Between 1978 and 1993, the infamous Unabomber built and mailed sixteen bombs. Three people were killed and nine injured, some of them maimed for life. The eventual capture and guilty plea of Theodore Kaczynski made headlines across the world, since it was his own "Manifesto" (here), published in several major media outlets, that led his brother to identify him as a serial killer. Nine years after federal authorities found voluminous papers in Kaczynski's Montana cabin, the convicted murderer demanded the return of his writings, including an autobiography. He wanted to donate them to his alma mater, the University of Michigan.
But in a decision released Thursday, July 21, a panel of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ordered the federal government to release the writings for publication--for the purpose of compensating his victims, to whom he owes $15 million in court-ordered restitution.
Interestingly, that is not the outcome that prosecutors had wanted. The government felt that his property was virtually worthless, that the cost of holding a "garage sale" would exceed the value of Kaczynski's belongings. The prosecution wanted to "keep Kaczynski's property, to unknown ends," the court's opinion noted, which was "inconsistent with the purpose of victim resititution." The appellate court then remanded the case to the district court -- in other words, sent it back down to the trial judge -- to come up with a concrete plan to "dispose" of the writings "in a commercially reasonable manner." The court also ordered that a lawyer be appointed to represent the victims and their families so they have a voice in coming up with a plan to sell Kaczynski's property, including his writings.
Said the three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals: "Common sense suggests the property would be quite valuable to scholars, archivists, and, unsavory as that prospect might be, collectors."
It will be ever so interesting to see what these victims have to say, as it does put them in a bind, doesn't it? Should they sell the writings for publication, perhaps for large amounts of money, and get back a small piece of comfort for what he did, while giving a murderer more celebrity and an even wider audience for his ponderings? If it were my loved one who was killed, I'd vote to burn them. Thankfully, I'm not in their shoes.... but I'd buy a ticket to the bonfire.
"Court Clears Way for Sale of Unabomber Writings," San Francisco Chronicle, July 21, 2005.
"Court Orders Government to Sell Unabomber Writings," The Jurist, July 22, 2005.