!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of ' January 27, 1997: FBI Technicians Transferred Due to Faulty Lab Procedures in Oklahoma City Bombing Investigation'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event January 27, 1997: FBI Technicians Transferred Due to Faulty Lab Procedures in Oklahoma City Bombing Investigation. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

Four FBI workers who evaluated evidence surrounding the Oklahoma City bombings (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) are transferred after a Justice Department report criticizes the FBI’s crime lab procedures. One of those suspended is forensic scientist Frederic Whitehurst, whose long-standing complaints triggered the Justice Department investigation. That investigation found that evidence in about two dozen cases had been mishandled. Whitehurst is placed on administrative leave with pay just days after the report is received by FBI HQ. The Justice Department report does not allege that evidence had been manipulated to benefit prosecutors. Some evidence was possibly contaminated, and in some instances, the FBI laboratory exercised lax control over evidence. Three of the 23 units in the laboratory were found to have substandard procedures. [Washington Post, 1/28/1997; Indianapolis Star, 2003] According to a technician (not Whitehurst), the black denim jeans that accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) wore on the day of the bombing were shipped to the forensics lab in a brown paper bag, and not a sealed plastic evidence bag as procedure dictates. A gun and a knife purportedly taken from McVeigh during his arrest (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995) were sent to the lab in a manila envelope. According to an FBI summary of interviews conducted with lab technicians, an employee in the explosives unit, LaToya Gadson, told investigators that “the evidence was a ‘mess’ when it came in because it had not been collected in an ‘orderly fashion.’ Additionally, most of the debris was not properly bagged, some was not bagged at all, and many of the bags were not closed tightly, allowing debris to fall out.” Travel cases potentially contaminated with explosive residue from the bomb were placed in an area where bomb debris had been stored awaiting testing, rendering the cases impossible to accurately test. And a technician obtained a false reading of cocaine in McVeigh’s car, possibly from using improperly cleaned equipment. The sample was discarded, a worker says. Three technicians who examined evidence from the bombing case were reassigned: David Williams, who supervised evidence collection; Roger Martz, head of the laboratory’s chemistry unit; and James T. Thurman, chief of the laboratory’s explosives unit. Lab workers say Williams changed his dictated reports in violation of laboratory policy. Martz examined explosive evidence even though he lacked the proper training to do so. [New York Times, 1/31/1997]

Entity Tags: James T. Thurman, David R. Williams (FBI), Frederic Whitehurst, Timothy James McVeigh, Roger Martz, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, LaToya Gadson

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Justice Department inspector general releases a report criticizing the FBI’s practices at its crime laboratory that may cast doubts on evidence to be presented in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995). The report, issued after an 18-month investigation of the laboratory, includes questions about the handling of evidence relating to the Oklahoma City bombing, including the size and composition of the bomb, and of chemical residues found on McVeigh’s clothing and on a knife he was carrying when apprehended. McVeigh’s lead lawyer, Stephen Jones, says he has always intended to challenge the integrity of the physical evidence against McVeigh. The report, prepared by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael R. Bromwich, finds that FBI examiner David R. Williams prepared his September 5, 1995, report on the explosives used in the Oklahoma City bombing “in a way most incriminating to the defendants” (McVeigh and co-conspirator Terry Nichols). Williams, his supervisor, and two other agents were transferred in January in response to Bromwich’s preliminary findings (see January 27, 1997). Williams has been dropped from the government’s witness list. [New York Times, 4/17/1997]

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, David R. Williams (FBI), Michael Bromwich, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The defense in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, August 10, 1995, and April 24, 1997) calls Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, an FBI forensic lab specialist who has become a “whistleblower” for what he has called shoddy practices at the central FBI crime lab (see January 27, 1997). Lead defense lawyer Stephen Jones uses Whitehurst’s testimony to attack the credibility of the forensics tying McVeigh to the bombing (see April 16, 1997). Whitehurst casts aspersions on one lab technician’s handling of evidence obtained from a piece of the Ryder truck destroyed in the blast; the lab technician, David Williams, never told Whitehurst that the piece from the truck was found by a civilian and therefore of questionable evidentiary value. However, Whitehurst is unable to say that any evidence from the bombing itself was contaminated or handled poorly. Judge Richard P. Matsch refuses to allow the defense to introduce the Justice Department report criticizing the FBI lab’s “poor” handling of evidence in several cases (see April 16, 1997). [University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 5/27/1997; CNN, 5/27/1997; Douglas O. Linder, 2006] Former US attorney Mimi Wesson later says that “the prosecution was able to dilute quite a bit of the impact of Whitehurst’s testimony during cross-examination.” [Salon, 5/29/1997]

Entity Tags: Stephen Jones, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Frederic Whitehurst, Richard P. Matsch, US Department of Justice, Timothy James McVeigh, Mimi Wesson

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike