R. Budd Dwyer's Suicide

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A so-called non-shocking screenshot from his public suicide video, a few seconds before the shooting.

R. Budd Dwyer's Suicide was an incident that occurred in a press conference at January 22, 1987. The reason Dwyer committed suicide is because he was going to be sentenced to 55 years in prison and given a $305,000 fine for no actual, true reason, and he was innocent. It was not live on television, it was first broadcasted an hour after Dwyer shot himself.

Background

In a meeting in his home, Dwyer discussed the idea of a press conference with his press secretary James "Duke" Horshock and Deputy Treasurer Don Johnson on January 15, 1987. At that time, Johnson cautioned Dwyer not to use such a forum to attack the governor or other individuals involved with his criminal conviction, and Dwyer assured him that he would not do so. Both men left assuming Dwyer would ultimately resign if the press conference were held.

Dwyer finally reached Senator Specter by telephone on January 21, two days before his sentencing. A Specter aide stated that the two of them talked for 8 to 10 minutes. Following up on his letter to the senator asking for help, he personally wrote to President Ronald Reagan asking for a presidential pardon. In his letter, Dwyer once again professed his innocence and stated that the concept of immediate credit was not understood by the uneducated, unsophisticated "rural" jury at his trial. The senator responded that this request to President Reagan was "not realistic" because the judicial process, including appeals, had not yet run its course.

Initially, Dwyer wanted to ban certain reporters from the press conference who he believed wrote biased accounts about him and even suggested that a guard should be in attendance to prevent entry to those who were not on his authorized list. Horshock, who was unconvinced about Dwyer's claims that he was being conspired against, objected, stating to Dwyer that he could not "use state government facilities to manipulate the free flow of information".

The night before the press conference, Dwyer wrote the following note as it says:

"I enjoy being with Jo so much, the next 20 years or so would have been wonderful. Tomorrow is going to be so difficult and I hope I can go through with it."

Dwyer's press statement

The next morning, Dwyer went to his press conference as planned. Appearing nervous and agitated, he again professed his innocence and began reading from a 21-page prepared text later described as a "rambling polemic about the criminal justice system". It singled out former Governor Thornburgh, Acting U.S. Attorney West, agents in the FBI, Judge Muir, and others for tarnishing the justice system and ruining him. Dwyer stated that Attorney West purposely had Dwyer's trial not in Harrisburg but in Williamsport, since in Williamsport the jury pool was the most uneducated in the state of Pennsylvania. Dwyer spoke out against the death penalty and expressed regret for voting in favor of it while he was in the Pennsylvania assembly. This speech lasted nearly 30 minutes, and approximately halfway into it, with no apparent end in sight, some of the gathered press began to pack up and leave. Dwyer spotted this and interrupted himself to say, "Those of you who are putting your cameras away, I think you ought to stay because we're not, we're not finished yet." Dwyer then continued as it says:

"I thank the good Lord for giving me 47 years of exciting challenges, stimulating experiences, many happy occasions and most of all, the finest wife and children any man could ever desire. Now my life has changed for no apparent reason. People who call and write are exasperated and feel helpless. They know I am innocent and want to help, but in this nation, the worlds greatest democracy, there is nothing they can do to prevent me from being punished for a crime they know I did not commit. Some who have called have said that I am a modern day Job. Judge Muir is also noted for his medieval sentences. I face a maximum sentence of 55 years in prison and a $305,000 fine for being innocent. Judge Muir has already told the press that he felt "invigorated" when we were found guilty and that he plans to imprison me as a "deterrant" to other public officials. But it wouldn't be a deterrant because every public official who knows me knows that I am innocent. It wouldn't be legitimate punishment because I've done nothing wrong. Since I'm a victim of political persecution, my prison would simply be an American Gulag. I ask those that believe in me to continue to extend friendship and prayer to my family, to work untiringly for the creation of a true justice system here in the United States, and to press on with the efforts to vindicate me, so that my family and their future families are not tainted by this injustice that has been perpetrated on me. We were confident that right and truth would prevail and I would be acquitted and we would devote the rest of our lives working to create a justice system here in the United States. The guilty verdict has strengthened that resolve. But as we've discussed our plans to expose the warts of our legal system, people have said, 'Why bother? No one cares, you'll look foolish, 60 Minutes, 20/20, the American Civil Liberties Union, Jack Anderson, and others have been publicizing cases like yours for years and it doesn't bother anyone."


