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Lawyer opposing death row helps save bomber's life

Advocate had role in other plea pacts

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The lawyer who brokered the agreement to spare the life of Eric Rudolph, the convicted serial bomber, has helped to keep other high-profile defendants off death row -- including Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber.

That lawyer, Judy Clarke, has been described as a ''one-woman Dream Team" by a colleague who helped her defend Susan Smith, the South Carolina mom who avoided a death sentence after being convicted of drowning her two boys in 1995. (The Dream Team of lawyers helped to acquit O.J. Simpson of the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a waiter, Ronald Goldman, in 1994.)

Clarke helped Kaczynski to arrange a plea and avoid a death sentence, and on Friday, Rudolph followed suit, agreeing to plead guilty to the deadly 1996 Olympic park bombing in Atlanta, a fatal 1998 abortion clinic blast in Birmingham, and two others in Atlanta in 1997.

A staunch opponent of capital punishment, Clarke works for the federal defender's office in San Diego.

''She just doesn't believe in the death penalty, so she does everything she can to keep that from happening," said Doug Jones, who was US attorney in Birmingham as the clinics were bombed. .

In court, where she typically wears dark suits with floppy bow ties, Clarke showed what appeared to be an easy familiarity with Rudolph. She often leaned over to whisper to him or occasionally put a hand on his shoulder to make a point.

Rudolph, believed to be a follower of a white supremacist religion that is anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-Semitic, became an almost mythic figure to some in the region as he eluded a manhunt in the Appalachian wilderness that lasted more than five years.

He was captured in Murphy, N.C., in 2003 and charged with carrying out a string of bombings that killed two people and wounded more than 120.

Clarke has Southern roots; she grew up in Asheville, N.C., not far from where Rudolph built his bombs. This could have helped Rudolph get comfortable enough to make the bargain, said Jones, who has known Clarke for years.

''I think she obviously ended up being critical in this case," Jones, who is now a lawyer in private practice, said yesterday.

Clarke herself, who rarely grants interviews, did not return messages seeking comment.

A former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Clarke gained prominence with the Susan Smith case, when she convinced jurors that Smith did not deserve to die for drowning her sons by strapping them in a car and driving it into a lake. She gave her $83,000 fee for the case to a group that defends the poor in capital cases.

Before an Alabama judge appointed her to represent Rudolph, Clarke was assisting with the defense of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only US defendant charged in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Rudolph will receive four consecutive life terms if judges agree to the plea arrangement; hearings are set for Wednesday. He may be sent to the same federal prison in Colorado that houses Kaczynski.

Rudolph still must tell judges enough about the crimes to prove that he really committed the bombings. He directed authorities to stashes of 250 pounds of stolen dynamite and a bomb in western North Carolina. That information helped prompt prosecutors to make the agreement.

But Rudolph apparently isn't under any requirement to explain how or why he launched the string of bombings.

Emily Lyons, a nurse who was critically wounded in the Alabama bombing, said she was troubled by the possibility that she may never know what really happened. Rudolph's remote-controlled bomb, which prosecutors say was housed in a green toolbox disguised with fake greenery, blasted away Lyons' memory of that day as it caused severe wounds to her body.

''I have no concept of what a bomb does except for what happened to me," Lyons said in an interview. ''I want to know what happened. I want them to piece the day together for me."

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