Robert Budd Dwyer's Final Speech (partially found footage of press conference; 1987)
This article has been tagged as NSFL due to its discussion of a real-life suicide/disturbing visuals.
On January 22nd, 1987, American politician Robert Budd Dwyer called a press conference lasting almost 30 minutes. The conference was in response to Dwyer being convicted of conspiracy, mail fraud, perjury, and interstate transportation in aid of racketeering, with him to be sentenced later that month. This conference became infamous, because, following his speech, Dwyer pulled out a .357 Magnum and committed suicide in public.
Robert Budd Dwyer served as the 30th Treasurer of Pennsylvania from January 20th, 1981, to January 22nd, 1987. Prior to Dwyer becoming State Treasurer, it was discovered that many Commonwealth of Pennsylvania employees had overpaid in Federal Insurance Contributions Act taxes, from 1979 to 1981, and an accounting company was needed so that refunds could be properly distributed. On May 10th, 1984, Dwyer gave a $4.8 million contract to Computer Technology Associates (CTA) to perform these duties. This was deemed suspicious for various reasons; as it was later discovered, CTA was a small California company that lacked personnel, equipment, and experience to perform the role. Had CTA conducted the work as expected, Pennsylvania would have lost $6 million, as this no-bid contract was overpriced by millions. This was especially notable considering that the contract was eventually fulfilled by Levin-Horwath for a much lower sum. More suspicion arose regarding financial discrepancies within the CTA contract being discovered, leading to an investigation into bribery being swiftly conducted, with a grand jury indicting CTA owner John Torquato Jr., Judy Smith, Alan Stoneman and David Herbert.
William T. Smith, Torquato's attorney and a friend of Dwyer's, was also indicted by the jury. Prior to his trial in 1985, on October 27th, 1984, Smith confessed that he had offered Dwyer a bribe that Dwyer ultimately accepted in an unpublished interview with a Philadelphia newspaper. Smith would later be convicted and be sentenced to twelve years in prison. In an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to reduce his sentence, Smith testified against Dwyer during the latter's and Republican Party Chairman for the State of Pennsylvania Bob Asher's federal trial. Dwyer denied the charges against him and rejected a plea deal that would have seen him be found guilty of bribe receiving, the conditions being he would receive a maximum of five years imprisonment, resignation as state treasurer, and fully cooperated with the US government's investigation into the scandal. Ultimately, on December 18, 1986, Dwyer was found guilty of 11 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, perjury, and interstate transportation in aid of racketeering. He, therefore, faced not only a $305,000 fine but also a prison sentence that could have seen him be locked up for up to 55 years.
Nevertheless, Dwyer maintained his innocence and even requested a presidential pardon from Ronald Reagan. He also contacted Senator Arlen Specter on January 21st to request support in this matter. Specter responded that a presidential pardon was highly unrealistic because the judicial process had not concluded. Therefore, Dwyer was to be sentenced on the 23rd.
The Press Conference
On January 15th, 1987, Dwyer proposed a press conference to his press secretary James Horshock and Deputy Treasurer Don Johnson. Following his phone conversation with Specter, Dwyer contacted Horshock and deputy press secretary Gregory Penny to establish a press conference on the 22nd. He was notably vague on what was to be discussed. Nevertheless, many of the reporters Horshock requested to attend the conference were convinced that Dwyer was to announce his resignation.
Dwyer read from a 21-page prepared text that professed his innocence and criticized the criminal justice system. Particularly, he lambasted former governor Richard Thornburgh, Acting U.S. Attorney James West, Judge Malcolm Muir, various FBI agents, and others within the criminal justice system, claiming all of them had ruined him. In a speech that lasted almost 30 minutes, and with no indication that Dwyer was to announce his resignation, some reporters attempted to leave halfway through, only for Dwyer to request they stay. The speech was deemed a "rambling polemic about the criminal justice system".
Dwyer decided to break away from speech, most notably before a part that discussed his suicide plans. It stated:
"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 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 – I love you! Thank you for making my life so happy. Goodbye to you all on the count of 3. Please make sure that the sacrifice of my life is not in vain."
He then called and gave envelopes to three of his staffers. The first was given to Bob Holste; inside contained a letter for Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey. The second was given to Penny, concerning organ donation and within it an organ donor card. The final one was given to Johnson, which contained various materials for the former's family, including letters to them and funeral arrangement plans.
