R. Budd Dwyer
|Robert Budd Dwyer|
Press photo of Dwyer warning others to stay back moments before shooting himself
|30th Treasurer of Pennsylvania|
January 20, 1981 – January 22, 1987
|Preceded by||Robert E. Casey|
|Succeeded by||G. Davis Greene, Jr.|
|Member of the Pennsylvania Senate
from the 50th district
January 5, 1971 – January 20, 1981
|Preceded by||James Willard|
|Succeeded by||Roy Wilt|
|Constituency||Parts of Mercer, Crawford, and Erie Counties|
|Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
from the 6th district
January 7, 1969 – November 30, 1970
|Preceded by||District Created|
|Succeeded by||Harrison Haskell|
|Constituency||Parts of Crawford County|
|Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
from the Crawford County district
January 5, 1965 – November 30, 1968
|Born||Robert Budd Dwyer
November 21, 1939
Saint Charles, Missouri, U.S.
|Died||January 22, 1987
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Cause of death||Gunshot suicide|
|Spouse(s)||Joanne Dwyer (m. 1963; his death 1987)|
|Relations||Robert Malcolm Dwyer and Alice Mary Budd Dwyer (parents) (deceased); Ross Dwyer, Logan Seaburg (grandchildren)|
|Alma mater||Allegheny College|
Robert Budd Dwyer (November 21, 1939 – January 22, 1987) was an American politician in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He served from 1971 to 1981 as a Republican member of the Pennsylvania State Senate representing the state's 50th district. He served as the 30th Treasurer of Pennsylvania from January 20, 1981, until his death. On that day, Dwyer called a news conference in the Pennsylvania state capital of Harrisburg where he killed himself in front of the gathered reporters with a .357 Magnum revolver. Dwyer's suicide was broadcast later that day to a wide television audience across Pennsylvania.
In the early 1980s, Pennsylvania discovered its state workers had overpaid federal taxes due to errors in state withholding. Many accounting firms competed for a multimillion-dollar contract to determine compensation to each employee. In 1986, Dwyer was convicted of receiving a bribe from the California firm that ultimately won the contract. He was scheduled to be sentenced on those charges on January 23, 1987, the day after his suicide.
Throughout Dwyer's trial and after his conviction, he maintained that he was innocent of the charges levied against him, and that he had been framed. Decades later, it was reported that the prosecution's primary witness, William T. Smith, whose testimony was largely used to obtain Dwyer's conviction, admitted in a documentary about Dwyer that he had lied under oath about Dwyer taking a bribe in order to receive a reduced sentence. In fact, Smith acknowledges, as he did at Dwyer's trial, that he had lied in his own earlier trial when he testified that he had not offered Dwyer a bribe. He admitted that he testified against Dwyer in hopes of receiving a reduced sentence and to spare his wife from being prosecuted for her role in the conspiracy, and expressed his regret for that decision and the role it played in Dwyer's death.
- 1 Career
- 2 January 22 press conference
- 3 In popular culture
- 4 References
- 5 Notes
- 6 External links
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Dwyer graduated from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, where he was a member of the Beta Chi chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity. After earning a master's degree in education, he taught social studies and coached football at Cambridge Springs High School.
A Republican, Dwyer became active in politics. He was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from the 6th district (although seats were apportioned by county prior to 1969) in 1964 and was reelected in 1966 and 1968. In 1970, while still a sitting State Representative, Dwyer ran for a seat in the Pennsylvania State Senate from its 50th district and won. Shortly after his victory he resigned his seat in the State House and was sworn in as Senator in January 1971.
After being elected to additional terms in 1974 and 1978, Dwyer decided to try for a state office and in 1980 ran for and won the office of Pennsylvania Treasurer that had been held by Robert E. Casey since 1976. He ran for a second and last term in 1984 and won reelection to the seat.
