American researcher Wayne Richard McGuire--sought by the Rwandan government as a suspect in the jungle murder of gorilla expert Dian Fossey--proclaimed his innocence here Friday and his attorney suggested that McGuire is the victim of a conspiracy between the Rwandan and U.S. governments.
"I had absolutely nothing to do with Dian Fossey's tragic death," the 35-year-old University of Oklahoma anthropologist said during a brief appearance at a news conference called at the Century City office of lawyer Michael Mayock.
"She was my friend and mentor," McGuire said. "The charges are . . . outrageous."
Fossey, 53, was found hacked to death Dec. 27, 1985, at her remote camp on the slopes of Rwanda's Mt. Visoke, where she had lived for 18 years among the dwindling gorilla population.
Initially, vengeful poachers were suspected by Rwandan investigators as the culprits in the murder of the controversial naturalist, whose stern measures against those she perceived as enemies of the endangered primates had earned her widespread enmity.
Last week, however, Rwanda's director general for the administration of justice, Jean Damscene Nkezabo, announced that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of McGuire, who had been working as Fossey's research assistant during the four months before her death
"We think that McGuire is the principal author of the murder," Nkezabo said.
Mayock argued Friday, after his client's first public appearance since Nkezabo's announcement, that the charges against McGuire are either the result of "a conspiracy between the government of Rwanda and the government of the United States, or the United States was duped by Rwanda."
State Department spokeswoman Deborah Calvin said in Washington that the department had no official comment on Mayock's charges. However, other department officials remarked without attribution that the Century City attorney's accusations were "absurd."
Mayock argued that it is "politically expedient" for Rwanda to have an American, rather than an African, charged in the murder of an internationally famous naturalist who had focused favorable attention on the tiny equatorial nation.
The United States, he said, has found it convenient to funnel aid into central Africa through Rwanda and wishes to maintain friendly relations and an active presence there.
Both countries are well aware that the United States does not have an extradition treaty with Rwanda, Mayock said.
Making McGuire a "scapegoat" after he was permitted to leave for America is convenient for both nations, the attorney said. "And nobody is hurt, other than the professional reputation of Mr. McGuire.
"The Rwandans are happy . . . and the U.S. government is happy because they've done something to the liking of the Rwandans."
Mayock said that while he has no "concrete evidence" of a conspiracy, events strongly suggest one.
The lawyer noted that although McGuire was living in the isolated camp when Fossey was murdered--and, in fact, was the first to notify authorities of her death--he was allowed by Rwandan authorities to continue his research work at the camp for several months after the murder, without any suggestion that he was considered a suspect.
Then, sometime last July, McGuire was contacted by American consular officials in Rwanda and warned that he was going to be charged in Fossey's murder, according to Mayock. McGuire went to seek legal advice in Kigali, the Rwandan capital.
Shortly after McGuire's arrival there, consular officials told him that he should leave Rwanda "as soon as possible," warning that he would be hanged if he remained there, Mayock said. The State Department has said that McGuire received "assistance" from the U.S. Embassy in Kigali at various times but officials declined to elaborate on the nature of that assistance.
Mayock said that when McGuire picked up a ticket at the Air France office in Kigali, an American consular official "just happened" to be there. The lawyer said that although the Rwandan government monitors the activities of foreigners and "obviously" knew that McGuire was preparing to leave, nothing was done to stop him.
McGuire reportedly flew out of Kigali about Aug. 1, stopping in Paris, Amsterdam and his hometown of Hazlett, N.J., before eventually making his way to Southern California about 10 days ago.
Mayock said he does not know why McGuire came to the Los Angeles area. The attorney said McGuire was referred to him by another Los Angeles-area lawyer.
Mayock said he has advised his client not to return to Rwanda because of the likelihood of what he called "trial by ambush."
"I don't know who killed Dian Fossey," the lawyer said. "My client doesn't know."
But Mayock said he could not rule out the possibility that she "might have been attacked by someone in association with the government who wanted her out of there."
And, according to published reports, there were a lot of people who wanted Dian Fossey to leave the research center on the slopes of the dormant, 12,175-foot volcano.
There were the poachers, who had become the special target of Fossey's wrath. Visitors to the camp brought back stories of how Fossey had supervised the humiliation and torture of some of those suspected of hunting down gorillas for profit.
Also, Rwandan tourist officials were said to be outraged at Fossey's efforts to discourage the lucrative photo safaris by visitors anxious to glimpse the reclusive primates. And fellow researchers were said to be angered by Fossey's growing eccentricities and what they saw as her focus on a vendetta against poachers, rather than on research.