R. Budd Dwyer- the man who killed himself on television

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R. Budd Dwyer was an American politician. On January 1987, his suicide left the whole country in shock, not because he was really famous but because he violently took his life publicly at a press conference.

Let us explore the life of R. Budd Dwyer- the man who killed himself on television

1) Who is R. Budd Dwyer?

R. Budd Dwyer a.k.a Robert Budd Dwyer was an American politician. Dwyer served as the 30th state treasurer of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from 1981 to 1987. Additionally, he served as the Republican member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1965 to 1971. Moreover, he served as a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate from 1971 to 1981.

A picture of R. Budd Dwyer swearing-in as the State Treasurer of Pennsylvania
R. Budd Dwyer swearing-in as the State Treasurer of Pennsylvania

2) The backstory

The public workers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania were overpaying millions of dollars in U.S. federal payroll tax (FICA). As a result, the state wanted to employ an accounting firm who could provide refunds to the workers.

A picture of Dwyer

3) The accounting firm in question

Dwyer handed a contract of $4.6 million over to an accounting firm called Computer Technology Associates (CTA) on May 10, 1984. It was a Californian firm, owned by John Torquato.

A picture of John Torquato featured on a magazine cover
John Torquato featured on a magazine cover

4) Financial inconsistencies

Dennis Schatzman who was the deputy controller of the Pittsburgh school district noticed financial inconsistencies in the CTA contract. After noticing these inconsistencies he wrote to the Pittsburg officials. Following which he contacted officials at the accounting firm ‘Arthur Young and Associates’. These officials confirmed that the CTA contract was overpriced by millions of dollars.

A picture of Dwyer with the U.S. President Gerald Ford
Dwyer with the U.S. President Gerald Ford

5) The bribe promised to Dwyer

In June 1984, the office of the Pennsylvania Auditor General informed the officials at FBI about the bribe which had taken place. In the following month, a former employee of CTA, Janice R. Kincaid released a sworn statement, stating that Dwyer gave the contract to CTA because he was promised a $300,000 bribe by the company.

6) The contract is revoked

The federal prosecutors then started investigating the contract. Once Dwyer learned of the investigations he subsequently revoked the contract and repeatedly tried to stop and prevent the investigation. He even admitted telling his staff to withhold the investigator’s request for information regarding the proposal (RFP).

7) Did R. Budd Dwyer take the bribe or not?

Due to his involvement in the CTA contract, William T. Smith was on trial in 1985. He was also a friend of Dwyer and testified that it was Torquato who bribed Dwyer by offering him a campaign contribution in return for the contract, further stating that Dwyer refused that offer. In contrary, Torquato testified that it was Smith who offered Dwyer the $300,000 kickback for the contract. Smith was then sentenced to 12 years in prison.

A picture of Dwyer with his family
Dwyer with his family

8) What did Arthur Young and Associates say?

Arthur Young and Associates, a major accounting firm offered to do the FICA recovery as fast as CTA and for half the cost, they even submitted a proposal 14 days before the allotment of the contract to CTA. The former director of the firm testified at the trial of R. Budd Dwyer stating that Dwyer was aware of the position of the firm before giving the contract to CTA. Moreover, sixteen other competitors were ready to work for the FICA recovery. However, Dwyer did not pay them any heed. In Dwyer’s defence, he stated that he awarded the contract to CTA solely based on them providing ‘immediate credit’.

9) I am innocent

Dwyer denied all the allegations against him. Subsequently, Dwyer’s lawyer attempted to cut up a deal with the U.S. Attorney James West. The deal was that all charges against Dwyer should be dropped if he resigns as the state treasurer. West declined the deal and instead told Dwyer to ask for a plea bargain and plead guilty for a single charge of receiving a bribe. The maximum sentence for this was 5 years. Dwyer refused this offer and went to trial.