Bribery investigation and conviction
During the early 1980s, public employees of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania overpaid millions of dollars in Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes. As a result, the state solicited bids from accounting firms to determine refunds for its employees. The contract was eventually awarded to Computer Technology Associates (CTA), a California-based firm, owned by John Torquato, Jr, a native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Later Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh received an anonymous memo detailing allegations of bribery that took place during the bidding process for the $4.6 million contract.
An investigation was undertaken by federal prosecutors. Dwyer was charged with agreeing to receive kickbacks worth $300,000 in return for using his office to steer the contract toward CTA. The US Attorney also indicted Torquato, Torquato's attorney William T. Smith, Smith's wife, and Bob Asher, the former Republican Party Chairman for the State of Pennsylvania. In return for lighter sentences, Torquato and the Smiths pleaded guilty and testified on behalf of the Federal government against Dwyer and Asher.
Dwyer denied any wrongdoing. Federal prosecutors offered him a single charge of bribe receiving (which would have meant up to a maximum of five years' imprisonment), resignation from his office as Treasurer of Pennsylvania and full cooperation with the government's investigation but he refused. Instead Dwyer went to full trial. However his defense was curtailed by the prosecution because the case was limited to only those who had been charged. The names of the unindicted co-conspirators who were linked in the bribery scandal but were not on trial were withheld. These unnamed individuals were believed to have been staff members of the Dauphin County Republican Party.
On December 18, 1986, Dwyer was found guilty on 11 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, perjury and interstate transportation in aid of racketeering, and consequently faced a sentence of up to 55 years' imprisonment and a $300,000 fine. His sentencing was scheduled for January 23, 1987, to be performed by U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Muir.
Dwyer's status as state treasurer
Pennsylvania law stated that Dwyer could not officially be removed from office until his sentencing in January. Given this, Dwyer stated that until his legal appeal was resolved, he would stay on as Treasurer under leave of absence without pay. In the interim, the treasury department would be run by Deputy Treasurer Donald L. Johnson.
Dwyer continued to profess his innocence after being convicted, as did others close to him. On December 23, he wrote a letter to President Ronald Reagan seeking a presidential pardon, and to Senator Arlen Specter seeking support in this effort.
The week of Dwyer's sentencing, Pennsylvania State Attorney General Leroy Zimmerman and state prosecutors were investigating a provision of the Pennsylvania state constitution where removal of a civil worker from office who has been convicted of a crime is "self executing", thus, automatic upon that person's sentencing. A decision confirming this constitutional point was expected on January 22, the day before Dwyer's sentencing hearing.
January 22 press conference
In a meeting in his home, Dwyer discussed the idea of a press conference, with his press secretary James "Duke" Horshock and Deputy Treasurer Don Johnson, on January 15, 1987. At the time, Johnson cautioned Dwyer not to use such a forum to attack the governor or other individuals involved with his criminal conviction, and Dwyer assured him that he would not do so. Both men left assuming Dwyer would ultimately resign if the press conference were held.
Dwyer finally reached Senator Specter by telephone on January 21, two days before his sentencing. A Specter aide stated that the two of them talked for 8 to 10 minutes. Following up on his letter to the senator asking for help, he personally asked for a presidential pardon at that time. The senator's response was that this request was "not realistic" because the judicial process, including appeals, had not yet run its course.
On the same day, Dwyer asked his press secretary Horshock and deputy press secretary Gregory Penny to set up a news conference for the next day without telling them what he was to discuss. Horshock arranged the press conference for 10:30 a.m. EST the next day, January 22. The press secretary called dozens of reporters asking them to attend, and told them he did not know its subject.
Leading up to this press conference acting U.S. Attorney James J. West, who had secured the conviction against him, remarked that a Dwyer resignation "sounds like the appropriate thing to do under the circumstances. It seems like it would save everybody a lot of time and aggravation." Similarly, Harrisburg Patriot-News reporter Kenn Marshall described the consensus among reporters: they would be attending to see Dwyer announce his resignation from office. "My mission was to stay there until he said those words, then call in a new top for our story."
