Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hero passes away

ATLANTA (Aug. 29) - Former security guard Richard Jewell, who was erroneously linked to the 1996 Olympic bombing, has died, a spokesman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Wednesday.

Richard Jewell, 44, was found dead in his west Georgia home, GBI spokesman John Bankhead said.

He died at 9 a.m. Wednesday, said Meriwether County Coroner Johnny Worley. Worley said Jewell died of natural causes.

"There's no suspicion whatsoever of any type of foul play. He had been at home sick since the end of February with kidney problems," Worley said.

Bankhead said the GBI would do an autopsy Thursday.

Lin Wood, Jewell's longtime attorney, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that he was "devastated" by the news. He declined further comment, saying he was in New York trying to get back to Atlanta.

Jewell was initially hailed as a hero for spotting a suspicious backpack in a park and moving people out of harm's way just before a bomb exploded during a concert at the Atlanta Summer Olympics.

Then the media called him a suspect and he became a public spectacle.

The blast killed one and injured 111 others.

As recently as last year, Jewell was working as a sheriff's deputy in rural Meriwether County.

The frenzy that changed Jewell's life started three days after the bombing with an unattributed report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that described him as "the focus" of the investigation.

Other media, to varying degrees, also linked Jewell to the investigation.

He was never arrested or charged, although he was questioned and was a subject of search warrants.

Eighty-eight days after the initial news report, then-U.S. Attorney Kent Alexander issued a statement saying Jewell "is not a target" of the bombing investigation and that the "unusual and intense publicity" surrounding him was "neither designed nor desired by the FBI, and in fact interfered with the investigation."

Eventually, the bomber turned out to be anti-government extremist Eric Rudolph, who also planted three other bombs in the Atlanta area and in Birmingham, Ala., that killed a police officer, maimed a nurse and injured several others. Rudolph was captured after spending five years hiding out in the mountains of western North Carolina, pleaded guilty to all four bombings last year and is serving life in prison.

Jewell told the AP last year that Rudolph's conviction helped, but he believed some people still remember him as a suspect rather than for the two days in which he was praised as a hero.

"For that two days, my mother had a great deal of pride in me - that I had done something good and that she was my mother, and that was taken away from her," Jewell said around the time of the 10th anniversary of the bombing. "She'll never get that back, and there's no way I can give that back to her."

As if to prove his point about being remembered for the unfounded accusations that were leveled against him the headline on this story was:

Former Olympics Bombing Suspect Dies

Not "Hero who saved dozens from Olympic bomber dies", but former suspect dies.

The Clinton era Justice Department suspected Mr. Jewell because he fit their idea of a "redneck" and a "gun nut". The leaks were targeted at Mr. Jewell to put pressure on him and make him crack. In the end he was vindicated, won a financial settlement and realized his dream of working in law enforcement. Of course a reputation once tarnished is never quite the same. Let us remember this before we are foolish to put another Clinton into a position to shape the Justice Department.