Richard Jewell's Olympic Nightmare

The search warrant was short and succinct, dated August 3, 9:41 a.m. F.B.I. special agent Diader Rosario was instructed to produce "hair samples (twenty-five pulled and twenty-five combed hairs from the head)" of Richard Allensworth Jewell. That Saturday, Atlanta was humid; the temperature would rise to 85 degrees. There were 34 Olympic events scheduled, including women's team handball, but Richard Jewell was in his mother's apartment playing Defender on a computer set up in the spare bedroom. Jewell hadn't slept at all the night before, or the night before that. He could hear the noise from the throng of reporters massed on the hill outside the small apartment in the suburbs. All morning long, he had been focused on the screen, trying to score off "the little guy who goes back and forth shooting the aliens," but at 12:30 the sound of the telephone disturbed his concentration. Very few people had his new number, by necessity unlisted. Since the F.B.I. had singled him out as the Olympic Park bombing suspect three days earlier, Jewell had received approximately l,000 calls a day—someone had posted his mother's home number on the Internet.

 

"I'll be right over," his lawyer Watson Bryant told him. "They want your hair, they want your palm prints, and they want something called a voice exemplar—the goddamn bastards." The curtains were drawn in the pastel apartment filled with his mother's crafts and samplers; a home without a dog is just a house, one read. By this time Bryant had a system. He would call Jewell from his car phone so that the door could be unlatched and Bryant could avoid the questions from the phalanx of reporters on the hill.

 

Turning into the parking lot in a white Explorer, Bryant could see sound trucks parked up and down Buford Highway. The middle-class neighborhood of apartment complexes and shopping centers was near the DeKalb Peachtree Airport, where local millionaires kept their private planes. The moment Bryant got out of his car, the reporters began to shout: "Hey, Watson, do they have the murderer?" "Are they arresting Jewell?" Bryant moved quickly toward the staircase to the Jewells' apartment. He wore a baseball cap, khaki shorts, and a frayed Brooks Brothers polo shirt. He was 45 years old, with strong features and thinning hair, a southern preppy from a country-club family. Bryant had a stern demeanor lightened by a contrarian's sense of the absurd. He was often distracted—from time to time he would miss his exits on the highway—and he had the regional tendency of defining himself by explaining what he was not. "I am not a Democrat, because they want your money. I am not a Republican, because they take your rights away," he told me soon after I met him. Bryant can talk your ear off about the Bill of Rights, ending with a flourish: "I think everyone ought to have the right to be stupid. I am a Libertarian."

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