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Atlanta—By pleading guilty to federal charges last week, Eric Robert Rudolph could clear the way to becoming a key witness in upcoming civil trials about the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, plaintiffs’ lawyers said last week. The plea deal included a promise from Fulton County, Ga., District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr. that he would not bring state charges against Rudolph, according to a spokesman for Howard. Without fear of state prosecution, Rudolph could be compelled to testify at trials in which victims of the Olympic bombing are suing Rudolph and the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG), plaintiffs’ lawyers said. The plaintiffs claim that the ACOG’s poor security allowed Rudolph to bring his bomb into the park and detonate it, killing Alice Hawthorne and injuring more than 100 others. The Olympic committee’s lawyer, T. Ryan Mock Jr. of Hawkins & Parnell of Atlanta, could not be reached to discuss the case or the impact of Rudolph’s plea deal. “We’re going to request [Rudolph's] deposition,” said James N. Sadd, an Atlanta lawyer representing Carletta Ash and others injured in the park bombing. On May 2, the suit brought by Ash, who suffered shoulder and nerve damage from shrapnel caused by the Olympic bomb, will be the first among dozens of cases expected to be tried by Fulton County State Court Judge Henry M. Newkirk. Rudolph could help the plaintiffs’ cases by telling jurors how easy it was to bring explosives into the park, said Sadd, a principal in Slappey & Sadd. But the lawyer added that he is not expecting much to come from Rudolph. Given that Rudolph will be serving life sentences, he could ignore subpoenas without risking punishment. “There’s very little they can do to him,” said Garland, Samuel & Loeb’s Robin N. Loeb, who represents Fallon Stubbs, the daughter of Hawthorne. Access to evidence? Bauer & Deitch’s Gilbert H. Deitch, an Atlanta lawyer who represents Hawthorne’s widower, John Hawthorne, said he would try to serve Rudolph with a subpoena when he was scheduled to come to Atlanta on April 13 to plead guilty to the Olympic bombing, as well as the 1997 bombings at a Sandy Springs, Ga., abortion clinic and the Otherside Lounge, a gay and lesbian nightclub. “I want to know what went down,” said Deitch, referring to the information he’ll seek from Rudolph. Deitch added that he expects the plea deal to allow him and other lawyers access to federal evidence on the bombings that could prove helpful in the civil cases. As a result of years of court wrangling, the civil cases will include an unusual question for jurors: whether Centennial Olympic Park was a space for recreation or a space for commercial activity. Last year, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that if the jury determines the park was purely recreational, the state Recreational Property Act would immunize the ACOG from the suits. If jurors say the park-which featured a food court, an AT&T communications tent, a Swatch store, a sports bar run by Anheuser-Busch and the ACOG’s Olympic souvenir shop-was commercial, then the issue will be whether the ACOG provided adequate security. Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games v. Hawthorne, 278 Ga. 116 (2004). A spokesman for U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias said he could not comment on Fulton County DA Howard’s role in the plea deal. Judy Clarke, the federal public defender identified as Rudolph’s lawyer, could not be reached to discuss the case.

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