R. Budd Dwyer was the Pennsylvania State Treasurer at the time of his death on the morning of January 22, 1987. He is, unfortunately, remembered primarily for his shocking suicide in front of the media when he pulled a .357 Magnum out of a manila envelope and shot himself in the mouth. The events that led to Dwyer's demise are perhaps a reflection of the flaws of the American political and judicial system. The day after his death he was to have been sentenced to a maximum of 55 years in prison and face a large fine for his alleged part in a bribery scandal.
An error in the accounting of FICA taxes of Pennsylvania state employees resulted in state employees to be entitled to millions in refunds. Clearly, the state lacked the time and resources to carry this out in a timely fashion. A California company called Computer Technology Associates (CTA) was among the companies hoping to bid on the multimillion dollar job. However, CTA's owner John Torquato Jr., was a Pittsburgh native whose father had deep political associations in the area, and he wanted to get the job without bidding. Bribes and secret deals lead up to May 10, 1984 when CTA was awarded the job.
Only 10 days after CTA was awarded the contract an anonymous letter to the Governor led investigators to start an investigation that ultimately led to a federal trial in 1986 with 3 people listed on the inditement: R. Budd Dwyer, Robert Asher, and John Shumaker. As Shumaker was later removed during a closed door meeting with the acting United States Attorney in the case, James West, it questions the credibility of the case due to the fact that both were political enemies of Dwyer.
Dwyer was charged among numerous other allegations, with accepting a kickback of $300,000, which was never received, and was only found on a disk belonging to Torquato who had been given a plea bargain along with several other high level officials. During the trial, Dwyer's attorney, Paul Killion, failed to present any witnesses to defend Dwyer. This was not to say that the attorney was inept or was also a political enemy, rather, the government refused to release the list of un-indicted coconspirators which limited the possible witnesses that could defend Dwyer to essentially nil, and that the few witnesses that Killion could produce would have probably done more harm than good according to Killion.
Not surprisingly, Dywer was found guilty on all counts. The verdict reportedly shocked Dywer and he became increasingly depressed. On January 22, 1987 Dwyer arranged for a 10:30 AM press conference at his office in the state capitol for an "update on his situation," the press expecting him to resign (He would have been fired if he had not), instead, caught one of the most awful sights captured on tape.
For a man who, by those who knew and worked with him was considered a good and decent individual; to have your personal and political integrity and reputation of more than 20 years destroyed; to spend the rest of your life in jail for a crime that you were framed for, was perhaps too much. Maybe a man in a more rational position would have hoped to have been vindicated in maybe a few years, and move on with his life. However, Dwyer was most likely not rational, he was depressed and angered by the injustice dealt to him by political opponents who found someone they disliked that could take the biggest fall for them. Perhaps Dwyer was indeed guilty of accepting a bribe, a kickback, but the one-sided trial that Dwyer was forced to endure was little more than a show trial and that in itself is enough of an injustice if America values a fair trial and justice.
It should also be mentioned, that despite the seeming desperation of his situation, that in killing himself, his pension and life insurance, which totaled more than $1 million, was still left intact and able to be used by his family. Had he been sentenced, it would have all been wiped out. Perhaps he felt that it was the last thing he could give his family.