For David Kaczynski, director of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty (NYADP), the issue of capital punishment hits close to home. His brother, Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber, is currently serving a life sentence in prison for a terrorist spree that began in the late 1970s and did not end until his arrest in 1996, after David approached authorities with suspicions of Ted’s possible involvement with the crimes.
“Who does the death penalty really help?” David asked the Cornell Community during a lecture last night entitled “The Death Penalty: A Public and Private Struggle”.
David proclaimed that he was unaware of his brother’s involvement with the crimes. These crimes consisted of bombs targeted at universities and airlines, giving rise to the name “Unabomber”. Ted Kaczynski spent almost 20 years of his life sending these bombs through the mail, killing three and wounding 23. His motive was to attract attention to what he believed to be the danger of modern technology.
Ted, who had once been a mathematics professor at the University of California at Berkeley, abandoned his career and, at the time of his arrest, was living a reclusive life in a cabin in remote Montana.
David did not think much of Ted’s reclusive lifestyle.
“I thought he was there because he loved nature and hated technology,” he said. On the other hand, his wife Linda, who had never met Ted, was skeptical and one day courageously asked her husband if there was any reason to believe his brother could be the Unabomber.
When a manifesto written by the Unabomber was published in 1995, David and Linda analyzed the writing, seeking to rule out the possibility that Ted could be the infamous Unabomber.
“I felt a kind of chill,” said David, “and on some intuitive level, I thought, this does sound like Ted.”
The time following the manifesto’s publication was emotionally taxing for David. “We never found anything conclusive,” he stated, “for me it was like a roller coaster. I thought, ‘Am I crazy? A suspicion does not make him the Unabomber.’”
Kaczynski remembered Ted as a loving, caring, older brother figure, not a terrorist. He recalled telling himself, “I grew up with this man; is it possible I grew up with evil in my own family but was too blind to see who he truly was?”
Kaczynski recalled seeing himself in a no-win situation due to the threat of capital punishment, constantly asking himself, “What’s it going to be like going through life knowing I had my own brother’s blood on my hands?”
With hesitation, he decided to alert authorities of his suspicions.
“I cannot tell you how painful it felt…knowing that it could lead my crazy bother to his death,” Kaczynski said.
Kaczynski did, however, make the final decision to go to the authorities, which led to Ted’s arrest on April 3, 1996. Following the arrest, authorities found a number bombs being built in Ted’s cabin, one of which was addressed, intended to be sent to his next victim.
Since the arrest of his brother, David Kaczynski has become increasingly active in the fight against capital punishment. In 2001, he was appointed director of NYADP, a statewide coalition of organizations throughout the state of New York that are committed to the abolishment of the capital punishment.
Capital punishment is an extremely controversial issue in American politics. The United States is currently one of the only democratic nations to practice the death penalty. Countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as well as an overwhelming majority of countries in Europe and Latin America, have abolished capital punishment.
The United States suspended capital punishment with a moratorium 1973, which was later lifted in 1977. Since then, 1,064 people in the United States have been executed.
Everet Yi ’08, president of Cornell American Civil Liberties Union, which organized Kaczynski’s lecture, stated, “The notion of an ‘eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’ plays an important role in the American psyche.”
Yi acknowledged that capital punishment, however, is not necessarily a deterrent for committing crimes.
“Capital punishment has the capability to increase murders,” Yi further stated, “The death penalty can be seen as legitimizing the killing of one’s enemies.”
Between the years 1973 and 2005, the United States set free 25 death row inmates who were said to have been wrongfully accused.
“Tragically,” Yi acknowledged, “the exoneration of some inmates has come after they’ve been executed.”
Stephanie Hoffman ’07, director of Public Relations for C-ACLU, proclaimed herself to be a staunch oppositionist the death penalty. However, Hoffman recognized that Kaczynski’s story has the ability to bring people from both sides of the capital punishment debate together.
“I think of all things, people can agree on the human aspect, from the perspective of someone who could lose a family member,” Hoffman said.