Robert Budd Dwyer was a politician and state official who served on the Pennsylvania State Senate from 1971 to 1981. From 1981 until his passing on January 22, 1987, Dwyer also served as the Treasurer of Pennsylvania. However, Dwyer is best known for his public suicide. Unlike other public figures who passed while in office, this case was unique in that television news crews were there to witness the entire event. In fact, several cameras recorded the incident as it happened because the disgraced treasurer had called a public press conference and invited the media to attend, knowing he was going to end his own life.
A few news stations depicted the controversial death on television in its entirety, and Budd Dwyer is now one of the most well-known cases of someone who took their own life. However, most people are unaware of exactly why Budd Dwyer did what he did. Leading up to incident he was the 30th State Treasurer for Pennsylvania and allegedly became involved in a graft to award a government contract in exchange for a large kickback. The crime's discovery and Dwyer's subsequent convictions reportedly led him to end his life very publicly - one day before his sentencing.
In 2010, Eighty Four Films released Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer, directed by James Dirschberger. The documentary details the CTA scandal surrounding Dwyer's political downfall and the events that culminated into a once well-respected politician taking his own life.
Computer Technology Associates Gave Dwyer $300,000 For Giving Them The State Contract
The California company Computer Technology Associates was eventually announced as the winning bidder of the state contract to calculate necessary FICA refunds. However, CTA, owned by John Torquato Jr., was relatively small and inexperienced, and other firms offered to do the work in the same amount of time for far less than the $4.6 million CTA was set to be paid.
According to prosecutors, the company paid Dwyer a $300,000 kickback so he would use his considerable influence to make sure they were awarded the contract.
Press Began To Leave The Conference, But Dwyer Convinced Them To Stay
The press entered the conference Dwyer called fully expecting a resignation before his sentencing. Dwyer even told his lawyer, Paul Killion, he planned to resign and that he didn't want Killion at the press conference because "he knew [he'd] be upset about [the] attack on participants at the trial.''
At one point during his long speech, television crews began to leave, but Dwyer requested that they stay: "Those of you who are putting your cameras away, I think you ought to stay because we're not, we're not finished yet."
The Treasurer Maintained His Innocence And Refused To ResignPhoto: Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer (2010)/Eighty Four Films / via Wikimedia Commons / Fair Use
Despite mounting evidence and a large number of witness testimonies implicating him in the payoff, Dwyer constantly maintained his innocence. The treasurer claimed that he had done nothing wrong while in office and that the case against him was a conspiracy to throw him under the bus rather than give him a fair trial. He also refused to resign from his state position.
Pennsylvania law dictated that officials could not remove Dwyer from office until he had been convicted and sentenced. Dwyer refused to step down, which meant that he couldn't be fired until his sentencing was complete.
There Were A Lot Of Warning Signs, But No One Took Notice
On January 23, 1987, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that accounts of Dwyer's "final days and hours [show] a man who felt increasingly cornered as his sentencing neared." Dwyer lost his house and was disbarred. Robert Daughenbaugh, whose office Dwyer visited on the day of his passing, reported that Dwyer said: "My life's destroyed. It's over [...] I've got a law degree and a teaching degree. The law's barred me from practicing, and I'd be barred from teaching because of moral turpitude."
Dwyer also ran into Samuel Simmons, director of personnel, one week prior. When Simmons commented that Dwyer seemed to be in good spirits, Dwyer said, "Yeah, considering what's going to happen to me in a week." Simmons assumed Dwyer was referring to his sentencing hearing. In another instance, Dwyer ran into Greg Penny the day of the news conference. He asked Penny: "Are you going to be there this morning?" When Penny assured Dwyer he would be, Dwyer nervously said: "You want to see it through to the end?"
Duke Horshock, the Treasury press secretary, reported many red flags the morning of Dwyer's final day. Around 8:30 am, Dwyer told Horshock: "Well, this is a sad day for me." Horshock told papers that later, as he and Dwyer were setting up his office for the news conference, he asked Dwyer: "Why don't you do [the press conference] at your desk? Why do you want it to be in this corner of the room?" Dwyer said: "Well, I just want to do it here." Horshock later realized that Dwyer wanted his passing to occur at a safe distance from the conference's attendees.