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January 28, 2007

Information on Ted Kaczynski and Ohio DP law

To give you a focus for examining modern death penalty statutes, the reading packet encourages thinking about how Ted Kaczynski might be prosecuted under the death penalty statutes in Texas and Florida.  Though not in the text, you should also consider how Ted might fare under Ohio's death penalty statute.  (Ignore for this exercise that these states would not likely have jurisdiction.)

For a lot more information about "your client," here is a massive Wikipedia entry on Ted Kaczynski.  That entry has (too) many great links, though I would especially encourage checking out this short article entitled "The Death Penalty Up Close and Personal" by David Kaczynski (Ted's brother).  Also worth a read is this 1999 article from Time magazine by Stephen Dubner.

UPDATE:  Life is all about timing, and apparently ours is good.  As we look back at the Unabomber's crimes and punishment in class, Ted Kaczynski writings are making new headlines.  From this article in the Yale Daily News:

Fourteen years after opening a package bomb sent by the Unabomber, Yale computer science professor David Gelernter ’76 still feels pain every day, and more may soon be coming. 

After nine years in prison, Ted Kaczynski has returned to both the headlines and the courtroom as he challenges a government plan to auction off his expansive writings to raise restitution for his victims. But as Kaczynski fights the auction on First Amendment grounds, some of his victims, including Gelernter, have raised concerns about the possibility that Kaczynski's musings about bombmaking could wind up the focus of a morbid bidding frenzy — and open up old wounds at the same time.

January 28, 2007 in Quality of counsel | Permalink


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I'm interested in whether, after reading the information, biographical sketches, and articles about him, people think Ted "Unabomber" Kaczynski is a.) rational b.) mentally ill.

His Manifesto can be found here:


Posted by: Scott A | Jan 30, 2007 11:47:31 AM

After skimming through his manifesto, he is a very articulate man. Even though I may not agree with his views that does not make him irrational. Majoritatrian views (or status quo biases) should not determine rationality or irrationality. He appears rational based on his writings, while at the same time, how he attempted to further his cause (i.e. mail bombings) indicates that he may be suffering from some mental illness too.

Posted by: Jeff M. | Jan 30, 2007 1:53:00 PM

After reading Ted Kaczynski's Manifesto and his comments in the Dubner article and recognizing the difficulty of assessing anyone's mental state from reading just two things, I think that Ted Kaczynski is more mentally ill than rational.

I agree with Jeff that rationality is inherently subjective. Just because I disagree with most of Ted Kaczynski's assertions, it doesn't necessarily follow that his views are irrational. Nevertheless, he seemed to be very irrational in parts of the Dubner article. He said that he believed his brother turned him in because David was jealous of Ted and wanted revenge. It seems absurd to me that any rational person would assert that his/her brother was acting out of jealousy by turning in a sibling for murder. I think Ted's irrationality is obvious from the fact that he is unable to comprehend the gravity of the situation. If he honestly views David's actions as mere sibling rivalry, then he is missing some major issues, moral and otherwise, which speaks to his mental state. While Ted may believe that his own actions are correct or morally defensible, it is irrational for him to believe that David's only motivation for turning him in takes the form of a personal vendetta.

Furthermore, a sane, rational person doesn't resort to such irrational measures to make his/her views known. I think the violent manner in which Ted Kaczynski acted is proof of his mental state. Anyone who believes that sending mailbombs is a proper way of getting a message across is, in my opinion, per se irrational.

Posted by: Caitlin | Jan 30, 2007 9:43:50 PM

Regarding his views of his brother's motives: Do we have any evidence, one way or the other, as to what the motives actually were? It's one thing to say that he's wrong, based on a naive psychological theory of his brother's motivations, and quite another to say that he's irrational because of that assertion.

According to Jon Baron (psychologist at U Penn), thinking and deciding rationally depends on identifying three sets of things: goals, possibilities, and evidence. While I have generally been impressed for years as to how intelligent and articulate Ted is, I have to concede that, given his goals, the possibilities for achieving them, and the available evidence that would weigh on each possibility, that his actions were irrational even if we are willing to accept his goal (dismantling technological society.) (His goals are another topic for debate altogether.)

