Rudolph v. United States

Decision Date29 July 2021
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 2:20-cv-08024-CLS,Criminal Case No. CR-00-S-0422-S
Parties Eric Robert RUDOLPH, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES of America, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Alabama

551 F.Supp.3d 1270

Eric Robert RUDOLPH, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES of America, Respondent.

Civil Action No. 2:20-cv-08024-CLS
Criminal Case No.
CR-00-S-0422-S

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division.

Signed July 29, 2021


551 F.Supp.3d 1272

Deanna L. Oswald, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Kevin L. Butler, Federal Public Defender Northern District of Alabama, Birmingham, AL, for Petitioner.

US Attorney Prim F. Escalona, Lane H. Woodke, William Russell Chambers, Jr, US Attorney's Office, Birmingham, AL, for Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Lynwood Smith, Senior United States District Judge

Eric Robert Rudolph pled guilty in this court on April 13, 2005, to both counts of an indictment charging him, in Count One, with maliciously damaging by means of an explosive a building and property used in an activity affecting interstate commerce, thereby causing the death of one person and inflicting severe personal injuries on another, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(i) ; and, in Count Two, with knowingly using a destructive device during the crime of violence charged in Count One, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1). He was sentenced to consecutive life sentences on July 18, 2005.1 He now is back before the court after filing, on June 22, 2020, a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, correct, or set aside his sentence for the offense alleged in Count Two. His motion is based upon the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Davis , ––– U.S. ––––, 139 S. Ct. 2319, 204 L.Ed.2d 757 (2019), holding that the definition of the term "crime of violence" contained in 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3)(B) is unconstitutionally vague and, therefore, void. See doc. no. 1 (Motion to Vacate Sentence).2

This court stayed these proceedings, pending the Supreme Court's ruling in Borden v. United States , ––– U.S. ––––, 141 S. Ct. 1817, 210 L.Ed.2d 63 (2021) : a case that raised the question of whether a defendant's prior conviction for an offense that required a "mens rea" (subjective mental state)3 of "recklessness" qualified

551 F.Supp.3d 1273

as a "violent felony" under the "elements clause" of the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(i).4 The answer to that question is important, in view of Rudolph's argument that the offense of arson charged in Count One cannot serve as the predicate (or basis) for the § 924(c)(1) offense alleged in Count Two, because conviction for arson requires proof that a defendant "maliciously" damaged property with a destructive device, and a mens rea of "maliciousness" does not require proof of "intentional conduct," but can be satisfied by some degree of "recklessness." See doc. no. 14 (Petitioner Rudolph's Reply), at 19–22. The Supreme Court issued its ruling in Borden on June 10, 2021, and held that a criminal offense requiring a mens rea of "recklessness" does not qualify as a "violent felony" under the elements clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act. Borden v. United States , ––– U.S. ––––, 141 S. Ct. 1817, 1821–22, 210 L.Ed.2d 63 (2021).5 The remainder of this opinion evaluates Rudolph's motion in light of the Supreme Court's holdings in Davis and Borden .

I. RUDOLPH'S INDICTMENT

A. Count One of the Superseding Indictment : malicious damage of property with an explosive

On or about the 29th day of January, 1998, in Jefferson County, within the Northern District of Alabama, the defendant, ERIC ROBERT RUDOLPH, did maliciously damage, by means of an explosive, a building and property used in an activity affecting interstate and foreign commerce, namely the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic located at 1001 17th Street South in Birmingham, Alabama, which prohibited conduct resulted in the death of Robert D. Sanderson and personal injury to Emily Lyons, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 844(i).

Criminal Case No. CR 00-S-0422-S, doc. no. 17 (Superseding Indictment), at 1. The statute upon which Count One is based defines the federal offense of arson as "maliciously" damaging or destroying "by means of fire or an explosive , any ... property used in interstate or foreign commerce or in any activity affecting interstate or foreign commerce." 18 U.S.C. § 844(i) (emphasis supplied).6

551 F.Supp.3d 1274

The Grand Jury elaborated Count One by adding the following "special findings" to the Superseding Indictment:7

NOTICE OF SPECIAL FINDINGS

The allegations of Count One of this Indictment are hereby realleged as if fully set forth herein and incorporated by reference. With regard to Count One of this Indictment, the Grand Jury makes the following special findings:

1. The defendant, ERIC ROBERT RUDOLPH, was 18 years of age or older at the time of the offense. ( 18 U.S.C. § 3591(a)[8 ]).

