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By pleading guilty to federal charges this 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 Monday. The plea deal — announced late Friday by the U.S. Department of Justice — included a promise from Fulton County 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, plaintiffs’ lawyers said. The plaintiffs claim that 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. ACOG’s lawyer, T. Ryan Mock Jr. of Hawkins & Parnell, 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. Bauer & Deitch’s Gilbert H. Deitch, who represents Hawthorne’s widower, John Hawthorne, said he will try to serve Rudolph with a subpoena when he comes to Atlanta on Wednesday to plead guilty to the Olympic bombing and 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. COMMERCIAL OR RECREATIONAL? 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 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 ACOG’s Olympic souvenir shop — was commercial, then the issue will be whether ACOG provided adequate security. Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games v. Hawthorne, 278 Ga. 116 (2004). SATISFIED BY LIFE SENTENCES A spokesman for U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias said he could not comment on Fulton 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. Erik Friedly, the spokesman for Howard, said Monday that federal authorities asked Howard to promise not to prosecute Rudolph if Rudolph agreed to plead guilty to the federal charges. “We felt it made sense,” said Friedly, adding that Howard was satisfied that Rudolph would serve life sentences without the possibility of parole. Federal prosecutors said in a release issued Friday that a key part of their deal with Rudolph was his identifying locations where he had hidden explosives around North Carolina. The explosives were found and disarmed last week, the release added. Friedly said Howard thought that if the federal authorities thought they could have won a death penalty verdict, they would have pursued it instead of making a plea deal. Howard would not have expected a different result had he brought a murder case stemming from the Olympic bombing, said Friedly, adding that Fulton prosecutors would have been using the same evidence available to federal prosecutors. Terry Nichols, convicted of federal charges stemming from the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, was tried on state murder charges. But in both cases he was sentenced to life imprisonment, according to a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma County prosecutor’s office.

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