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Richard Jewell, 44; helped save lives in Atlanta Olympics blast

Richard Jewell testified before a US House subcommittee hearing on the 1996 Olympic attack. Richard Jewell testified before a US House subcommittee hearing on the 1996 Olympic attack. (1997 file/ap)

WASHINGTON -- Richard Jewell, a security guard portrayed as a hero, a suspect, and then a media victim of Atlanta's fatal Centennial Olympic Park bombing in 1996, was found dead yesterday at his home in Woodbury, Ga. He was 44.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation reportedly planned further tests to determine the cause of death. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted the Meriwether County, Ga., coroner as saying Mr. Jewell had diabetes.

"There's no suspicion whatsoever of any type of foul play," Coroner Johnny Worley said.

In 1998, federal authorities charged anti-government extremist Eric Robert Rudolph with the Atlanta park bombings.

After a five-year manhunt, Rudolph was captured. He pleaded guilty in 2005 to the Olympics attack and bombings against women's clinics and a gay nightclub, receiving a life sentence.

Before Rudolph emerged as the chief suspect, Mr. Jewell was the target of media speculation and law-enforcement investigations into the Olympics bombing. To many, he became a symbol of a life damaged by FBI leaks and news coverage laced with innuendo.

Mr. Jewell had an erratic career on the fringes of Georgia law enforcement before he was hired as a security guard for the Olympics. On July 27, 1996, he spotted a crudely made pipe bomb inside a knapsack near a concert stage.

At first, he was praised for his decisive handling of the situation. He hurried people away from the knapsack and called for backup. His actions were credited with reducing casualties; one woman died and 111 people were injured.

Within three days, Mr. Jewell's status as a hero was challenged after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called him the focus of the FBI investigation into the bombing. The FBI neither arrested nor formally charged Mr. Jewell, but the scrutiny that descended on him was extraordinarily invasive and crude.

One television outlet featured an interview with a psychologist who said Mr. Jewell resembled a "lone bomber." On NBC, Tom Brokaw said, "The speculation is that the FBI is close to 'making the case,' in their language. They probably have enough on him to arrest him right now . . . but you always want to have enough to convict him as well."

The New York Post called him a "fat, failed former sheriff's deputy."

Reporters camped outside the apartment he shared with his mother in the Atlanta area.

In October 1996, the FBI cleared Mr. Jewell. In a news conference, he called his 88 days under suspicion a nightmare.

"In its rush to show the world how quickly it could get its man, the FBI trampled on my rights as a citizen," he said. "In its rush for the headline that the hero was the bomber, the media cared nothing for my feelings as a human being. In their mad rush to fulfill their own personal agendas, the FBI and the media almost destroyed me and my mother."

In 1997, US Attorney General Janet Reno said Mr. Jewell deserved an apology for government leaks to the media.

Mr. Jewell threatened to sue media organizations for defamation. NBC, CNN, and the New York Post reached undisclosed settlements with him, reportedly in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution never settled a lawsuit Mr. Jewell filed against it. His attorney, Lin Wood, said yesterday the case is set for trial in January. "I expect to pursue it for Richard and his estate," Wood told the Associated Press.

The Atlanta newspaper has maintained that its articles had been neither malicious nor inaccurate at the time of publication. Publisher John Mellott declined to comment about the lawsuit yesterday but said Mr. Jewell was a hero "as we all came to learn."

Richard Allensworth Jewell was born Richard White in Danville, Va. He was adopted by his stepfather.

After attending a technical school, he was an auto mechanic, manager of a frozen yogurt store, and hotel house detective.

In the early 1990s, he was charged with impersonating an officer at an Atlanta apartment complex. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct.

After the Olympics, Mr. Jewell found periodic police work in small towns. Last year, he said he spent most of the money he won from lawsuits on lawyer fees and a new home for his mother.

He married in recent years, and his wife is among his survivors.

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