ATLANTA - With a slight tremor in his voice, convicted bomber Eric Rudolph apologized yesterday for people maimed or killed by a pipe bomb packed with nails that he planted amid a crowd during the 1996 Olympics.
"Responsibility for what took place in the park that night belongs to me and me alone," said Rudolph, 38. "I would do anything to take that night back. To those victims, I do apologize."
In a chilly, nondescript courtroom, Rudolph's victims stood before him: A college instructor in a tweed jacket suddenly thrust his hand into the air to show Rudolph the stump where his index finger had been blown off. A retired federal agent called Rudolph an "isolated cancer of mankind." A blond female executive told him to "rot in hell."
At a hearing at which he received four consecutive life sentences, plus 120 years, Rudolph did not wink and smirk, as he had at previous appearances. But the victims who filed out of the courthouse - even the most optimistic of them - were not sure they had seen true emotion.
"It sounded sincere," said John Hawthorne, whose wife, Alice, was killed in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing. "Whether or not it was, no one will ever know other than him."
There was also, pointedly, no apology for his second and third bombings in this city - of an abortion clinic and a gay nightclub. Tonya Wolford, who still suffers seizures from the nightclub blast, wiped tears from her face as she left the courtroom.
"He was real cold and callous," said Wolford, 39, who was an ironworker before her injury. As she catalogued her injuries - fluid on the brain, partial hearing loss, post-traumatic stress disorder - "he got this grin on his face, gave a half-cocked laugh and looked away."
The sentencing hearing marked the end of a wrenching chapter in Atlanta's history.
Among the team of agents who participated in the investigation - the largest in state history - were some, said U.S. Attorney David Nahmias, who "have been on this case literally since 1:20 in the morning on July 27," the day the blast shook Olympic Park. One agent, he said, "has three kids of pretty good size who didn't exist when that bomb went off."
Rudolph's first bomb hit Atlanta at its most jubilant moment - in the middle of an event designed to vault the city into national prominence. The city's skyscrapers were illuminated with strobe lights, manhole covers were welded closed as a precaution and a huge Ferris wheel spun in a downtown parking lot.
A week into the games, 50,000 people were gathered in Centennial Olympic Park to hear a band called Jack Mack and the Heart Attack. It was in that crowd, at 1:27 a.m., that a pipe bomb exploded, spattering blood across the new plaza. As the acrid cloud cleared, dozens of bodies lay on the ground, and 44-year-old Alice Hawthorne, who had brought her daughter Fallon to the concert as a birthday treat, was dead.
Fallon Stubbs, now 23, was one of the survivors who addressed Rudolph for the first time yesterday. He seemed different today, she said - "humble."
"Today, not for you, but for me, I forgive," she told Rudolph. "If I cry, it's not for me, or for my father, or for my mother. It's for you."
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.