A picture of Dwyer with Governor Dick Thornburgh
Dwyer with Governor Dick Thornburgh

10) Trial and convictions

His trial was held on December 18, 1986. During his trial, William T. Smith, the key witness testified against him. Dwyer was convicted of conspiracy, mail fraud, perjury and interstate transportation in aid of racketeering. He subsequently faced up to 55 years in prison and had to pay a fine of  $300,000. His sentence was scheduled for January 23, 1987.

11) A letter to President Ronald Reagan- a plea for innocence

On January 21, 1987, he spoke to Senator Arlen Spector. He had called him to follow up on the letter he had written to President Ronald Reagan on December 23, 1986. In the letter, he asked the president for a pardon and stated that he was innocent of all charges. The Senator responded that his request to the president was ‘unrealistic’ because the judicial process had not yet run its course.

A picture of Dwyer with the U.S. President Ronald Reagan
Dwyer with the U.S. President Ronald Reagan

12) The infamous press conference

On the same day, Dwyer asked his press secretary James “Duke” Horshock and deputy press secretory Gregory Penny to hold a press conference. However, he did not discuss the contents of his speech with them. Horshock then scheduled a press conference for the following day, January 22, at 10 a.m EST. Most people had assumed that he was going to announce his resignation at the conference.

13) Dwyer’s statement

At the conference, Dwyer started reading a 20 page prepared text. In his speech, he called out former Governor Dick Thornburgh, Acting U.S. Attorney James West, federal prosecutors and others and claimed that they tarnished the justice system and ruined him. His speech lasted 30 minutes and the conclusion was not yet in sight, due to this many reporters started packing up to leave. Seeing this Dwyer urged them to stay.

A picture of R. Budd Dwyer giving his last speech
Dwyer giving his last speech

14) Break from the speech

When he reached the last page of his speech he stopped reading and said that the last page would be available from his press aide. Following which, he gave 3 sealed envelopes to his aides, which contained a message to Gov. Robert P. Casey, funerary instructions and an organ donor card.

15) His suicide

After handing out the sealed envelopes, R. Budd Dwyer took out a manila envelope from under the podium and pulled out a .357 magnum revolver. Once the spectators saw the gun they started panicking. Dwyer then stated that they should leave this room if it affects them. Some spectators left the room to get help. Others pleaded with Dwyer to put down the gun while some tried to disarm him. However, he warned against either action.

R. Budd Dwyer’s last words were ‘this will hurt someone, sit down’. Following which, he fatally shot himself dead.

A picture of R. Budd Dwyer pulling out the revolver from the envelope
Dwyer pulling out the revolver from the envelope

16) The media coverage of his suicide

Over the next few hours, news channels contemplated how to showcase his graphic suicide on television. Several channels froze the shot prior to his suicide and only broadcasted the audio with the gunshot. However, few TV stations broadcasted the uncensored footage.

A picture of R. Budd Dwyer before his fatally shot himself
R. Budd Dwyer before his fatally shot himself

17) The aftermath

Following Dwyer’s suicide, the National Association of State Treasurers (NAST) called for a reevaluation of Dwyer’s allegations. A thorough investigation of the matter was done by the United States Department of Justice. These investigations cleared everyone involved in Dwyer’s investigation and prosecution of any lawlessness. The FBI also conducted an investigation of Dwyer’s claims regarding wrongdoings on behalf of FBI personnel. However, they found Dwyer’s claim did not have enough substance and specificity.

A picture of Dwyer with the revolver
Dwyer with the revolver

18) R. Budd Dwyer the ‘Honest Man’

Honest Man‘ is a feature documentary about the life and suicide of R. Budd Dwyer. In the documentary, William T. Smith, one of the key witnesses in the trial of Dwyer admitted that he falsely testified under oath. He stated that he lied at his own trial of 1985 where he denied offering Dwyer a bribe, further stating that it was John Torquato who offered the bribe. However, he maintained that his testimony against Dwyer at his 1986 trial was true.


Enjoyed the above article? You may also enjoy Abigail Folger- The unsung victim of the Tate Murders.

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