He then swiftly grabbed another envelope, this one containing a .357 Magnum revolver. Suddenly, the people within the room became horrified, and either tried to have Dwyer surrender the gun, or even to grab it themselves. Dwyer quickly warned against either action, before putting the gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger, resulting in a gunshot to his temple that caused instant death. Five news cameras recorded both the shooting and the aftermath, one of which showed close-up footage of Dwyer's bloody face and blood flowing out of his nose, before all reporters were told by Horshock to exit the room.
Following Dywer's suicide, many news organizations debated on the extent of the graphic footage was to be aired. While most did not showcase the suicide, Philadelphia's WPVI, Pittsburgh's WPXI, and Harrisburg's WHTM-TV all did so to some extent, drawing significant criticism from many viewers and journalists. Dwyer's allegations made during his press conference were ultimately dismissed by the Office of Professional Responsibility.
Some, including Dwyer's spokesman, believed that Dwyer committed suicide because since he was still in office, his pension benefits for his family would be collected, totalling over $1.28 million. The reasoning behind this was twofold; firstly, the legal defence costs had a great financial impact on the family. Secondly, had Dwyer been sentenced no pension benefits would have been paid, according to state law. Despite his conviction, many have claimed that Dwyer was actually innocent emerged. In the 2010 documentary Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer, Smith admitted that he had lied in his trial, stating that he never offered any bribe to Dwyer and that the reason he lied was that he attempted to reduce his own sentence, and to ensure his wife was not prosecuted for her involvement within the conspiracy. Nevertheless, in that same year, West affirmed Dwyer's guilt.
Robert Budd Dwyer's suicide is widely available to view from two angles, including the aforementioned close-up aftermath footage. However, copies of the press conference itself are exceptionally rare to find. Only a clip detailing the final four minutes before Dwyer's suicide is publicly available. For his documentary Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer, director Jim Dirschberger contacted every news station in Pennsylvania to request the full speech. However, his requests were all denied. Therefore, 26 minutes of the speech remain inaccessible, although a transcript of the speech is available online.
- Official website for Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer, a depository for many documents surrounding Robert Budd Dwyer and the case.
- Budd Dwyer's final statements.
- Biography of Robert Budd Dwyer. Retrieved 09 May '21
- New York Times article reporting on the tax overpayments, Dwyer's awarding of the contract, and subsequent investigation. Retrieved 09 May '21
- Full document of Dwyer's indictment. Retrieved 09 May '21
- Document detailing Smith and Stoneman's appeals, and the $6 million Pennsylvania would have lost if CTA fulfilled the contract. Retrieved 09 May '21
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obituary for Dennis Schatzman, the first person to discover the financial discrepancies Retrieved 09 May '21
- United States v. Smith, listing all those that were indicted. Retrieved 09 May '21
- Latrobe Bulletin detailing Smith's confession. Retrieved 09 May '21
- U.S. vs Smith, detailing Smith's testimony against Dwyer. Retrieved 09 May '21
- New York Times article discussing the plea deal Dwyer rejected. Retrieved 09 May '21
- AP News article discussing Dwyer's conviction and suicide. Retrieved 09 May '21
- AP News article discussing Dwyer's attempt to receive a presidential pardon and his conversations with Specter. Retrieved 09 May '21
- Pittsburgh Press article discussing Dwyer proposal of a press conference. Retrieved 09 May '21
- Philadelphia Inquirer article concerning Dwyer's press conference orders, its vague nature, and the belief Dwyer was to announce his resignation. Retrieved 09 May '21
- Los Angeles Times article discussing how the speech was "rambling". Retrieved 09 May '21
- Pennlive article discussing the speech. Retrieved 09 May '21
- Orlando Sentinel article discussing the envelopes. Retrieved 09 May '21
- New York Times article discussing the suicide. Retrieved 09 May '21
- Media Ethics and the Fouth Commandment the case of Robert Budd Dwyer Pennsylvania State Treasurer, discussing the new camera recordings and the decisions some new organizations made to air the suicide on television. Retrieved 09 May '21
- Los Angeles Times article criticizing the decision to air the suicide on television. Retrieved 09 May '21
- New York Times article reporting on Office of Professional Responsibility's dismissal of Dwyer's allegations made during his press conference. Retrieved 09 May '21
- Sun Sentinel article discussing the pension Dwyer's family received, which may have contributed towards Dwyer's decision to commit suicide. Retrieved 09 May '21