HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) _ Friends and associates of Pennsylvania’s treasurer say he had been angered and upset at being convicted of bribery, but they never dreamed he might shoot himself in front of a crowded news conference.
R. Budd Dwyer, who was to have been sentenced today, pulled a high-powered revolver from a manila envelope Thursday morning and waved off frantic onlookers in his office.
About two dozen horrified reporters, photographers and aides, some of them screaming, ″No, Budd 3/8 Don’t do this 3/8″ watched as the 47-year-old Republican put the gun barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger. Cameras recorded the act.
Dwyer died instantly, said Dauphin County Coroner William Bush.
The state attorney general had ruled Wednesday that Dwyer would lose his job after being sentenced for awarding a state computer contract in return for a promised $300,000 payoff. No money changed hands.
Dwyer, who was to have been sentenced by U.S. District Judge Malcolm Muir, had faced up to 55 years in prison and a $305,000 fine on 11 counts.
″I’ve repeatedly said that I’m not going to resign as state Treasurer,″ Dwyer said in a suicide note released after his death.
″Please tell my story on every radio and television station and in every newspaper and magazine in the U.S. ... Please make sure that the sacrifice of my life is not in vain.″
Dwyer purchased the .357-caliber Magnum revolver in 1982 and had it properly registered, state police said.
Rob Dwyer, 21, said his father had given no indication of what he intended to do.
″We’re pretty broken up,″ he said, his voice breaking during a telephone interview. He said he heard the news at home with his mother, Joanne, 47, and sister, Dyan, 18.
The son said Dwyer left a suicide note at home. ″He said he’d given up hope in a country that didn’t believe in innocent men,″ the younger Dwyer said.
Mrs. Dwyer, her eyes swollen from crying, talked briefly with reporters at the door of the family’s Hershey home. She said only that she was sorry about what had happened.
Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, who served with Dwyer when he was a state senator, said he had intended to call Dwyer after the sentencing to wish him well, ″but in my wildest imagination I could never have expected anything like this kind of ending.″
State Sen. Tim Shaffer, a friend of Dwyer’s, said he was in complete shock.
″This was so totally uncharacteristic of Budd because he was such an upbeat guy,″ Shaffer said.
″He was down, he was angry about the verdict, but he seemed to be on an even keel,″ Dwyer spokesman Duke Horshock said of his boss.
Before pulling the gun, Dwyer read for more than 20 minutes from a statement proclaiming his innocence and criticizing the news media, the federal attorney who prosecuted him and Muir, who he said had a history of imposing stiff sentences.
When he took the gun out of the envelope, several reporters pleaded with him not to do anything. Dwyer waved off someone who appeared to move toward him.
″No,″ he said. ″This will hurt someone.″
Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Fred Cusick, who was sitting on the floor at the front of the room, said: ″I should have run and grabbed him when he pulled out the envelope. I knew that was it.″
Most reporters and Treasury Department officials thought Dwyer was going to announce his resignation. He indicated during the news conference that the last page of his statement would reveal his decision, but said that page would be distributed later because he didn’t have enough copies.
Horshock released the page later.
″After many hours of thought and meditation, I’ve made a decision that should not be an example to anyone else because it is unique to my situation,″ Dwyer said in the statement.
He said Muir was noted for his ″medieval sentences. I face a maximum sentence of 55 years in prison and a $305,000 fine for being innocent. ... Since I’m a victim of political persecution my prison would simply be an American Gulag.″
Arthur Patterson, a social psychologist and associate professor at Penn State University, said Dwyer’s public suicide may have been his way of punishing those he felt responsible for destroying his life.
″It was a way to get back at everyone,″ Patterson said.
Shortly before his suicide, Dwyer handed sealed envelopes to three aides, telling them they contained instructions for ″later.″ Treasury spokesman Greg Penny said his envelope contained an organ donor card. Dwyer’s corneas were removed for possible transplant.
The other envelopes included funeral instructions and a letter to Gov. Robert Casey.
In the letter, Dwyer asked that his wife be appointed to fill the rest of his term.
Casey spokesman Robert Grotevant said the governor, a Democrat who took office Tuesday, would not nominate Mrs. Dwyer.
Dwyer was convicted last month of five counts of mail fraud, four counts of interstate transportation in aid of racketeering, one count of perjury and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery. He was first elected in 1980 and re- elected in 1984.
Acting U.S. Attorney James West, who prosecuted Dwyer and six others in the case, called the death ″a great tragedy.″
″I certainly stand by the case the government put in, and the jury’s verdict,″ West said.
Muir was not available for comment Thursday, an aide to the judge said.
Former state Republican chairman Robert Asher, also convicted in the case, said Dwyer was ″very upset because he felt and always told me he was innocent but people did not believe him.″