However, much of what we value from a societal perspective is irrational from an individual perspective and vice versa. Heroism and valor in combat, for example, are individually irrational unless your value system places honor above life (your own and that of others). So we have to be careful what perspective we take. Suppose that Ted truly thought that technological society was causing the suffering of the masses and that he was willing to make himself a martyr in an effort, no matter how doomed for failure, to turn the tide and reverse the trend. Now is he irrational? Or is he a hero and a martyr, sacrificing himself (and others) for a noble cause? Is the soldier who charges into battle killing scores of enemy combatants before sacrificing himself a sociopath or a martyr? These questions hinge critically on what your utilities for the various outcomes are - and these utilities determine how you rank your goals and the possibilities for achieving them.

I do not condone Ted's goals, his mentality, or his actions. I only wish to point out how his behavior may be compared to other analogous behaviour that we, as a society, often ignore, or even praise.....

Posted by: Scott A | Jan 31, 2007 12:09:18 AM

Here is a story of a recent NY DP case (front page of NYT today) which beautifully illustrates some of the psychology of both retributivism in DP cases and also the psychology and rationality of perpetrators which may make them more likely to be prosecutorial targets for DP sentences. The narrative is just tragic.


Posted by: Scott A | Jan 31, 2007 8:30:12 AM

"According to Jon Baron (psychologist at U Penn), thinking and deciding rationally depends on identifying three sets of things: goals, possibilities, and evidence. While I have generally been impressed for years as to how intelligent and articulate Ted is, I have to concede that, given his goals, the possibilities for achieving them, and the available evidence that would weigh on each possibility, that his actions were irrational even if we are willing to accept his goal (dismantling technological society.) (His goals are another topic for debate altogether.)"

According to this, virtually every member of PETA is irrational. Wait, now that I typed that out, it makes me think perhaps this definition is more accurate than my initial instinct. Nevertheless, there's a fine line between being irrational and just plain wrong. While a solid argument can be made that Ted's goals were unrealistic, his methods were not going to successfully advance those goals or even that any methods could achieve such goals, I'm having a hard time understanding how this could make him "irrational." He is clearly emotionally "off," but he seems to me to be very passionate about his views, however misguided we might agree they are. Further, he is principled. He lived in accordance with his beliefs in a cabin in the woods, didn't have a job, and avoided technology. He practiced what he preached.

The fact that he resorted to mail bombings seems wholly consistent with his beliefs and at least some of his goals. He appears more concerned with just gaining an audience for his anarchistic views than with actually achieving them, at least as of yet. Before his vision could come to fruition, it needs support. He seems to realize that with particularly marginalized viewpoints, the only way to advance the "cause" is to draw attention to it. This is why he insisted on papers printing his manifesto and is evidenced by the fact that, if he were to get out of prison, he'd like to hook up with an Oregon anarchist who has been given a soapbox on the college "talk" circuit. I don't believe he thinks that sending mailbombs is a "proper way" of getting his message across; rather, I'm quite sure he knows it's quite improper, but he just doesn't care, and besides, it's proven pretty effective. "Well, let me put it this way," Kaczynski says. "I don't know if violence is ever the best solution, but there are certain circumstances in which it may be the only solution." "What Kaczynski wants is a true movement, 'people who are reasonably rational and self controlled and are seriously dedicated to getting rid of the technological system. And if I could be a catalyst for the formation of such a movement, I would like to do that.'" Using such means was a calculated, targeted, and heartless way to get across a message that Teddy knew wouldn't be heard by anyone but the "choir" without some type of drastic measure.