What nobody knew at the time was that Dwyer was considering a much more drastic action. The night before the press conference, Dywer wrote the following note:
|“||"I enjoy being with Jo so much, the next 20 years or so would have been wonderful. Tomorrow is going to be so difficult and I hope I can go through with it."||”|
Dwyer's press statement
The next morning, Dwyer went to his press conference as planned. Appearing nervous and agitated, he again professed his innocence and began reading from a 21 page prepared text later described as a "rambling polemic about the criminal justice system". It singled out former Governor Thornburgh, Acting U.S. Attorney West, agents in the FBI, Judge Muir, and others for tarnishing the justice system and ruining him. Dwyer spoke out against the death penalty and expressed regret for voting in favor of it while he was in the Pennsylvania assembly. This speech lasted nearly 30 minutes, and approximately halfway into it, with no apparent end in sight, some of the gathered press began to pack up and leave. Dwyer spotted this and interrupted himself to say, "Those of you who are putting your cameras away, I think you ought to stay because we're not, we're not finished yet."
Given the inflammatory nature of portions of Dwyer's text, press secretary Horshock had considered interrupting him outright to stop him, but concluded that he would hold his own press conference after Dwyer's. "I had to make it known that I was not aware of the content of the statement. I didn't want it to be thought that I wrote that for him."
Upon reaching the final page of his statement, which had not been distributed to the press nor press secretary Horshock in advance, Dwyer paused. "...and I'm on the last page now, and I don't have enough to pass out, but Duke [Horshock], I'll leave this here, and you can make copies for the people; there's a few extra copies here right now." Dwyer continued,
I thank the good Lord for giving me 47 years of exciting challenges, stimulating experiences, many happy occasions and most of all[,] the finest wife and children any man could ever desire.
Now my life has changed for no apparent reason. People who call and write are exasperated and feel helpless. They know I am innocent and want to help, but in this nation, the worlds [sic] greatest democracy, there is nothing they can do to prevent me from being punished for a crime they know I did not commit. Some who have called have said that I am a modern day Job.
Judge Muir is also noted for his Medieval sentences. I face a maximum sentence of 55 years in prison and a $305,000 fine for being innocent. Judge Muir has already told the press that he felt "invigorated" when we were found guilty and that he plans to imprison me as a "deterrant" to other public officials. But it wouldn't be a deterrant [sic] because every public official who knows me knows that I am innocent. It wouldn't be legitimate punishment because I've done nothing wrong. Since I'm a victim of political persecution, my prison would simply be an American Gulag.
I ask those that believe in me to continue to extend friendship and prayer to my family, to work untiringly for the creation of a true Justice system here in the United States, and to press on with the efforts to vindicate me, so that my family and their future families are not tainted by this injustice that has been perpetrated on me.
We were confident that right and truth would prevail and I would be acquitted and we would devote the rest of our lives working to create a Justice system here in the United States. The guilty verdict has strengthened that resolve. But as we've discussed our plans to expose the warts of our legal system[,] people have said, 'Why bother? No one cares, you'll look foolish, 60 Minutes[,] 20/20, the American Civil Liberties Union, Jack Anderson, and others have been publicizing cases like yours for years and it doesn't bother anyone.'
At this point Dwyer stopped reading from his prepared remarks, with the gathered press still waiting on his expected resignation. There was still a significant portion remaining, which detailed what he was actually planning to do, and it read as follows:
I've repeatedly said that I'm not going to resign as State Treasurer. After many hours of thought and meditation I've made a decision that should not be an example to anyone because it is unique to my situation. Last May I told you that after the trial, I would give you the story of the decade. To those of you who are shallow, the events of this morning will be that story. But to those of you with depth and concern the real story will be what I hope and pray results from this morning–in the coming months and years[,] the development of a true Justice System here in the United States. I am going to die in office in an effort to '...see if the shame[-ful] facts, spread out in all their shame, will not burn through our civic shamelessness and set fire to American pride.' Please tell my story on every radio and television station and in every newspaper and magazine in the U.S.. Please leave immediately if you have a weak stomach or mind since I don't want to cause physical or mental distress. Joanne, Rob, DeeDEe [sic] - I love you! Thank you for making my life so happy. Good bye to you all on the count of 3. Please make sure that the sacrifice of my life is not in vain.
