Eric Rudolph, not Richard Jewell, was the real man responsible for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games bombing in Centennial Park that left two dead and over 100 injured. Ahead of the premiere of Manhunt: Deadly Games on CBS, which tells the story of Jewell’s media firestorm and the ensuing FBI manhunt for Rudolph, here’s what you need to know about the bomber’s trial and sentencing.
Rudolph Wasn’t Caught For Seven Years After the Bombing
Richard Jewell was a brief suspect in the bombing because he was on the scene and found the bomb. The FBI believed it might be a case of the bomber trying to appear as a hero to the media. After three months, however, the FBI cleared Jewell of any involvement and found themselves without a suspect.
But in 1997, three similar bombings in Atlanta and the Birmingham, Alabama, area gave the FBI a partial license plate, which eventually led them to Eric Robert Rudolph, a carpenter who went on the fun and became a fugitive until May 2003.
On May 31, 2003, Rudolph was spotted by rookie police officer Jeffrey Postell around 4 a.m. behind a grocery store during a routine patrol in Murphy, North Carolina. Postell told CNN at the time that he thought it was a burglary in progress.
“As I came around the corner, I turned my headlights off,” Postell said, “and I observed a male subject squatted in the middle of the road. As I approached, he took off running and hid behind some milk crates. Not knowing who it was or what he had, I took safety into concern and advised him to come out, and he complied with everything I asked him to do.”
What Postell didn’t know until later was that he had found one of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted Fugitives. It was actually Deputy Sean Mathews who recognized Rudolph.
Rudolph Was Sentenced to Life in Prison After Pleading Guilty
The Atlanta Olympics incident was Rudolph’s first bombing. He went on to bomb two abortion clinics and a lesbian night club. After he was caught, Rudolph pleaded guilty to those bombings, managing to avoid facing the death penalty because he told authorities about hundreds of pounds of explosives he had hidden all over the North Carolina mountains, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.
In the courtroom, Rudolph said that stopping “this holocaust” of abortion was his goal. He apologized to anyone who was hurt or killed who wasn’t connected to the government. He also revealed that the Olympics bombing was part of a week-long series of explosions designed to shut down the Summer games and embarrass the U.S. government. He wrote in his manifesto that the Olympic bombing “was to confound, anger and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand.”
But all of that turned out to be a ruse.
At the 2020 Television Critics Association winter press tour, actor Jack Huston, who plays Rudolph in Manhunt: Deadly Games, called him “reprehensibly terrible” and a “complete sociopath,” but for an actor, that was the appeal of the character.
“He was an interesting character to approach because he is, he’s reprehensibly terrible. He was a narcissist, he was a complete sociopath … [and] a master manipulator. He was an actor. He performed and managed to sort everything to his own benefit. And he would contradict and claim, you know, he was doing it for the anti-abortion, the anti-gay, you know, the army of God. And when you really got down to it after the research that I did, because there’s actually zero recordings or video footage of Eric Rudolph but there’s a lot of writing, most of it his own. And you find out that it was all an act. He turned on his own family. And he’d been planning it for years. So, you know, this is someone who was just bad at his core,” said Huston.
Huston also said that it was important that they not “glorify” Rudolph because “a lot of these programs and films and shows can glorify these killers and there was nothing to glorify in this.”
“He was truly bad and he murdered and acted without a conscience … [then] he became a celebrity because he evaded the FBI in the Nantahala wilderness for five years. That became a story unto itself and people all started supporting him. They started thinking he was this sort of hero and sort of out doing God’s work and that wasn’t the case. So, hopefully, we are going to really get to experience, you know, the truth of this. And a lot of people still don’t even know that Richard Jewell wasn’t responsible for this, and that’s the saddest part. It was Eric Rudolph. There’s no question. It was Eric Rudolph. That’s the end of it.”
Manhunt: Deadly Games airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.