Each morning and afternoon, Theodore J. Kaczynski is walked from his suicide-watch cell at the Sacramento County Jail to a small interview room with an observation window that his lawyers can peer through. On his side of the glass, the Unabomber suspect tries to convince Sally Johnson that he is sane enough to represent himself at trial.
Johnson, chief of psychiatric services at the Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, N.C., officially has a narrow standard of competency to judge. At its most basic, her job is only to evaluate whether Kaczynski is mentally fit to understand the proceedings against him and assist his court-appointed lawyers -- whether, in other words, he is competent to stand trial. But in the background of her examination also lies Kaczynski's insistence that he conduct his own defense.
Kaczynski, who adamantly resisted psychiatric examinations by government experts in the past, dropped his opposition after deciding it was his only hope of being declared competent to act as his own lawyer. Critics of such a move contend it would turn the case into a forum for Kaczynski's radical views and result in a "circus" and a possible mistrial in a proceeding where the death penalty is part of the stakes.
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