2. The defendant, ERIC ROBERT RUDOLPH,:

a. intentionally killed the victim. ( 18 U.S.C. § 3591(a)(2)(A) );

b. intentionally inflicted serious bodily injury that resulted in the death of the victim. ( 18 U.S.C. § 3591(a)(2)(B) ).

c. intentionally participated in an act, contemplating that the life of a person would be taken or intending that lethal force would be used in connection with a person, who died as a direct result of the act. ( 18 U.S.C. § 3591(a)(2)(C) ).

d. intentionally and specifically engaged in an act of violence, knowing that the act created a grave risk of death to a person and constituted a reckless disregard for human life and the victim died as a direct result of the act. ( 18 U.S.C. § 3591(a)(2)(D) ).

3. The defendant, ERIC ROBERT RUDOLPH,:

a. during the commission of an offense under section 844(i), as alleged herein, caused the death of and injuries resulting in the death of a person. [ 18 U.S.C. § 3592(c)(1)[9 ]].

b. in the commission of the offense, knowingly created a grave risk of death to one or more persons in
551 F.Supp.3d 1275
addition to the victim of the offense. [ 18 U.S.C. § 3592(c)(5)[10 ]].

c. committed the offense in an especially heinous, cruel and depraved manner in that it involved torture or serious physical abuse to the victims. [ 18 U.S.C. § 3592(c)(6)[11 ]].

d. committed the offense after substantial planning and premeditation to cause the death of a person or commit an act of terrorism. [ 18 U.S.C. § 3592(c)(9)[12 ]].

e. intentionally attempted to kill more than one person in a single criminal episode. [ 18 U.S.C. § 3592(c)(16)[13 ]].

Criminal Case No. CR 00-S-0422-S, doc. no. 17 (Superseding Indictment), at 2–3 (Notice of Special Findings) (footnotes supplied).

B. Count Two of the Superseding Indictment : use of a destructive device during and in relation to the crime of violence charged in Count One

On or about the 29th day of January, 1998, in Jefferson County, within the Northern District of Alabama, the defendant, ERIC ROBERT RUDOLPH, knowingly used a firearm , that is a destructive device , during and in relation to a crime of violence for which he may be prosecuted in a Court of the United States, that is the damage to a building and property used in an activity affecting interstate and foreign commerce, as described above in Count One , and in the course of such conduct caused the death of Robert D. Sanderson through the use of said firearm, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 924(c)(1).

Id. at 1–2 (emphasis supplied).14

551 F.Supp.3d 1276

II. RUDOLPH'S PLEA AGREEMENT

Rudolph executed a binding Plea Agreement on April 4, 2005,15 and subsequently entered pleas of "guilty" to both Counts of the Superseding Indictment. He explicitly admitted his actual guilt of the offenses charged, surrendered his right to a trial by jury, and waived his rights to appeal or collaterally attack his convictions and sentences. In return, the Government withdrew its notice of intent to seek the death penalty,16 and agreed that Rudolph should be sentenced to consecutive terms of life imprisonment.17

Rudolph stipulated that the Government's evidence at trial would prove the facts set forth in the following Statement of Facts, and admitted that those facts would "establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."18

Eric Robert Rudolph served in the United States Army between 1987 and 1989. According to several Army witnesses, he received training in improvised or field explosive devices. Both during and after his Army service, Rudolph possessed military manuals concerning conventional military explosives.

At various times Eric Rudolph used alias names. One such alias was "Z. Randolp." On February 9, 1996, using this alias, Rudolph bought a postal money order which he used in an attempt to purchase a manual entitled "Kitchen Improvised Fertilizer Explosives." This manual was never sent to Rudolph. About one month later, Rudolph, using the same alias, ordered a different manual entitled "Ragnar's Homemade Detonators." Rudolph did receive this manual, which detailed how to construct a detonator for initiating high explosives, including dynamite.

The Birmingham Bombing

On Thursday, January 29, 1998, at 7:32 a.m. Central Standard Time (CST), a bomb exploded in front of the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic, a health clinic that performs abortions,
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2 cases
  • United States v. Rudolph
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • November 8, 2021
    ...attack his conviction , he first must attack his sentence , which he has waived the right to do." Rudolph v. United States , 551 F.Supp.3d 1270, 1289 (N.D. Ala. July 29, 2021) (emphasis in original). The waiver in the Northern District of Alabama case contains the same language as the waive......
  • Elliott v. United States
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Wyoming
    • July 14, 2022
    ...or reckless. Several other courts which have considered the matter reached the same conclusion as Wiktor, see Rudolph v. U.S., 551 F.Supp.3d 1270, 1283 (N.D. Ala. 2021) (collecting cases); and the Tenth Circuit in Zuniga-Soto suggested a statute could be divisible along such mens rea lines,......

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