Manhunt Unabomber Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Season 1 Episode 3 – In the previous episodes of “Manhunt: Unabomber” we’ve seen that anti-technology terrorist Ted Kaczynski is in federal prison awaiting trial. Kaczynski is a criminal mastermind – educated, clever, and deadly. The Discovery Channel’s 8-part series shows how the Unabomber used the trusted U.S. Postal Service to deliver his deadly bomb packages which terrorized the nation.
Manhunt Unabomber Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Season 1 Episode 3
Ironically, it’s a trial that the federal authorities want to avoid. Kaczynski sought and still seeks publicity for his views. He is the author of a fifty-six page manifesto decrying the condition of modern man in the age of technology. He sent a copy of his manifest to the San Francisco Chronicle. Among his beliefs is the conviction that people have become slaves to machines in a world too dependent on computers and related technology. His victims were ,in one way or another, proponents of modern technology (university researchers were early targets), randomly chosen by Kaczynski to be instruments of his ‘message’ of murder and mayhem.
While the treatment of the Unabomber’s story is fictional, with actors playing the parts of principle figures in the investigations, Ted Kaczynski is a real person. Other real persons who captured and helped indict him are interviewed in short premium segments which can be viewed on the Discovery Channel website. Most prominent among them is Jim Fitzgerald, the FBI criminal profiler chosen by the agency to convince the Unabomber to plead guilty.
In the 1990s, criminal profiling was a relatively new discipline which was held in little regard by traditional agents. The series dramatizes the contributions of behavioral profile specialists (aka criminal profilers) in understanding, catching, and putting the Unabomber behind bars.
Episode 3: Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
The episode title ‘Fruit of the Poisoned Tree’ is a legal concept which deals with the treatment of evidence used in criminal prosecution. It holds that a mistake in one area, chain of custody for example, would taint other associated but properly obtained evidence. Such evidence cannot be used by prosecutors. Being the criminal mastermind he is, Ted Kaczynski was convinced he could outsmart the authorities and cause a mistrial through his clever obfuscations and through that body of legal logic called “fruit of the poisonous tree.’
Because there were notions and concepts in the Unabomber’s manifesto that many people might agree with, it is necessary to remind the audience that Ted Kaczynski was a killer. On June 22, 1993, the postal service delivered an explosive package to an address in Tiburon, California. That victim was Charles Epstein, who lost several fingers and suffered a broken arm and severe abdominal injures when he opened a padded brown envelope at the home where he lived with his wife and daughter, both present in the TV fictional account of that bombing. That bombing was followed a few days later by another in a Computer Science lab at Yale University. Both bombings marked the return of “UNABOMB,” who terrorized campuses and high-tech companies in the 70s and 80s.
A Mountain of Evidence
Wanting to avoid trial for obvious reasons (not wanted to give the Unabomber publicity), the FBI sends criminal profiler Jim Fitzgerald to meet with Ted Kaczynski in the federal prison in Alameda County, California. His purpose in being there is to convince Kaczynski of many good reasons for him to plead guilty. The mountain of evidence found in his remote woodland cabin eliminates most doubt about his guilt: bomb control switches, stamps, fake mustaches, glue, six pairs of sunglasses, and more. It’s all laid out on a large table for Kaczynski to see. Fitzgerald’s pitch to Kaczynski is that he will have more control over his life by pleading rather than going to a trial where the government will dominate him. Kaczynski acknowledges the evidence but learns of a strategy that might free him.
Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
“Imagine if you had to throw out all this evidence,” Kaczynski says to Fitzgerald. This hint of refutation and rebuttal panics the FBI agents watching through one-way glass. The Unabomber’s ‘poisonous tree’ application is interesting and unusual, and it makes use of the same skepticism that the FBI agents had of Fitzgerald’s standing as a criminal profiler. It was a new discipline, little respected in the 1990s. As Kaczynski says, it’s an unproven ‘made-up’ or make-believe position without precedent in American courtrooms. If Fitzgerald’s profiling is what led to his arrest and incarceration was believed by a jury to be a specious and unproven discipline, then whatever followed from it could not be admitted as evidence – namely, the piles of evidence taken from Kaczynski’s cabin.