I guess it ultimately boils down to what we believe should be the point of deeming him "mentally ill." In my opinion, we are far too quick to look for explanations or excuses for people who deviate from the norm or the status quo, particularly when they then do something wrong or illegal, and then point to that deviation as base evidence for the explanation or excuse. Doing so undermines the value of the explanation or excuse for those who truly are mentally deficient. Some people have off the wall ideas and some of that some are just ***holes who will do anything to gain attention for their causes, to "advance" such causes or to do what they they think is "right." They come in all colors from anti-war activists to anti-abortion activists to pro-choice activists to anarchists to neo-nazis and to the Reverend Phelps and then some. If by "mentally ill," we mean to condemn their viewpoints and/or their methodologies, I'm on board. If, however, by "mentally ill," we mean to exculpate them because they're "sick," I cannot support such a label. Particularly with Teddy, he's very intelligent, he knew what he was doing, and he acted in a very calculated, fatal manner. As with his brother, perhaps he's somewhat paranoid, but so what? Loyalty has its limits, his brother drew the line shorter than Ted would have. He knew that what he was doing was "wrong," as viewed by the civilization he aimed to undermine, else he wouldn't have tried to avoid being caught (including by living in a cabin in the woods?). If we're not going to bring the heat for a criminal such as Ted Kaczynski, we'll ultimatelty excuse virtually everyone for everything.

Posted by: Ben D | Jan 31, 2007 11:49:41 AM

I think I should make specific points about goals, possibilities, and evidence in this case:

1.) Regarding his goal: One might reasonably question if his goal was rational, given its dismal prospects for success. I might have as a goal to convince everyone that I am God and that they should follow me (and one could imagine that an egotistical person might have such a goal.) However, should I devote my life to that goal, given its dismal prospects, one might question the rationality of the goal itself (regardless of the underlying motivations - which may also be irrational, or psychopathological - that's another topic altogether.)

One could further question the goal to determine if it's a "good" or reasonable goal. We need to forget relativism here (as Ted would have wanted us to do, as he rails on cultural relativism in his manifesto). I, for one, am not willing to just give people carte blanch to declare their goals, and then accept them whatever they may be, "just because". Some people have better goals than others.

2.) Regarding possibilities for achieving his goals: he appears to have performed an inadequate serach for possible ways to further his goals. While he did get his manifesto published, he markedly undermined his credibility in so doing. He appears to have given inadequate consideration to peaceable means of schieving his goal, or other more creative means. He was an accomplished intellectual. He has little excuse for such a quick resort to violence.

[Regarding his internal consistency (living in the cabin and practicing as he preaches and so forth) - consistency is only one part of logic. Moreover, it is not consistent that he used mass media (a product of technology) to distribute his manifesto]

3.) Regarding evidence: He apparently did not consider evidence (more than superficially) that would weigh on his goals or on the possibilities for achieving them. In fact, he does a generally poor job of defending his goals, and many of his points. his entire manifesto is nothing but a philosophical viewpoint. Current methods of social science could have been applied to test his hypotheses.

These considerations, combined with the fact that he was basically a very highly intelligent but socially dysfunctional individual (as evidenced by his comments about women, his romantic shortcomings, and his antipathy for his mother for allowing him to suffer socially so much, and his relationship with his only friend his brother) make ME consider the POSSIBILITY that his whole sociopathic tirade and violence spree was motivated by great antipathy and contempt for the society that shunned him and frustrated his goals of romantic love and fitting in. If such motivations (which are basically tehmselves goals) exist, they would provide perhaps the missing keys to the puzzle as to how this apparently rational man behaved so irrationally and failed to properly consider other possibilities and evidence for his STATED GOAL. That is, he has more base emotional goals that he was also subserving in parallel with his "anti-technology" goal - namely, acting out in hatred against society.

[I reinforce that I am, in the last paragraph, only stating a possibility. I have very little evidence for it.]

Posted by: Scott A | Jan 31, 2007 12:21:46 PM

I found the short article by David Kaczynski very interesting. At length, he discusses the hardship on families when a loved one is a convicted killer and the heartache that ensues when the person is faced with the possibility of death. What I found most interesting is that David states that his family can live with Ted serving a life sentence, but they couldn't have dealt with the death penalty. After all the discussions we have had in class about what prison is like and how many think it is a harsher sentence than death, I began to think this was a somewhat selfish statement. To want someone to stay alive and spend the rest of his life in a “fate worst than death” just because you feel guilty or you “love” him seems at odds with the idea of true love of a family member.
Suppose Ted would prefer the death penalty, not due to mental illness but because he thought it would be the better alternative for him (I don't know if he ever stated which he preferred). Family members are often allowed to ask for mercy, but what if their requests are against the wishes of the accused? Should the justice system take into account whether his family would prefer him to serve a life sentence? I would love to hear any thoughts on this.

