A Brief History
On January 22, 1987, Pennsylvania State Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer called a news conference to read a statement in front of the gathered journalists and television cameras.
Dwyer had been convicted of accepting bribes in connection with giving a contract to an accounting firm hired to determine what refunds were owed to Pennsylvania government workers who had been overtaxed. Throughout the entire process, Dwyer adamantly insisted upon his complete innocence and said he was being framed.
Scheduled to be sentenced the next day by a judge who was known for stiff sentences and who had gloated over the guilty verdict, after Dwyer read his statement, he pulled a .357 magnum revolver out of a manila envelope, placed the barrel in his mouth and shot himself through the top of his head before slumping to the floor, blood flowing.
Never missing an opportunity to show poor taste, many television stations broadcast the horrific event, some of them in its unedited bloody entirety without even warning their viewers! Most of the newscasts edited the video to freeze the picture at the point where Dwyer put the gun in his mouth but still continued with the audio. The gory version is available on the internet and has been featured in other media such as the 2002 film Bowling for Columbine.
Since Dwyer had not resigned his position, he technically died while in office and his family was able to collect his full death and pension benefits, making this fact the likely motivation for his suicide.
In an interesting twist to this story, the other defendant in the case admitted in a 2010 documentary that he had lied during the trial in order to get a lighter sentence. As it was his testimony that got Dwyer convicted, this lent credibility to Dwyer’s claim of innocence.
Perhaps, as a result of the other guy fessing up, Dwyer will be exonerated someday. Too often in the news we hear of elderly convicts finally being released after a lifetime in jail following a wrongful conviction. Advancements in DNA analysis and other discoveries, such as evidence that was originally withheld, deathbed confessions or disclosures that witnessed had lied, have helped clear names. This sometimes includes persons on death row or who have already been executed, the revelations obviously coming just in time for the former but too late for the latter. Question for students (and subscribers): If you have any ideas what could be done to prevent these miscarriages of justice, please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Dirschberger, James, dir. Honest Man: The Life of R.Budd Dwyer. Eighty Four Films, 2011. DVD.