From the Daily Reflector. "Mentally ill don't deserve death penalty, group argues"
When David Kaczynski talks about his brother, he recounts a caring sibling, seven years his senior, who once attached an empty spool to a screen door at three-year-old Kaczynski’s eye level, so the youth could get back inside after playing in their backyard outside Chicago.
Most Americans remember his brother as the Unabomber, the FBI’s most-wanted man in the mid 1990s who was convicted of sending homemade bombs through the mail during a 17-year period. He killed three and injured 23 during his campaign, conducted from a secluded Montana cabin.
It was David Kaczynski who turned the FBI onto his brother after reading a Unabomber manifesto that sounded like Ted, and he shared the turmoil proceeding and following that decision with 30 people Thursday night at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
The visit marks the halfway point in a statewide tour organized by Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation. The advocacy group argues against the death penalty and partners with the state’s Coalition for a Moratorium in support of House Bill 137, which would eliminate the death penalty as an option for people with severe mental illness.
Ted Kaczynski is a paranoid schizophrenic who refuses to recognize his condition. He doesn’t answer letters from David Kaczynski or their mother.
David Kaczynski described the agony of recognizing evidence of his brother’s thinking in the manifesto, brought to his attention by his wife, Linda. Meeting with families of victims, sharing the facts with his aging mother — his journey was related in calm detail to the strangers in the parish hall.
“For us, it was almost like the end of the world,” he said of Ted Kaczynski’s arrest. “We knew for the rest of time that our name would carry a stigma. Of murder. Of madness.
“It’s like you’re living in a shadow. Everything is changed.”
Ted Kaczynski is serving a life sentence without parole in a Colorado super-maximum security prison, secured during a plea deal his brother believes was taken to avoid any claims of mental instability.
David Kaczynski was joined Thursday by another man, Bill Babbitt, who shared a tale that was eerily similar yet different.
Babbitt’s younger brother, Manny, was convicted of killing 86-year-old Leah Schendel at her Sacramento home in 1980. The murder was committed during a post-traumatic stress disorder-induced flashback to moments internalized during two Marine Corps tours of Vietnam, Babbitt said.
“He was truly traumatized by the war,” Babbitt said, adding that his brother spent three years in a mental institution before moving to California, and also was schizophrenic.
Manny Babbitt dropped out of school in seventh grade and had two failed marriages.
Lke David Kaczynski, Bill Babbitt turned his brother into the police. He had read about Schendel’s death in the papers and discovered a lighter and a train-shaped coin bank belonging to the elderly woman when trying to figure out where Manny went each night.
Manny Babbitt isn’t serving time. He was executed in May 1999. David Kaczynski pointed out that this was despite the fact Manny Babbitt was mentally ill, a veteran and had a court-appointed lawyer who had never tried a criminal case.
“We’re not killing those who committed the worst crimes,” David Kaczynski said. “We’re executing those who had the worst attorneys.”
There are 157 people on death row in North Carolina. Coalition for a Moratorium Director Jeremy Collins said the proposed state law would close a loophole. Mental disorders would be identified at the beginning of a trial, with the maximum punishment life in prison without parole.
“It’ll take hard work, and it’ll take heart work,” he told those in attendance.
There was plenty of heart on the table Thursday night.
“I watched my brother die,” Bill Babbitt said. “I had such shame and guilt.”
He held up a photo of Manny Babbitt in a flag-draped coffin.
“They didn’t have to do this,” he said. “You don’t have to take a life to show that killing is wrong.”