Jewell Fights Back In Pipe Bomb Case
ATLANTA — Lawyers for Richard Jewell, the main suspect in the Atlanta Olympic park bombing, are waging a public relations campaign in an effort to prove he is innocent.
This week his defense team said it is exploring the possibility of civil suits against the FBI and media for their handling of the case. Another attorney held a news conference to release the results of a lie-detector test that Mr. Jewell had passed. The same lawyer recently walked the path from the phone booth where the 911 call was placed to the site where Jewell pointed out the bomb in order to illustrate that his client couldn't have made the call during the time period in question.
One month after the pipe bombing that jarred Atlanta, the case continues to raise fundamental questions about FBI investigation tactics and media responsibility in dealing with high-profile crimes.
Jewell, a security guard at Centennial Olympic Park, was the man who directed police to the green knapsack that carried the fatal pipe bomb. He was first hailed as a hero and then quickly became the main suspect of the investigation. Since then, FBI agents have searched his apartment and a cabin he rented in north Georgia. He has not been charged, and the FBI has declined to disclose whether it has found any evidence against him or to comment on the investigation.
Jewell's lawyers point to lack of physical evidence as proof that he is innocent. They claim the intense investigation and relentless media scrutiny have damaged their client's name and are pressuring the FBI to clear him. "It's high time he got an apology," Jack Martin, Jewell's attorney, said at a press conference.
But while some legal experts question the FBI's tactics in ferreting out a suspect in the blast, others are reserving judgment.
"The FBI had to have some fairly strong probable cause ... some evidence of wrongdoing" to target Jewell, says Dave Camp, an associate professor of criminal justice at Georgia State University. Mr. Camp maintains it is typical for the bureau to spend a lot of time investigating a suspect in a high-profile case.
Camp says the FBI may have zeroed in on Jewell as a prime suspect and decided the best way to keep the evidence preserved was to draw attention to him, hoping he'd crack and confess.
But "if they went on less-than-secure evidence when they turned their attention to him ... if they are continuing this knowing he's been excluded as a suspect but too embarrassed to do anything about it, then shame on them, and I suspect they'll get a black eye," Camp says.
Jewell is unlikely to receive an apology, experts say.
"Even if they wanted to, their attorneys would be telling them not to," says Robert Sigler, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. "The most you can expect from the FBI is a statement saying he's no longer a suspect."
Dr. Sigler says the information acknowledging that Jewell was a suspect was released too soon. "There was a real pressure to identify someone ... but it would have been almost impossible for the FBI to conceal the fact this guy was a suspect" because of the media attention, he says. "There was a bit too much detail available too early, but I'm not sure the FBI released it."
Jewell's attorneys are investigating the leaks and whether there was a violation of his civil or constitutional rights.
Sigler says it's likely Jewell will file several lawsuits. "His life is ruined; he's got a clear basis for recovery" if he is innocent. "The question will be from whom will he recover?" Sigler says. "If he can prove that FBI officers or whoever it was were reckless in releasing information, he's got cause."
But Camp says it is difficult to sue a federal agency. "They can talk lawsuit but ... you have to have something more substantial than 'Oops they got the wrong guy,' because if you sift through the evidence, and a reasonable person would say at the time Jewell was possibly involved ... then there's not much of a chance," he says.