HARRISBURG, PA State Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer shot himself to death yesterday at a news conference he had called to decry his conviction on bribery charges.
"Those of you who are putting your cameras away ... ought to stay because we're not finished yet."
There were shouts: "No! No! No! No!" and "Budd, don't do this!"
"Please leave the room," Dwyer said, "as this will ... as this will hurt someone."
Then he put the barrel of the gun into his mouth and fired one shot. Death came instantly, shortly before 11 a.m.
Reporters and Treasury Department staff members, who had gone to the 10:30 a.m. news conference expecting Dwyer to announce his resignation because of his scheduled sentencing today on the federal charges, were stunned.
Dwyer was scheduled that day for sentencing on federal corruption charges. He faced up to 55 years.
James Horshock, Dwyer's press secretary, cautioned against panic. "Show a little decorum," he said.
Then he walked past the treasurer's body, slumped against a cabinet with the blood running heavily from the mouth and the nose, and exclaimed, "Dear God in heaven!"
It was clear afterward that Dwyer, 47, had planned his suicide carefully. He had aides hand out a 20-page statement detailing his views on his criminal case. But he held back the 21st and final page.
Dwyer never read that page. It said he would not resign. It pleaded that his story be told. It warned in the final paragraph that some those with weak stomachs might want to leave the room, and it quoted from the book The Shame of the Cities by Lincoln Steffens.
Just before pulling out the revolver, Dwyer handed aides three envelopes. One contained instructions for his funeral and other personal matters. Another held Dwyer's organ donor card. The third contained a letter to Gov. Casey asking him to consider appointing Dwyer's wife, Joanne, to succeed him as state treasurer.
Dwyer had been scheduled to be sentenced today as a result of his conviction on conspiracy, mail fraud and racketeering charges. He faced up to 55 years for his Dec. 18 conviction on the charges stemming from the award of a state computer contract to a California firm known as Computer Technology Associates (CTA).
Dwyer was charged with arranging to receive a $300,000 kickback in return for awarding the contract. Dwyer canceled the contract in July of 1984 after he learned of the federal investigation.
Horshock and his deputy, Gregory Penny, said the treasurer asked them to set up the news conference in his office yesterday, but did not tell them the purpose. Horshock called dozens of reporters Wednesday and asked them to attend, but said he did not know the subject.
Was Expected to Resign
"The expectation was that he was using this forum to resign his position," said Horshock yesterday.
"He said that he was going to give an update on his situation and thank the people who supported him," the press secretary said.
Paul Killion, the lawyer who represented Dwyer at his trial, said Dwyer told him he planned to announce his resignation at the news conference. Instead, Dwyer launched into a lengthy attack on those he held responsible for his plight, including former Gov. Dick
Dwyer told his lawyer he planned to announce his resignation at the news conference.
Killion said he went to the treasurer's office for the conference, but Dwyer "asked me to leave because he knew I'd be upset about this (attack on participants at the trial)."
Dwyer appeared on the verge of crying as he gave his speech. He hurried through portions of his statement and skipped other sections.
At one point, about midway through the speech when some television people appeared to be leaving, Dwyer asked them to stay.
"Those of you who are putting your cameras away, I think you ought to stay because we're not, we're not finished yet," he said.
"Like a Nightmare"
"This has been like a nightmare, like a life in the twilight zone," he said at the outset. "It wouldn't surprise me to wake up this minute to find out I was home in my bed and had just had a terrible nightmare. That's how unbelievable this has been. I mean, I've never done anything wrong and yet all this horrible nightmare has occurred to me," he said.
He charged that Thornburgh had instigated the federal probe against him because of a feud between himself and the ex-governor. Thornburgh, he charged, wanted to get back at him for exposing apparent travel abuses by the governor and his family.
Thornburgh, through his aides, later issued a statement of condolence to Dwyer's family, but did not respond to the charges.
