Heart disease killed former security guard wrongly linked to '96 bombing

ATLANTA - Former security guard Richard Jewell, who was wrongly linked to the deadly bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics, died of heart disease, Georgia's chief medical examiner said Thursday.

Jewell, 44, who had diabetes and kidney problems, died Wednesday at his home in West Georgia.

An autopsy performed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation showed Jewell had severe heart disease and essentially had a heart attack, Dr. Kris Sperry told The Associated Press. Jewell's diabetes contributed to the heart problems, Sperry said.

Despite the results, Sperry said the GBI planned toxicology tests because of the notoriety of the Jewell case so there 'won't be any open questions at the end of the day.'

There is no evidence drugs or alcohol contributed to Jewell's death, Sperry said.

Jewell was initially hailed as a hero for spotting a suspicious backpack and moving people out of harm's way just before a bomb exploded, killing one and injuring 111 others. But within days, he was named as a suspect in the blast.

Though eventually cleared in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, Jewell never recovered from the shame of being wrongly linked to the bombing in the news media. Finally, a year ago, he was again hailed as a hero.

Gov. Sonny Perdue commended Jewell at a bombing anniversary event. 'This is what I think is the right thing to do,' Perdue declared as he handed a certificate to Jewell.

Jewell said: 'I never expected this day to ever happen. I'm just glad that it did.'

It was one of his last good days. Jewell was diagnosed with diabetes earlier this year and was recently on dialysis.

After the Olympics, Jewell worked in various law enforcement jobs, including as a police officer in Pendergrass where his partner was fatally shot in 2004 during the pursuit of a suspect. As recently as last year, Jewell was working as a sheriff's deputy in west Georgia.

For two days after the July 27, 1996, bombing, Jewell was hailed as a hero for shepherding people away from the suspicious backpack.

But on the third day, an unattributed report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution described him as 'the focus' of the investigation.

Other media, to varying degrees, also linked Jewell to the investigation and portrayed him as a loser and law-enforcement wannabe who may have planted the bomb so he would look like a hero when he discovered it later.

The AP, citing an anonymous federal law enforcement source, said after the Journal-Constitution report that Jewell was 'a focus' of investigators, but that others had 'not yet been ruled out as potential suspects.'

Jewell was never arrested or charged, although he was questioned and was a subject of search warrants.