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Originally published Sunday, June 19, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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30-year grudge leads to attempted murder

A retired political-science professor from Philadelphia has been convicted of trying to murder President Ford's personnel chief 30 years...

New York Daily News

WASHINGTON — A retired political-science professor from Philadelphia has been convicted of trying to murder President Ford's personnel chief 30 years after he believed he was passed over for a government job.

Robert Spadaro, 70, was found guilty in federal district court last week of four counts of attempted murder and interstate stalking against businessman Douglas Bennett.

Michael Ambrosino, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, said Spadaro faces a minimum of 15 years in prison.

"It's a life sentence, frankly," said Ambrosino. "Maybe he'll get over his obsession."

Prosecutors said the defendant believed Bennett intentionally denied him a position with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1975 because of a relationship he had with Bennett's first wife before they married. Bennett said he never knew Spadaro was looking for a federal job.

Spadaro admitted he had stalked Bennett, but said he did not intend to kill him. "If I had wanted Douglas Bennett dead, he would be dead," Spadaro said in his closing arguments last week.

"There is never a time to kill except in self-defense for you and your loved ones," Spadaro wrote in an unpublished memoir, "but there is a time to exterminate a cockroach."

Spadaro has stalked Bennett for years. In 2003, however, his grudge turned violent. He visited the Bennetts' house on Halloween dressed as Hannibal Lecter, the cannibalistic villain in "Silence of the Lambs."

He left after encountering Bennett, but returned two days later with a .38-caliber pistol. Spadaro fired two shots at Bennett as he sped away in his Jaguar.

"I thought, 'Either it's over, or I'm going to be very lucky,' " said Bennett, a West Point graduate who earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart during two tours in Vietnam.

Spadaro spurned his court-appointed lawyer and defended himself. Judge John Bates frequently halted the trial to correct Spadaro's unconventional legal tactics.

At one point, for instance, Spadaro asked Bennett, "Have you ever used edible underwear in your sex life?"

Nancy Cavanaugh, Spadaro's late wife's sister, who attended the trial, said she had no doubt her brother-in-law was guilty. "Bobby's been angry for a long time," she said.

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