BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Olympic bombing suspect Eric Rudolph (search) pleaded not guilty Tuesday in a deadly blast at a Birmingham abortion clinic after returning here in shackles to face trial for the attack that authorities say linked him to three bombings in Georgia.
Rudolph pleaded not guilty before federal Magistrate Judge Michael Putnam for the bombing of New Woman All Women Health Care (search ), where an off-duty police officer was killed and a nurse critically injured on Jan. 29, 1998.
He could face the death penalty (search ), 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."
Also on Tuesday, investigators in western North Carolina returned to the remote, carefully planned campsite where Rudolph is believed to have spent most of the past five years.
The campsite on a mountainside in Nantahala National Forest includes a "patio" of interlocking slate stones; a fire pit; and "pantries" dug into the ground that held large plastic containers of corn, beans and other grains.
Federal investigators removed some key evidence from the site Monday, and returned Tuesday to remove pieces of plastic that had been nailed around tree trunks, part of a contraption Rudolph may have used to keep food away from animals.
It was not clear where Rudolph obtained the supplies or how he got them up the mountain. Investigators also do not know whether Rudolph had the campsite ready when he went into hiding, or constructed it during his years on the run.
Putnam set a trial date for Aug. 4 to comply with federal laws requiring a speedy trial but said it would likely be postponed because of pretrial proceedings. He scheduled a June 10 hearing on whether Rudolph can be released on bond.
Outside court, defense lawyer Richard Jaffe said the public perception of Rudolph was "far from accurate."
"It's going to take some time ... to sort out the facts from the speculation and from the hearsay and from the public image that's been painted," said Jaffe.
The 36-year-old former soldier and survivalist is also accused in the 1996 Olympic park bombing in Atlanta, where a woman 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.
After one of the most intense manhunts in the nation's history, Rudolph was captured in Murphy, N.C., early Saturday while looking for food behind a supermarket.
Authorities in North Carolina said Rudolph described his time as a fugitive 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."'
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."
Lovin said Rudolph used a gun for hunting, but would not say what type of gun it was or whether authorities had located it.
But some law enforcement authorities were skeptical of Rudolph's claims and suspect he had help, particularly since he appeared healthy with short hair and fairly clean clothes and jogging shoes when he was arrested.
"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.
Attorney General John Ashcroft decided Rudolph would stand trial first in Birmingham, saying that case offered the greatest chance of success.
Hours before his scheduled court appearance Tuesday, Rudolph became "agitated" over the lack of a working television in a day room near his cell, Christian said.
"I think he just wants to know what's going on in his case," said Christian, adding that jailers will provide a working TV. Rudolph is being held in isolation with constant video monitoring.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.