Bombing suspect Eric Rudolph pleads innocent in 1998 clinic bombing

Tuesday, June 3rd 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- Olympic bombing suspect Eric Rudolph pleaded innocent Tuesday in a deadly explosion at a Birmingham abortion clinic, a blast that was followed by five years on the lam as he ate wild game, acorns and lizards to survive.

Rudolph pleaded innocent before federal Magistrate Judge Michael Putnam for the bombing of New Woman All Women Health Care, where an off-duty police officer was killed and a nurse critically injured on Jan. 29, 1998.

He could face the death penalty, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Whisonant gave no indication whether the government will seek such a sentence.

The judge asked Rudolph whether he understood the possible penalties to which Rudolph replied: "I do, your honor."

Putnam set a trial date for Aug. 4 to comply with federal laws requiring a speedy trail but said it would likely be postponed because of pre-trail proceedings. He scheduled a June 10 hearing on whether Rudolph can be released on bond.

Meanwhile, authorities in North Carolina said Rudolph described his time between the bombing and his capture last weekend as a struggle for survival.

"He talked about the conditions being hard at times," said Cherokee County Sheriff Keith Lovin. "The first winter he about starved. He said, 'It's kind of hard to live on acorns and lizards."'

A former soldier and survivalist, Rudolph, 36, was captured in Murphy, N.C., early Saturday while looking for food behind a supermarket.

Authorities had been searching for Rudolph since a witness saw his gray Nissan pickup truck near the scene of the Birmingham bombing. Evidence connected to that blast led authorities on their hunt for Rudolph, and he soon became one of the FBI's Most Wanted fugitives.

Rudolph appeared healthy with short hair and fairly clean clothes when he was arrested, raising questions about whether he had help during his time on the run.

"It's surprising. I thought he'd come out looking like Grizzly Adams," said Randy Christian, a spokesman for the sheriff's office in Birmingham.

Rudolph also is accused the 1996 Olympic bombing in Atlanta, where a women was killed and more than 100 were injured, and a pair of 1997 bombings in Atlanta that rocked a lesbian bar and a building that housed an abortion clinic.

Attorney General John Ashcroft decided Rudolph would stand trial first in Birmingham, saying that case offered the greatest chance of success.

In North Carolina, Lovin said Rudolph told jailers about living off the land while on the lam.

When he killed an animal, Lovin said, Rudolph had to eat the meat for as long as he could before it spoiled. He said Rudolph said he also was able to dry some vegetables.

"He talked about foraging for supplies and hunting," Lovin said. "Turkeys, wild boar, bear, deer."

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