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Rudolph's victims see plea as coward's way out

The victims of Eric Rudolph’s now admitted bombing spree say he’s taken the coward’s way out, bargaining his guilt for a life behind bars. NBC News' Ron Blome reports from the federal courthouse in Birmingham, Ala., where Rudolph pleaded guilty Wednesday.
Emily Lyons watches outside the Hugo L. Black Federal Courthouse as Eric Robert Rudolph leaves his hearing Wednesday in Birmingham, Ala. Jan-Michael Stump / AP
/ Source: NBC News

The victims of Eric Rudolph’s now admitted bombing spree said Wednesday he’s taken the coward’s way out, bargaining his guilt for a life behind bars. Four life sentences with no parole to be exact. 

John Hawthorne, who lost his wife, Alice, in the 1996 Centennial Park Atlanta bombing, described Rudolph’s behavior in court as “insensitive” and said he was “angry all over again.”

Rudolph didn’t make any kind of apology, but his attorneys said prior to the hearing that he planned to eventually issue a written statement explaining how and why he committed the string of bombings that killed two people and wounded more than 120.

Emily Lyons, the nurse who was critically injured and partially blinded by Rudolph’s 1998 Birmingham abortion clinic bombing, also blasted the guilt-for-life-in-prison deal.

Lyons still faces more surgeries to pull shrapnel from her body, years after the attack that killed a police officer.

When asked outside the courthouse before the hearing if she is still living with the effects of the bombing, Lyons responded, "Oh yeah, every day. I have surgery coming up again to remove shrapnel out of my neck and out of my face. Every day I get up, I see Rudolph in the mirror.”

After his hearing in Birmingham, Rudolph was flown to Atlanta, where he was expected to plead guilty to three other bombings, including the explosion at the Olympic Park in Atlanta in 1996.

In court in Birmingham, Lyons sat the closest to Rudolph among the victims and spectators.

"It was chilling," she said. "Sitting that close to someone who is a murderer, an admitted killer. He was very proud of himself today."

Bold statement
She shuddered as he told the judge he planted the bomb at her clinic. Lyons was irate at the way Rudolph responded to the judge’s question, “Did you detonate the bomb?” because Rudolph spoke so boldly, saying, “I certainly did your honor.”

After hearing details of the government’s case, Rudolph was asked if the evidence would prove the case against him. Rudolph responded, “Just barely your honor. It’s sufficient.”

Lyons saw that response as just more of Rudolph’s disdain for justice and life. 

She and her husband believe Rudolph has once again used and abused the system of justice. The penalty for murder she says “should be clear.”

Wednesday's hearing presented no sense of closure for Lyons.

“Since [the bombing] will never be out of our life, physically or emotionally, there is no closure. This is just another page in the chapter for us," Lyons said.

When asked if she would be able to grant Rudolph forgiveness if he asked, Lyons responded, "He can't have it from me. He tried to kill me. He destroyed the life I had that day, so there is no forgiveness."

Lyons says she will speak to the court and be directing her comments to Rudolph when she testifies at his sentencing hearing on July 18.