R. Budd Dwyer

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Robert Budd Dwyer
Press photo of the moment before Dwyer shot himself, as he was warning people to stay away from him
30th Treasurer of Pennsylvania
In office
January 20, 1981 – January 22, 1987
Preceded by Robert E. Casey
Succeeded by G. Davis Greene, Jr.
Member of the Pennsylvania Senate
from the 50th district
In office
January 5, 1971 – January 20, 1981[1]
Preceded by James Willard
Succeeded by Roy Wilt
Constituency Parts of Mercer, Crawford, and Erie Counties[2]
Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
from the 6th district
In office
January 7, 1969 – November 30, 1970
Preceded by District Created
Succeeded by Harrison Haskell
Constituency Parts of Crawford County[3]
Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
from the Crawford County district
In office
January 5, 1965 – November 30, 1968
Personal details
Born Robert Budd Dwyer
(1939-11-21)November 21, 1939
Saint Charles, Missouri, U.S.
Died January 22, 1987(1987-01-22) (aged 47)
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Joanne Dwyer (deceased)
(m. ?–1987; his death)
Relations Robert Malcolm Dwyer and Alice Mary Budd Dwyer (parents) (deceased); Ross Dwyer, Logan Seaburg (grandchildren)[4]
Children Robert (Rob), Dyan (Dee Dee)
Alma mater Allegheny College
Profession Teacher, politician

Robert Budd Dwyer (November 21, 1939 – January 22, 1987) was an American politician in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He served from 1971 to 1981 as a Republican member of the Pennsylvania State Senate representing the state's 50th district. He served as the 30th Treasurer of Pennsylvania from January 20, 1981 to January 22, 1987. On that day, Dwyer called a news conference in the Pennsylvania state capital of Harrisburg where he killed himself in front of the gathered reporters with a .357 caliber revolver.[5] Dwyer's suicide was broadcast later that day to a wide television audience across the state of Pennsylvania.

In the early 1980s, Pennsylvania discovered its state workers had overpaid federal taxes due to errors in state withholding. Many accounting firms competed for a multimillion-dollar contract to determine compensation to each employee. In 1986, Dwyer was convicted of receiving a bribe from a California firm trying to gain the contract. Throughout his trial and after his conviction, he maintained that he was innocent of the charge and that he had been framed. Dwyer was scheduled to be sentenced on those charges on January 23, 1987, the day after his suicide. The prosecution's primary witness, William T. Smith, whose testimony was largely used to obtain Dwyer's conviction, later admitted in an interview shown in Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer that he (Smith) had lied under oath about Dwyer taking the bribe in order to receive a reduced sentence.[6]


Dwyer graduated from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, where he was a member of the Beta Chi chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity. After earning a master's degree in education, he taught social studies and coached football at Cambridge Springs High School.

A Republican, Dwyer became active in politics. He was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from the 6th district (although seats were apportioned by county prior to 1969) from 1965 to 1970. He also served as a member of the Pennsylvania Senate from the 50th district from 1971 to 1981. After his tenure as a state senator, Dwyer was elected state treasurer, a position he held from 1981 until his death in January 1987.

Bribery investigation and conviction

During the early 1980s, public employees of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania overpaid millions of dollars in Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes. As a result, the state solicited bids from accounting firms to determine refunds for its employees. The contract was eventually awarded to Computer Technology Associates (CTA), a California-based firm, owned by John Torquato, Jr, a native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Later Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh received an anonymous memo detailing allegations of bribery that took place during the bidding process for the $4.6 million contract.

An investigation was undertaken by federal prosecutors. Dwyer was charged with agreeing to receive kickbacks worth $300,000 in return for using his office to steer the contract toward CTA. The US Attorney also indicted Torquato, Torquato's attorney William T. Smith, Smith's wife, and Bob Asher, the former Republican Party Chairman for the State of Pennsylvania. In return for lighter sentences, Torquato and the Smiths pled guilty and testified on behalf of the Federal government against Dwyer and Asher. In a 2010 documentary about the case, Smith said he lied about bribing Dwyer as part of a plea bargain deal.[7]

Dwyer denied any wrongdoing. Federal prosecutors offered him a single charge of bribe receiving (which would have meant up to a maximum of five years' imprisonment), resignation from his office as Treasurer of Pennsylvania and full cooperation with the government's investigation but he refused. Instead Dwyer went to full trial. However his defense was curtailed by the prosecution because the case was limited to only those who had been charged. The names of the unindicted co-conspirators who were linked in the bribery scandal but were not on trial were withheld. These unnamed individuals were believed to have been staff members of the Dauphin County Republican Party.[8]

