Robert Budd Dwyer was an American politician in the state of Pennsylvania. From 1971 to 1981, he served as a Republican member of the Pennsylvania State Senate.
In early 1980s, public employees of Pennsylvania overpaid millions of dollars in federal taxes due to errors in state withholding. So the state asked for bids from accounting firms to determine refunds for its employees. Many accounting firms competed for a multimillion-dollar contract which was ultimately given to Computer Technology Associates (CTA), a California-based firm.
Later allegations of bribery surfaced and Dwyer was charged with agreeing to receive kickbacks worth $300,000 in return for using his office to steer the contract towards CTA. On December 18, 1986, Dwyer was convicted of having accepted the bribe. Throughout his trial and conviction Dwyer maintained that he was innocent. He also wrote to President Ronald Reagan seeking a presidential pardon. Despite his conviction, Dwyer was allowed under Pennsylvania law to continue serving as state treasurer until his sentencing by U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Muir on January 23, 1987. Dwyer faced a sentence of up to 55 years imprisonment and a $300,000 fine.
On January 22, 1987, the day before his sentencing, Dwyer called a press conference. In the middle of the conference he stopped reading from his prepared text and gave three envelopes to his staffers. They contained a suicide note to his wife, an organ donor card and other related material and a letter to the governor of Pennsylvania. Then from another envelope he pulled out a .357 caliber revolver and said to the crowd “Please, please leave the room if this will…if this will affect you.” When people urged him to put his gun down and approached him, he said, “Don’t, don’t, don’t, this will hurt someone.” While people persuaded him to reconsider, Dwyer turned the gun towards him, opened his mouth, inserted the gun, and pulled the trigger. He died instantly from the gunshot.
Dwyer’s suicide was broadcast to a wide television audience across the state of Pennsylvania. A copy of the unedited video is available on the Internet. Apart from the reason that he continuously alleged that he was innocent, another reason for Dwyer’s suicide might have been that his killing himself while still technically in office allowed his family to collect pension benefits that would have been forfeited upon his imprisonment. Since Dwyer died in office, his widow Joanne was able to collect full survivor benefits, totalling over $1.28 million.
On October 9, 2010 a documentary about Budd Dwyer, titled Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer, premiered at the Carmel Art & Film Festival. In the film, William Smith, a co-accused whose testimony was crucial to Dwyer’s conviction, admitted to lying under oath in order to get a lighter sentence.