Published March 29, 2005
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Traces of an explosive used to bomb an Alabama abortion clinic were found in Eric Rudolph's (search) home in North Carolina, a federal agent testified Tuesday in a key pretrial hearing for the serial bombing suspect.
Richard Alan Strobel, an explosives expert for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (search), said small quantities of the compound EGDN were found on numerous items — including socks, a blanket, bed sheet, tool box and a brown wig — taken from Rudolph's trailer during a search days after the January 1998 bombing.
Strobel said the same explosive substance was found in the crater left by the nail-laden bomb that exploded outside an abortion clinic in Birmingham, killing a police officer and critically injuring a nurse.
"The finding of EGDN (search) tells us we are dealing with dynamite," he testified.
Later, he appeared to fight back anger when asked about possible contamination of the crime scene by a man who arrived at the clinic moments after the explosion and tried to help an injured nurse.
If anyone was trying to help the injured, "I've got no problem with that," Strobel coldly told defense lawyer Michael Burt.
The testimony came at the start of a hearing before U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith, who is considering a defense request to throw out the explosives evidence as unscientific and unreliable.
The defense has argued investigators could have unknowingly transferred explosives traces found at the clinic to Rudolph's trailer or a storage unit he had rented.
Strobel, who helped gather evidence both at the bombing scene and in North Carolina, testified agents went to great lengths to avoid contaminating potential evidence, wearing protective suits over clean clothes, along with two sets of gloves.
"They were taken in a manner that I am fully confident precluded any chance of contamination," he said.
He also said every item testing positive for EGDN was examined on at least two different instruments to confirm the results.
Strobel acknowledged machines like the one used in the bombing investigation were first designed to screen for explosives in airports and could give "false positives" for EGDN when exposed to musk-based perfume and lemon grass.
During the hearing, the injured nurse, Emily Lyons, sat with her husband. She lost an eye in the bombing and still has vision problems. After court, prosecutors let her come to the front of the room to view a photo of the bombing aftermath that showed a passer-by who appeared to be assisting her.
Rudolph, who was arrested in Murphy, N.C., in 2003 after a 51/2-year manhunt, has pleaded not guilty in the clinic bombing. He also is accused in the fatal Olympic park bombing in Atlanta in 1996 and two more bombings in the Atlanta area in 1997.
Preliminary jury selection for Rudolph's trial is set for April 6, with opening statements not expected until early June. Rudolph could face the death penalty if convicted.