On December 18, 1986, Dwyer was convicted on 11 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, perjury and interstate transportation in aid of racketeering, and as such faced a sentence of up to 55 years' imprisonment and a $300,000 fine.[9][10] His sentencing was scheduled for January 23, 1987, to be performed by U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Muir.[9]

Bob Asher, Dwyer's co-defendant, was sentenced to one year in jail. He later returned to politics and served as a Republican national committeeman for Pennsylvania.[11]

Dwyer's status as State Treasurer

Pennsylvania law meant that Dwyer could not officially be removed from office until his sentencing in January. Given this, Dwyer stated that until his legal appeal was resolved, he would stay on as Treasurer under leave of absence without pay. In the interim, the treasury department would be run by Deputy Treasurer Donald L. Johnson.[9]

Dwyer continued to profess his innocence after being convicted, as did others close to him.[11] On December 23, he wrote a letter to President Ronald Reagan seeking a presidential pardon.,[12] and to Senator Arlen Specter seeking support in this effort.[13]

The week of Dwyer's sentencing, Pennsylvania State Attorney General Leroy Zimmerman and state prosecutors were investigating a provision of the Pennsylvania state constitution where removal of a civil worker from office who has been convicted of a crime is "self executing", thus, automatic upon that person's sentencing. A decision confirming this constitutional point was expected on January 22, the day before Dwyer's sentencing hearing.[9][14]

January 22 Press conference

In a meeting in his home, Dwyer discussed the idea of a press conference, with his press secretary James "Duke" Horshock and Deputy Treasurer Don Johnson, on January 15, 1987. At the time, Johnson cautioned Dwyer not to use such a forum to attack the governor or other individuals involved with his criminal conviction, and Dwyer assured him that he would not do so. Both men left assuming Dwyer would ultimately resign if the press conference were held.[15]

Dwyer finally reached Senator Specter by telephone on January 21, two days before his sentencing. A Specter aide stated that the two of them talked for 8 to 10 minutes.[16] Following up on his letter to the senator asking for help, he personally asked for a presidential pardon at that time. The senator's response was that this request was "not realistic" because the judicial process, including appeals, had not yet run its course.[13][16][17]

On the same day, Dwyer asked his press secretary Horshock and deputy press secretary Gregory Penny to set up a news conference, "but did not tell them the purpose".[18][19] Horshock arranged the press conference for 10:30 a.m. EST the next day, January 22. The press secretary called dozens of reporters asking them to attend, and told them he did not know its subject.[9][19]

Leading up to this press conference, acting U.S. Attorney General James J. West, who had prosecuted Dwyer, stated that (his resigning from office) "sounds like the appropriate thing to do under the circumstances. It seems like it would save everybody a lot of time and aggravation."[9] Similarly, Harrisburg Patriot-News reporter Kenn Marshall described the consensus among reporters: they would be attending to see Dwyer announce his resignation from office. "My mission was to stay there until he said those words, then call in a new top for our story."[7]

Dwyer's plans were set. The night before the press conference, he wrote in personal notes, "I enjoy being with Jo so much, the next 20 years or so would have been wonderful. Tomorrow is going to be so difficult and I hope I can go through with it."[20]

Dwyer's press statement

As the press conference began on January 22, Dwyer appeared agitated and nervous. He professed his innocence and began reading from a 21 page prepared text later described as a "rambling polemic about the criminal justice system".[7] It singled out former Governor Thornburgh, Acting U.S. Attorney James J. West, agents in the FBI, Judge Muir, and others for tarnishing the justice system and ruining him.[13] Dwyer spoke out against the death penalty and expressed regret for voting in favor of it while he was in the Pennsylvania assembly. This speech lasted nearly 30 minutes, About halfway through, as some television personnel prepared to leave, Dwyer asked them, "Those of you who are putting your cameras away, I think you ought to stay because we're not, we're not finished yet."[19]

Given the inflammatory nature of portions of Dwyer's text, press secretary Horshock had considered interrupting him outright to stop him, but concluded that he would hold his own press conference after Dwyer's. "I had to make it known that I was not aware of the content of the statement. I didn't want it to be thought that I wrote that for him."[15]

Upon reaching the final page of his statement, which had not been distributed to the press nor press secretary Horshock in advance, Dwyer paused. "...and I'm on the last page now, and I don't have enough to pass out, but Duke [Horshock], I'll leave this here, and you can make copies for the people; there's a few extra copies here right now."[21] Dwyer continued,

I thank the good Lord for giving me 47 years of exciting challenges, stimulating experiences, many happy occasions and most of all[,] the finest wife and children any man could ever desire.

Now my life has changed for no apparent reason. People who call and write are exasperated and feel helpless. They know I am innocent and want to help, but in this nation, the worlds greetest [sic] democracy, there is nothing they can do to prevent me from being punished for a crime they know I did not commit. Some who have called have said that I am a modern day Job.