Edward Leary, assistant special agent in charge of the Philadelphia office of the FBI, said, "We're very saddened to hear about what happened." He said the FBI was not aware of the specific charges made by Dwyer and, therefore, could not respond.
Dauphin County Coroner William Bush said Dwyer was pronounced dead on the scene.
The coroner said death was instantaneous. He said the bullet, which traveled through Dwyer's skull, was recovered from the floor of his office. He said five bullets remained in the gun when it was recovered.
Bush said he would investigate whether or not any of Dwyer's aides knew in advance of the suicide plans. The coroner said he was concerned that the envelopes Dwyer gave out minutes before his death might indicate that staffers had advance knowledge.
Dwyer made a point of asking aides to be sure to stay until the very end of the conference.
"I said to myself 'an organ donor card,' and the next thing I know he's pulled the trigger," said Penny.
An aide said later that Dwyer's corneas were made available for transplants, but his other organs could not be used because too much time elapsed before his body was removed.
State police spokesman Curt Ashenfelter said a complete investigation was initiated at the request of Capitol police. He said four people were assigned to the detail.
He said state police records showed that Dwyer purchased the handgun, with a 6.5-inch barrel, on Dec. 31, 1982, at a gun shop in Lebanon, Pa. The manager of the gun shop said he did not recall Dwyer purchasing the gun.
Interviews with Dwyer's aides and acquaintances yesterday indicated that the treasurer had been deeply depressed since his conviction.
Dwyer never talked about suicide but did describe being in the grip of forces beyond his control.
Penny and other aides said that, in retrospect, it was clear that Dwyer had very carefully planned every detail. They said, for instance, that Dwyer was unusually attentive to the way the room was set up for the news conference.
Former state GOP chairman Robert B. Asher, who was tried and convicted along with Dwyer, said he was "shocked and terribly saddened."
He said his attorney told him not to comment further.
Steve Dunkle, a former GOP official and close friend of Dwyer's, said he called Dwyer Tuesday. "I wanted to reassure him that I was still his friend," Dunkle said. "I wanted him to know he was in my thoughts, especially with his sentencing coming up."
Dunkle said Dwyer never talked about suicide but did describe being in the grip of forces beyond his control.
"He seemed preoccupied, he said this was a travesty of justice," Dunkle said. "There was a feeling of helplessness."
In his home town of Meadville, population 15,500, word of the suicide spread quickly. Dwyer was remembered as an affable, helpful, honest man who kept in touch with friends even after he became state treasurer.
Meadville City Councilman Robert J. Rozell said that what stood out about Dwyer was his sense of humor.
"He was someone you could count on," said Rozell. "I am really shocked at today's events. He had very strong ties to the Meadville area. If you needed something done, you knew who to call, and you always got a straight answer to your question."
The town was proud of Dwyer, said Rozell, and "looked for bigger and better things from him. We were all 100 percent behind him in the trial and believed in his innocence."
Crawford County Commissioner Gene Rumsey said, "I'm devastated. I can't accept the fact that he was guilty of anything. He told me he didn't do it, and I'll believe that until hell freezes over."
Rumsey said he had dinner with Dwyer two or three months ago. "He said, 'Gene, I never did it. You've got to believe that.' And I do."
Meadville Mayor James J. DiMaria, a history teacher at Meadville Senior High who had known Dwyer for two decades, said the news left him ''speechless."
"It's unfortunate that Budd felt things were that bad."
In Hershey, near Harrisburg, where the treasurer also maintained a residence, neighbors said they had never discussed the CTA trial with Dwyer.
"Everyone refused to discuss it. We couldn't believe he would do something like that," said one woman, who lives a few doors away in Hershey. "What he did, I had no idea. But they were lovely neighbors. I'm just all sick about it."
Another man who lives nearby said he had tremendous pity for the family.
"When a man was in trouble like that and suddenly he commits suicide, what is there to say other than it's a sad case?" he said. "I wouldn't want my worst enemy to go like that. I wish I could do something for them, but only God can help them now."