ATLANTA -- Former security guard Richard Jewell, who was
wrongly linked to the deadly bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics,
died of severe heart disease, Georgia's chief medical examiner said
An autopsy by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation showed Jewell,
44, essentially had a heart attack, Dr. Kris Sperry said. He said
Jewell's diabetes, diagnosed earlier this year, contributed to the
Jewell, who also had kidney problems, was found dead Wednesday
at his west Georgia home.
Sperry said the GBI planned toxicology tests because of the
notoriety of the Jewell case so there "won't be any open questions
at the end of the day."
There was no evidence drugs or alcohol contributed to Jewell's
death, Sperry said.
Jewell was initially
hailed as a hero for spotting a suspicious backpack and moving
people out of harm's way just before a bomb exploded, killing one
and injuring 111 others. But within days, he was named as a suspect
in the blast.
Though eventually cleared in the bombing, Jewell never
recovered from the shame of being wrongly linked to the bombing in
the news media. Finally, a year ago, he was again hailed as a hero.
Gov. Sonny Perdue commended Jewell at a bombing anniversary
event. "This is what I think is the right thing to do," Perdue
declared as he handed a certificate to Jewell.
Jewell said: "I never expected this day to ever happen. I'm
just glad that it did."
After the Olympics, Jewell worked in various law enforcement
jobs, including as a police officer in Pendergrass, Ga., where his
partner was fatally shot in 2004 during the pursuit of a suspect.
As recently as last year, Jewell was working as a sheriff's
deputy in west Georgia. He also gave speeches to college journalism
classes about his experience.
For two days after the July 27, 1996, bombing, Jewel was hailed
as a hero for shepherding people away from the suspicious backpack.
But on the third day, an unattributed report in The Atlanta
Journal-Constitution described him as "the focus" of the
Other media, to varying degrees, also linked Jewell to the
investigation and portrayed him as a loser and law-enforcement
wannabe who may have planted the bomb so he would look like a hero
when he discovered it later.
The AP, citing an anonymous federal law enforcement source, said
after the Journal-Constitution report that Jewell was "a focus"
of investigators, but that others had "not yet been ruled out as
Reporters camped outside Jewell's mother's apartment in the
Atlanta area, and his life was dissected for weeks by the media. He
was never arrested or charged, although he was questioned and was a
subject of search warrants.
Eighty-eight days after the initial news report, U.S. Attorney
Kent Alexander issued a statement saying Jewell "is not a target"
of the bombing investigation and that the "unusual and intense
publicity" surrounding him was "neither designed nor desired by
the FBI, and in fact interfered with the investigation."
The episode led to soul-searching among news organizations about
the use of unattributed or anonymously sourced information.
Jewell's name became shorthand for a person accused of wrongdoing
in the media based on scanty information.
In 1997, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno expressed regret over
the leak regarding Jewell. "I'm very sorry it happened," she told
reporters. "I think we owe him an apology."
Eventually, the bomber turned out to be anti-government
extremist Eric Rudolph, who also planted three other bombs in the
Atlanta area and in Birmingham, Ala. Those explosives killed a
police officer, maimed a nurse and injured several other people.
Rudolph was captured after spending five years hiding out in the
mountains of western North Carolina. He pleaded guilty to all four
bombings in 2005 and is serving life in prison.
Jewell sued several media organizations, including NBC, CNN and
the New York Post, and settled for undisclosed amounts. According
to Wood, Jewell also settled a lawsuit against Piedmont College, a
former employer. That amount was also confidential.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution never settled a lawsuit Jewell
filed against it. Lin Wood, Jewell's longtime attorney, said
Wednesday that the case is set for trial in January.
"I expect to pursue it for Richard and his estate," Wood said.
"But that is a decision for a less sad day."
A lawyer for the newspaper, Peter Canfield, has said that the
newspaper stands by its coverage of Jewell. Publisher John Mellott
declined to comment about the lawsuit on Wednesday but said that
Jewell was a hero "as we all came to learn."
"The story of how Mr. Jewell moved from hero to suspect and
back in the Olympic Park bombing investigation is one The Atlanta
Journal-Constitution has reported fully even as it defended itself
in a libel case brought by him," Mellott said.
Jewell, in an interview with the AP last year around the 10th
anniversary of the bombing, insisted the lawsuits were not about
making money. He bought his mother a place to live and gave 73
percent of the settlement money to his attorneys and to the
government in taxes. He said the cases were about ensuring the
truth was told.
"I'm not rich by any means monetarily," he said at the time.
"I'm rich because of my family. If I never get there, I don't
care. I'm going to get my say in court."
Jewell told the AP last year that Rudolph's conviction helped
clear his name, but he believed some people still remember him as a
suspect rather than for the two days in which he was praised as a
"For that two days, my mother had a great deal of pride in me --
that I had done something good and that she was my mother, and that
was taken away from her," Jewell said. "She'll never get that
back, and there's no way I can give that back to her."