Judge Muir is also noted for his Medieval sentences. I face a maximum sentence of 55 years in prison and a $305,000 fine for being innocent. Judge Muir has already told the press that he felt "invigorated" when we were found guilty and that he plans to imprison me as a "deterrant" to other public officials. But it would be a deterrant [sic] because every public official who knows me knows that I am innocent. It wouldn't be legitimate punishment because I've done nothing wrong. Since I'm a victim of political persecution, my prison would simply be and American Gulag.

I ask those that believe in me to continue to extend friendship and prayer to my family, to work untiringly for the creation of a true Justice system here in the United States, and to press on with the efforts to vindicate me, so that my family and their future families are not tainted by this injustice that has been perpetrated on me.

We were confident that right and truth would prevail and I would be acquitted and we would devote the rest of our lives working to create a Justice system here in the United States. The guilty verdict has strengthened that resolve. But as we've discussed our plans to expose the warts of our legal system[,] people have said, 'Why bother? no one cares, you'll look foolish, 60 Minutes[,] 20/20, the American Civil Liberties Union, Jack Anderson, and others have been publicizing cases like yours for years and it doesn't bother anyone.'

At this point, Dwyer stopped reading his prepared text, which as yet had still not said whether he intended to resign from office or not. The part he did not read follows:

I've repeatedly said that I'm not going to resign as State Treasurer. After many hours of thought and meditation I've made a decision that should not be an example to anyone because it is unique to my situation. Last May I told you that after the trial, I would give you the story of the decade. To those of you who are shallow, the events of this morning will be that story. But to those of you with depth and concern the real story will be what I hope and pray results from this morning–in the coming months and years[,] the development of a true Justice System here in the United States. I am going to die in office in an effort to '...see if the shame[-ful] facts, spread out in all their shame, will not burn through our civic shamelessness and set fire to American pride.' Please tell my story on every radio and television station and in every newspaper and magazine in the U.S.. Please leave immediately if you have a weak stomach or mind since I don't want to cause physical or mental distress. Joanne, Rob, DeeDEe [sic] - I love you! Thank you for making my life so happy. Good bye to you all on the count of 3. Please make sure that the sacrifice of my life is not in vain.

Having stopped reading, he called to three of his staffers, giving each a sealed envelope with the insignia of the treasury department.[15] The first envelope, given to Bob Holste, contained a letter addressed to then-Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey, who had taken office just two days earlier. The second, given to deputy press secretary Gregory Penny, contained an organ donor card and other related materials. The last, given to Deputy Treasurer Don Johnson, contained materials intended for Dwyer's family, including three letters (one for his wife Joanne, and one for each of his children, Rob and DeeDee) and suggested funeral arrangements.[15][20][22]

Freelance photographer Gary Miller, one of the reporters in attendance, describes the scene to this point, "It was just kind of a long-winded, sad event."[7]

Public suicide

Dwyer then produced a manila envelope with a blued Smith & Wesson Model 27 .357 Magnum revolver in it. As he pulled the gun out of the envelope, he said to the gathered crowd, "Please, please leave the room if this will...if this will affect you." Attendees pleaded with Dwyer to put the gun down, while some ran to get help. Others tried to approach him.[23] Dwyer advised everyone not to come near him, saying, "Don't, don't, don't, this will hurt someone."[24] Dwyer then turned the gun toward himself, opened his mouth, inserted the gun, and pulled the trigger.[25] The bullet exited out of the top of his head, leaving a bloody stream, and Dwyer collapsed to the floor behind the podium as more blood flowed through his nostrils and from the exit wound. Witnesses screamed and cursed as five news cameras recorded the events. Press secretary Horshock, clearly shaken, stepped to the podium and asked the press present to stop filming and leave, and for someone to call for a doctor, ambulance, and police.

Dwyer died instantly from the gunshot shortly before 11:00 a.m. EST, but he was not pronounced dead at the scene until 11:31 a.m.[24] An aide later stated that Dwyer's corneas were made available for transplant as per his organ donation wishes, but that no others were usable by the time his body reached a hospital.[19]

Graphic footage and television media

Dwyer's press conference was not broadcast live. A number of television stations throughout Pennsylvania broadcast taped footage of Dwyer's suicide to a midday audience. Philadelphia station WPVI (Channel 6) showed Dwyer pulling the trigger and falling backwards, but did not show the bullet path.[26] Over the next several hours, news editors had to decide how much of the graphic footage to air.