Posted by: Tiffany L. | Jan 31, 2007 12:29:42 PM

To update my post of about 5 mins ago, Ted has stated that he would prefer death over imprisionment in the Times article. So, if he had not plea bargained, at the sentencing stage, should the views of the family be considered if they oppose the death penalty but the accused wants it?

Posted by: Tiffany L. | Jan 31, 2007 12:38:02 PM

"Moreover, it is not consistent that he used mass media (a product of technology) to distribute his manifesto."

That's a fantastic point. I think it goes to show one of many overt inconsistencies and irrationalities of the anarchist movement itself. Another is that Jeff Monson is a self-avowed staunch anarchist who fights (or at least has) in the UFC, an LLC with monthly PPV events, under a 6-figure contract while railing against the evils of capitalism(!?). Some "peace" advocates engage in violent demonstrations. My point is that individual examples of irrationality exist in most radical movements and often underlie individual crimes. Many radicals do not care about breaking a law here or there as long as it can serve as a means to their end. The fact that they do not use the best means available to do so just supports their criminality (and potentially the lack of validity to their movements) and should not be used as a means of giving them an out when the law is enforced against them.

Posted by: Ben D | Jan 31, 2007 1:20:12 PM

As discussed in class, there is a strong possibility that Ryan's motives for focusing on the death penalty were not entirely pure. I think this begs the question: Does motive matter? Ryan may very well have started this entire crusade as a distraction from his impending legal problems, but, in the minds of the anti-death penalty crowd, his results have been outstanding. Are results all we care about?

Posted by: Tiffany L. | Jan 31, 2007 1:22:51 PM

disregard my last post, it was intended to be a comment on the next post...sorry!

Posted by: Tiffany L. | Jan 31, 2007 1:24:49 PM

To Tiffany - Great questions. Ultimately, though, doesn't it seem a bit bizarre to honor a convicted murderer's request of punishment, simply because he requests the punishment that society seems to think of as worse? Afterall, if he asked for life in prison instead of death, we certainly wouldn't honor that request.

Posted by: Brett T. | Jan 31, 2007 1:26:32 PM

And then there's Teddie's failed attempt at suicide in his cell in, I think, 1999.

Posted by: Scott A | Jan 31, 2007 4:07:31 PM

Regarding the statistical differences between execution rates in Tx, Fl, and OH:

Using the state populations as the denominator and the number of executions as numerator, there ARE highly statistically significant differences in the rates of executions between states (Sorry, Prof Berman, I was mistaken after class yesterday - formal analysis does indeed show statistically significant differences).

For Tx versus Fl, p<0.0000
For Tx versus OH, p<0.0000
For Fl versus OH, p=0.02

(all p-values calculated by the Chi-square test of proportions).

This analysis does not account for multiple comparisons, so the FL-OH difference is suspect as the p-value is marginal.

HOWEVER, using state population as the denominator is really not the right way to do the calculations, because this is not the "at risk" group. The "at risk" group, however, is clearly identifiable: It is the number of persons who were tried and found guilty of capital murder (and therefore were eligible for capital punishment). If we had that number, we could calculate more reasonable estimates of the rates of executions and do more reliable statistical comparisons.

Posted by: Scott A | Feb 1, 2007 10:30:42 AM

Also note that in spite of the highly statistically significant differences, the absolute risk difference is infinitesimally small (1.74*10^-7 versus 1.15*10^-7); the risk ratio is 0.9999985, meaning that your chances are virtually identical in each state.

Posted by: Scott A | Feb 1, 2007 11:53:22 AM

Hi to all..
As discussed in class, there is a strong possibility that Ryan's motives for focusing on the death penalty were not entirely pure.

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