Bombing `Suspect' Is Being Ill Treated by Law Enforcement and Media

By Yoder, Edwin | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 2, 1996 | Go to article overview

Bombing `Suspect' Is Being Ill Treated by Law Enforcement and Media


Yoder, Edwin, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Sometimes, these confusing days, the story itself is the story. That is the case, and it is disturbing, with the FBI's suspicions of an Olympic security guard named Richard Jewell in connection with the July 27 pipe bombing at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta. In England, Jewell would at worst be described as "assisting in police inquiries." In Atlanta, he's on trial by publicity.

But is he even a suspect? The FBI says not, though it conducted a 11-hour search of Jewell's apartment and a mountain cabin he once used, and is leaking massively to the press about him.

Jewell's lawyer says "if he's being searched, he's a suspect." The Fourth Amendment says that "no (search) warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause." Is there probable cause here?

It was Jewell who found the knapsack containing the three pipe bombs in the park last Saturday morning and warned spectators away from it. He was still nearby when one of the bombs exploded, spraying nails and screws over a wide radius. So if he did the deed he is that rare bomber who didn't mind being blown up or injured with his victims.

And if his was the voice who called 911 from a pay phone some blocks away with a warning 23 minutes before the explosion, how was he in two places at once?

And how, by the way, did he disguise his distinctive drawl?

In whodunits, the least likely suspect routinely turns out to be the villain. But do such improbabilities exist outside the imaginations of Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie?

Bob Costas, NBC's master of ceremonies for the Olympic broadcasts, raised the right issue when suspicions of Jewell were published in an extra by the Atlanta Journal and Constitution and quickly blared to the world on television and radio (another instance of the pernicious tendency to take one medium's reporting of a rumor as sufficient authority for repeating it).

For the sake of argument, said Costas to NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw, what if Jewell is innocent?

Brokaw scoffed that "sources" all over were assuring NBC and its reporters that the FBI had its man.

But then why not arrest him? Costas persisted.

Easy, said Brokaw, with the air of correcting a child, the FBI likes to "sweat" a suspect. …

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