Many stations, including WCAU and Pennsylvania's Group W stations KYW and KDKA, froze the action just prior to the gunfire. However, the latter two allowed the audio of the shooting to continue under the frozen image. Group W's news cameraman William L. "Bill" Martin and reporter David Sollenberger had a camera set up at the conference. They chose to air the audio with a freeze frame of the gun in Dwyer's mouth. Only a handful aired the unedited press conference. WPVI in Philadelphia re-broadcast the suicide footage in full on their 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Action News broadcast without a warning to viewers. That station's broadcast is a source for copies circulating on the Internet. WPXI in Pittsburgh is reported by the Associated Press to have broadcast the footage uncensored on an early newscast. In explaining the decision to air, WPXI operations manager By Williams said, "It's an important event [about] an important man." Williams avoided airing the footage in the evening newscasts, explaining, "Everyone knows by then that he did it. There are children out of school."[27] However, in central Pennsylvania, many children were home from school at the hour of Dwyer's suicide due to a snowstorm, and Harrisburg TV station WHTM-TV opted to broadcast uncut video of the suicide not once, but twice that day, defending the decision (despite hundreds of viewer complaints afterward) due to the important nature of the story. Nationally, none of the major broadcast news operations telecast the actual suicide, with NBC showing the news conference but freezing it before Dwyer put the gun in his mouth, and ABC and CBS showing no footage at all.[citation needed]

A copy of the unedited video is available on the Internet.[22] Despite YouTube's policy against videos of suicides the R. Budd Dwyer footage is uploaded several different places on their website, some of them with over several million views.

Many older students reacted to the event by creating black comedy jokes similar to those that circulated after the Challenger disaster. A study of the incidence of the jokes showed that they were told only in areas where stations showed uncensored footage of the press conference.[28] At least one reporter present at Dwyer's suicide suffered from being a witness. Tony Romeo, a radio reporter, was standing a few feet from Dwyer. After the suicide, Romeo developed depression and took a break from journalism.[29]

Letter to Governor Bob Casey

Dwyer's deep mistrust of outgoing Republican Governor Thornburgh was spelled out in detail in his press conference statement.[30] The timing of Dwyer's press conference and suicide meant that Thornburgh was not empowered to appoint a Treasurer to replace him. Instead, this fell to Thornburgh's successor, Democrat Bob Casey, who had taken office on January 20, 1987.[31]

The letter Dwyer had sent to Casey stated, among other things, "By the time you receive this letter...the office of State Treasurer of Pennsylvania will be vacant. I stress to you that I did not resign but was State Treasurer of Pennsylvania to the end." Also, that Casey "will be the great Governor that Pennsylvania needs at this time in our history." He suggested his wife Joanne as the successor to Treasurer of Pennsylvania, describing her as "very talented, personable, organized and hard-working."[32] Governor Casey did not take his suggestion, and instead appointed G. Davis Greene Jr. as the 31st Treasurer of Pennsylvania on January 23, 1987, the day after Dwyer's suicide.[33]

Death benefits and burial

Since Dwyer died in office, his widow Joanne was able to collect full survivor benefits, totaling over $1.28 million. A spokesman for Dwyer suggested that he may have committed suicide to preserve the state-provided pension for his family, whose finances had been ruined by legal defense costs.[34] Other statements made by friends and family also posit that this is the case.[20]

Dwyer was buried in Blooming Valley Cemetery in Blooming Valley, Pennsylvania, near his hometown of Meadville.[35]

One year after her husband's suicide, Joanne Dwyer moved from their home in Hershey to the Tempe, Arizona area with her son Robert and daughter Dyan. She never married again. Joanne Dwyer remained in Tempe until her own death on Sunday, July 12, 2009, at the age of 70. Her body was buried next to her husband's in Blooming Valley Cemetery.[36]


In 1990, Dwyer's suicide was used as an "ethnomethodological approach to the study of suicide" in the scholarly journal Symbolic Interaction.[37]

A cartoon referencing Dwyer's suicide was used on the cover of CKY's 1999 Single "96 Quite Bitter Beings".

The industrial rock band Filter released a song about Dwyer's suicide in 1995, titled "Hey Man Nice Shot", which was popularly misunderstood to be about the suicide of Kurt Cobain.

In 1992, alternative rock band Faith No More recorded a song entitled "The World Is Yours," which featured a sample of an audio clip of Dwyer's final moments and suicide. Furthermore, the song contains the lyrics "This will hurt someone," which are Budd Dwyer's final words.[38]

Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer, a full-length feature documentary about Dwyer, premiered at the Carmel Art & Film Festival on October 9, 2010.[39] The Dwyer family attended the premiere in Pennsylvania on November 10, 2010, in Harrisburg, where they participated in a Q&A session after each screening.[40] In the film, William T. Smith (the witness whose testimony was critical to Dwyer's conviction) said he lied under oath to get a lighter sentence.[7]


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External links