After deciding to break from his speech, Dwyer called to three of his staffers, giving each a sealed envelope with the insignia of the treasury department. The first envelope, given to Bob Holste, contained a letter addressed to then-Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey, who had taken office just two days earlier. The second, given to deputy press secretary Gregory Penny, contained an organ donor card and other related materials. The last, given to Deputy Treasurer Don Johnson, contained materials intended for Dwyer's family, including three letters (one for his wife Joanne, and one for each of his children, Rob and DeeDee) and suggested funeral arrangements.
Freelance photographer Gary Miller, one of the reporters in attendance, describes the scene to this point, "It was just kind of a long-winded, sad event."
After he had finished speaking and handing out the notes to his staffers, Dwyer then produced a manila envelope with a blued Smith & Wesson Model 27 .357 Magnum revolver in it. When the crowd in the room saw what Dwyer had pulled out of the envelope, the mood changed immediately from one of waiting to see whether he would resign his office to one of panic as nobody else but Dwyer knew what he was planning to do with the gun. Dwyer calmly stated to his audience, "Please, please leave the room if this will...if this will affect you."
What followed was chaotic. Some people in the room left to call for help. Among those that stayed, some pleaded with Dwyer to surrender the gun while others tried to approach him and seize the weapon. Dwyer warned against either action, exclaiming, "Don't, don't, don't, this will hurt someone." A moment later Dwyer fired one shot into his mouth and collapsed to the floor, dead.  Witnesses screamed and cursed as five news cameras recorded the events. One of the cameras remained focused on Dwyer and got close up footage of the aftermath of the shooting; as his lifeless body slumped to the floor, blood streamed from the exit wound in the back of his head as well as from his nostrils. A shaken Horshock took the podium and asked the media to leave and for someone to call for medical assistance and the Pennsylvania Capitol Police.
Dwyer died instantly from the gunshot shortly before 11:00 a.m. EST, but was not pronounced dead at the scene until 11:31 a.m. An aide later stated that Dwyer's corneas were made available for transplant per his organ donation wishes, but that no others were usable by the time his body reached a hospital.
Graphic footage and television media
Contrary to popular belief, Dwyer's press conference was not broadcast live.
A number of television stations throughout Pennsylvania broadcast taped footage of Dwyer's suicide to a midday audience. Philadelphia station WPVI (Channel 6) showed Dwyer pulling the trigger and falling backwards, but did not show the bullet path. Over the next several hours, news editors had to decide how much of the graphic footage to air.
Many stations, including WCAU and Pennsylvania's Group W stations KYW and KDKA, froze the action just prior to the gunshot. However, the latter two allowed the audio of the shooting to continue under the frozen image. Group W's news cameraman William L. "Bill" Martin and reporter David Sollenberger had a camera set up at the conference. They chose to air the audio with a freeze frame of the gun in Dwyer's mouth. Only a handful aired the unedited press conference. WPVI in Philadelphia re-broadcast the suicide footage in full on their 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Action News broadcast without a warning to viewers. That station's broadcast is a source for copies circulating on the Internet. WPXI in Pittsburgh is reported by the Associated Press to have broadcast the footage uncensored on an early newscast. In explaining the decision to air, WPXI operations manager By Williams said, "It's an important event [about] an important man." Williams avoided airing the footage in the evening newscasts, explaining, "Everyone knows by then that he did it. There are children out of school." However, in central Pennsylvania, many children were home from school during the day of Dwyer's suicide due to a snowstorm, and Harrisburg TV station WHTM-TV opted to broadcast uncut video of the suicide twice that day, defending the decision (despite hundreds of viewer complaints afterward) due to the important nature of the story.