“Manhunt: Unabomber” is fascinating – complex and detailed and covering a story that spans several decades. In the Discovery Channel presentation, there is much time-shifting between the period when Kaczynski was on the loose and after he was caught and incarcerated. It’s not particularly difficult to follow, and probably necessary to demonstrate and highlight the frustrations, conflicts, and struggles within the large span of time when Kaczynski was sending bombs through the U.S. Postal Service. Fitzgerald becomes something of a pariah among his fellow agents, arguing with his partner and bosses who complain that he’s come up with nothing concrete. They’re looking for a “name” and Fitzgerald is looking for a pattern and an identity. When Fitzgerald does work out an identity, and thinks it’s likely that the Unabomber was educated in Chicago, one of the veteran bosses becomes convinced his own pet theory is right. He convinces fellow agents that the man they’re looking for is named “Leo Burt.” Fitzgerald blows up this theory, telling the agents that Leo Burt is too young to be the Unabomber. This makes Fitzgerald even less popular.
In a previous episode it was noted that Fitzgerald himself could be identified as being from a particular part of the country because he pronounces the word “water” as “wudder.” This lightbulb goes off in Fitzgerald’s mind as a way to profile the Unabomber, compelling him to analyze spelling, grammar, use of certain phrases in the manifesto. Other agents are skeptical, disdainful, and think of Fitzgerald as something of a joke. While everyone knows people from the south or southwest can be partially identified by accent, and that sometimes ‘black dialect’ or ‘white dialect’ can help identify voices on the telephone, Fitzgerald must rely on far more subtle linguistic patterns when he determines Ted Kaczynski was educated at the University of Chicago. It is when his life seems to be falling apart that he connects with Stanford University Etymology professor Natalie Rogers who offers him encouragement and insight and perhaps more. No, etymology is not the study of insects; it is the study of words, their origins, and how single words may have changed over long periods of time. Natalie Rogers defines the task before Fitzgerald as a search for the Unabomber’s “idiolect.” It’s quite fascinating in an egghead sort of way but, as you see from “Manhunt: Unabomber,” you begin to understand how it accomplished what conventional FBI methods failed to do over decades.
There are many minute and fascinating details which make “Manhunt: Unabomber” an interesting video hour but, like the veteran agents who oversee the project, you become invested in seeing justice done. After almost losing all hope, after alienating his family and his apparent new girlfriend, Fitzgerald begs to make a last-minute pitch to Kaczynski. He plays to the Unabomber’s ego and his desire to influence others with his philosophical opposition to science and technology. Fitzgerald leaves the prison thinking he has failed once again but the Unabomber has mailed letters to several major newspapers announcing his decision to plead guilty in order to ‘own” his actions.
Episode 3 – Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
Manhunt Unabomber Fruit of the Poisonous Tree characters and cast include:
Jim ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald – Sam Worthington (Avatar, Wrath of the Titans, Hacksaw Ridge, The Shack, Cake, Everest, Macbeth, The Debt)
Ted Kaczynski – Paul Bettany (Legend, Captain America: Civil War, Margin Call, Wimbleton, A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Coe, Sharpe’s Waterloo, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World)
Lois Epstein – Mary Rachel Dudley (Bloodline, Dear John, Greenleaf, Fantastic Four)
Tabby – Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider, Red Dog, The Nativity Story, Game of Thrones, Roadies)
Judy Clarke – Rebecca Henderson (Appropriate Behavior, Mistress America, Actresses)
Ernie Espisito – Diesel Madkins (Ozark, The Talk, Unanswered Prayers, Mr. Locklaw)
Dr. Charles Epstein – Mike Pniewski (Shots Fired, Madam Secretary, Blue Bloods, The Good Wife)