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Death penalty is personal for brothers

A UMNS Report
By Tom McAnally*
Oct. 19, 2006

Bill Babbitt (left) and David Kacyznski wait to testify before the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission. A UMNS photo by John C. Goodwin.

Two men uniquely able to speak of personal experiences with the death penalty are David Kacyznski and Bill Babbitt. The two are frequent speakers at events calling for an end to the death penalty and reform of the nation's penal system.

David is the brother of the notorious Unabomber Theodore Kacyznski, who was convicted of sending bombs to several universities and airlines from the late 1970s through the early 1990s, the bombs killed three people and wounded 23.

Bill is the brother of Manny Babbitt, who was convicted of murdering an elderly woman in her home in 1980.

David Kacyznski and Bill Babbitt were among 10 individuals who testified before a late September meeting of the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission. The men told the Trenton meeting of similar dilemmas but different outcomes.

Bill told the commissioners of reading about the murder of an elderly woman and suspecting his younger brother, Manny, who had been acting erratically since coming home from Vietnam. He made a tough decision and turned in his brother to the police.

David shared a similar story. After reading a manifesto published by the Unabomber, he suspected his brother, Theodore, and called the FBI. That call, 10 years ago, led to his brother's arrest.

Theodore Kaczynski is serving a life term without parole.

California executed Manny Babbitt by lethal injection in May 1999.

"Our personal experiences are practically identical, except for one thing," Kaczynski told the commissioners. "My brother is alive, and Bill's brother was executed."

Kaczynski said his brother's life wasn't spared because his illness was worse than 100 or so seriously mentally ill people who have been executed since 1992. "His life was spared because he had great lawyers."

Babbitt, an African American, lives in Elk Grove, Calif., and serves on the board of Murder Victims Families for Human Rights. Kaczynski, who is white, is executive director of New Yorkers against the Death Penalty.

The 13-member New Jersey commission has until Nov. 15 to submit a report to the state legislature and Gov. Jon Corzine. New Jersey has not carried out the death penalty since reinstating it in 1982.

Kaczynski and Babbitt spoke Oct. 2 in Syracuse, N.Y., at an event billed as "The Death Penalty: Up Close and Personal." Sponsored by New Yorkers against the Death Penalty, the event was held at Hopps Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

Kaczynski is also scheduled to speak Oct. 28 at a workshop on "Restorative Justice … and Beyond." The event, in Fayetteville, N.Y., is sponsored by the North Central New York Annual Conference's Church and Society Ministry Area and the Mohawk District Task Force on Restorative Justice.

*McAnally, retired director of United Methodist News Service, lives in Nashville.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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North Central New York Annual Conference

Death penalty

United Methodists Against the Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center