Many older students reacted to the event by creating black comedy jokes similar to those that circulated after the Challenger disaster. A study of the incidence of the jokes showed that they were told only in areas where stations showed uncensored footage of the press conference. At least one reporter present at Dwyer's suicide suffered from being a witness. Tony Romeo, a radio reporter, was standing a few feet from Dwyer. After the suicide, Romeo developed depression and took a break from journalism.
Letter to Governor Bob Casey
Dwyer's deep mistrust of outgoing Republican Governor Thornburgh was spelled out in detail in his press conference statement. The timing of Dwyer's press conference and suicide meant that Thornburgh was not empowered to appoint a Treasurer to replace him. Instead, this fell to Thornburgh's successor, Democrat Bob Casey, who had taken office on January 20, 1987.
The letter Dwyer had sent to Casey stated, among other things, "By the time you receive this letter...the office of State Treasurer of Pennsylvania will be vacant. I stress to you that I did not resign but was State Treasurer of Pennsylvania to the end." Also, that Casey "will be the great Governor that Pennsylvania needs at this time in our history." He suggested his wife Joanne as the successor to Treasurer of Pennsylvania, describing her as "very talented, personable, organized and hard-working."
Governor Casey did not take Dwyer's suggestion. Regardless of the events of January 22, the governor and legislature of Pennsylvania already expected Dwyer to either resign or be removed from office. As such, a deal had already been brokered wherein the next treasurer, a Democrat, would serve out Dwyer's term and step down at its end. This was G. Davis Greene, Jr., who was appointed as the 31st Treasurer of Pennsylvania on January 23, 1987, the day after Dwyer's suicide.
Death benefits and burial
Since Dwyer died in office, his widow Joanne was able to collect full survivor benefits totaling over $1.28 million, which at the time was the largest death benefit payment ever made by the state system. If Dwyer had been sentenced, state law would have prohibited the payment of his state-provided pension benefits. A spokesman for Dwyer suggested that he may have committed suicide to preserve the pension benefits for his family, whose finances had been ruined by legal defense costs. Other statements made by friends and family also suggest that this was Dwyer's motivation.
In popular culture
In 1992, alternative rock band Faith No More recorded a song entitled "The World Is Yours," which featured a sample of an audio clip of Dwyer's final moments and suicide. Furthermore, the song contains the lyrics "This will hurt someone," which were Budd Dwyer's final words.
Also in 1992, German thrash metal band Kreator recorded "Karmic Wheel" for their Renewal album, with lyrics about the event and a partial sound recording of Dwyer's speech. In the version of this song on this album, the speech is hard to hear, but on the compilation album Scenarios of Violence a much clearer version is available.
Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer, a full-length feature documentary about Dwyer, premiered at the Carmel Art & Film Festival on October 9, 2010. The Dwyer family attended the premiere in Pennsylvania on November 10, 2010, in Harrisburg, where they participated in a Q&A session after each screening.
Austrian metal project Ellende includes audio of Dwyer's suicide in the song "Weltennacht", released in 2015. The official video for the song also includes partly-censored footage of the same event.
A painting of the moment of Dwyer's suicide was originally used for the album cover of Volume 1 by American rock band CKY. The cover was later changed to an image of guitarist Chad I Ginsburg performing on stage.
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When he saw Dwyer's gun, he dashed from the room calling for helpText Word Count: 1290
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The bullet exited out of the top of his head, leaving a bloody stream …as more blood flowed through his nostrils and from the exit wound.
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- R. Budd Dwyer on Internet Movie Database
- Video of the suicide
- Front camera of speech
Robert E. Casey
|Treasurer of Pennsylvania
G. Davis Greene, Jr.