At this point, Dwyer stopped reading from his prepared remarks, with the gathered press still waiting on his expected resignation. There was still a significant portion remaining, which detailed what he was actually planning to do, and it read as follows:

"I've repeatedly said that I'm not going to resign as State Treasurer. After many hours of thought and meditation I've made a decision that should not be an example to anyone because it is unique to my situation. Last May I told you that after the trial, I would give you the story of the decade. To those of you who are shallow, the events of this morning will be that story. But to those of you with depth and concern the real story will be what I hope and pray results from this morning–in the coming months and years, the development of a true justice system here in the United States. I am going to die in office in an effort to see if the shameful facts, spread out in all their shame, will not burn through our civic shamelessness and set fire to American pride.' Please tell my story on every radio and television station and in every newspaper and magazine in the U.S. Please leave immediately if you have a weak stomach or mind since I don't want to cause physical or mental distress. Joanne, Rob, DeeDee, I love you! Thank you for making my life so happy. Good bye to you all on the count of 3. Please make sure that the sacrifice of my life is not in vain."


After deciding to break from his speech, Dwyer called to three of his staffers, giving each a sealed envelope with the insignia of the treasury department. The first envelope, given to Bob Holste, contained a letter addressed to then-Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey, who had taken office just two days earlier. The second, given to deputy press secretary Gregory Penny, contained an organ donor card and other related materials. The last, given to Deputy Treasurer Don Johnson, contained materials intended for Dwyer's family, including three letters, one for his wife Joanne, and one for each of his children, Rob and DeeDee Dyan and suggested funeral arrangements.

Suicide

After he had finished speaking and handing out the notes to his staffers, Dwyer then produced a manila envelope with either a Smith & Wesson Model 27 or Model 19 .357 Magnum revolver in it. When the crowd in the room saw what Dwyer had pulled out of the envelope, the mood changed immediately from one of waiting to see whether he would resign his office to one of panic as nobody knew what he was planning to do with the gun. People gasped, and Dwyer backed up against the wall, holding the weapon close to his body. Dwyer calmly stated to his audience, "Please, please leave the room if this will ... if this will affect you."

Some people in the room left to call for help. Among those who stayed, some pleaded with Dwyer to surrender the gun while others tried to approach him and seize the weapon. Dwyer warned against either action, exclaiming in his final words, "Don't, don't, don't, this will hurt someone. Sit down.” A moment later, Dwyer quickly fired one shot through the roof of his mouth and into his brain, and collapsed to the floor, dead. Five news cameras recorded the events. One of the cameras remained focused on Dwyer and captured close up footage of the aftermath of the shooting as his body slumped, blood streamed from the exit wound in the back of his head as well as from his nostrils and mouth. Horshock took the podium and asked the media to leave and for someone to call for medical assistance and the police.

Television broadcasts

Many television stations throughout Pennsylvania broadcast taped footage of Dwyer's suicide to a midday audience. Philadelphia station WPVI showed Dwyer pulling the trigger and falling backwards, but did not show the bullet path. Over the next several hours, news editors had to decide how much of the graphic footage to air. Many chose not to air the final moments of the suicide and WPVI also chose not to show the gunshot a second time.

Many stations, including WCAU and Pennsylvania's Group W stations KYW and KDKA, froze the action just before the gunshot. However, the latter two allowed the audio of the shooting to continue under the frozen image. Group W's news cameraman William L. "Bill" Martin and reporter David Sollenberger had a camera set up at the conference. They chose to air the audio with a freeze-frame of the gun in Dwyer's mouth. Only a handful aired the unedited press conference. WPVI in Philadelphia re-broadcast the suicide footage in full on their 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Action News broadcast without warning the viewers. That station's broadcast is a source for copies circulating on the Internet. WPXI in Pittsburgh is reported by the Associated Press to have broadcast the footage uncensored on an early newscast. In explaining the decision to air, WPXI operations manager By Williams said, "It's an important event about an important man." Williams avoided airing the footage in the evening newscasts, explaining, "Everyone knows by then that he did it. There are children out of school." However, in central Pennsylvania, many children were home from school during the day of Dwyer's suicide due to a snowstorm. Harrisburg TV station WHTM-TV opted to broadcast uncut video of the suicide twice that day, defending the decision (despite hundreds of viewer complaints afterward) due to the important nature of the story.

Many older students reacted to the event by creating black comedy jokes similar to those that circulated after the Challenger disaster. A study of the incidence of the jokes showed that they were told only in areas where stations showed uncensored footage of the press conference. At least one reporter present at Dwyer's suicide suffered from being a witness. Tony Romeo, a radio reporter, was standing a few feet from Dwyer. After the suicide, Romeo developed depression and took a break from journalism.

Official Video (warning for sensitive people)

Comments


avatar

HammerBro101

5 months ago
Score 6
I really feel bad for this man. He shot himself after finding out he was going to serve 55 years in jail, and that's just sad. News reporter Tony Romeo went into depression, but thankfully, he overcame it.

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