his attorney, Hollows said.
Kaczynski wants to give his writings to the University of Michigan, whose library has a major collection of social protest materials, said John Balazs, a former federal public defender appointed to represent Kaczynski in the current case. The university already has thousands of pages of the Unabomber's papers.
"He would like his journals and personal papers to be part of that collection so that his views and his papers would be available to researchers, historians and the public," Balazs said Friday. His legal brief quoted university spokeswoman Julie Peterson as calling the documents"important historical materials."
Prosecution lawyers were unavailable for comment.
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