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Context of 'March 1, 2004: Preliminary Procedures in Trial of Oklahoma City Bombing Conspirator Begin; Judge Will Allow Defense to Explore Idea of Larger Conspiracy'

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7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001: McVeigh Executed

The execution chamber in the Terre Haute, Indiana, federal prison. McVeigh is strapped into this chair and executed by lethal injection.The execution chamber in the Terre Haute, Indiana, federal prison. McVeigh is strapped into this chair and executed by lethal injection. [Source: Agence France-Presse / University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law]Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see January 16, 2001) is executed by lethal injection as survivors of the bombing and relatives of the victims watch on closed-circuit television. His last meal was two pints of chocolate chip ice cream. According to his lawyers, McVeigh is “upbeat” about his upcoming execution, saying he prefers dying to life in prison. At 7 a.m., dressed in a shirt, khaki pants, and slip-on shoes, McVeigh is led to the execution chamber and strapped to a padded gurney. The curtains over glass panels separating the chamber from a viewing area are opened to allow 30 people to directly watch McVeigh’s final moments, while another 300 victims and relatives gather in Oklahoma City to watch the event on closed-circuit television. (McVeigh’s father William McVeigh chose not to attend the execution, and later tells reporters that he prefers to remember his son as a smiling toddler.) According to witnesses, McVeigh acts as if he is in control of the proceedings, staring straight into the television cameras until the lethal injection—three injections of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and finally potassium chloride—causes him to slip into unconsciousness and death. McVeigh is pronounced dead at 7:14 a.m. local time. [Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Fox News, 4/13/2005; Douglas O. Linder, 2006; TruTV, 2008; Mayhem (.net), 4/2009] His is the first federal execution in over 30 years. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001] McVeigh says nothing before his execution, but issues a written statement quoting from the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley. [Indianapolis Star, 2003] The last stanza of the poem reads:
bullet “It matters not how strait the gate,
bullet “How charged with punishments the scroll,
bullet “I am the master of my fate:
bullet “I am the captain of my soul.” [Guardian, 6/11/2001; University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 6/11/2001]
He has written to reporters that his body will be released to one of his attorneys and cremated, and his ashes spread over an undisclosed location. He wrote that he considers the bloodshed caused by his bombing unfortunate, but is not sorry for his actions, calling the bombing a “legit tactic” in his “war” against the federal government. [Mayhem (.net), 4/2009] He has also asked that his body not be autopsied, a request the prison system grants upon his signature on a form reading: “I, Timothy McVeigh, hereby certify; that no abuse has been inflicted upon me while I have been in the custody of the US Bureau of Prisons. I hereby waive any claim of such abuse.” Presumably he signed the form before his execution, as his body will not be autopsied. [TruTV, 2008]

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, William (“Bill”) McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see March 29, 1999) will stand trial on 160 counts of first-degree murder, Oklahoma State District Court Judge Allen McCall rules. The 160 murder counts represent the 160 citizens who died in the blast (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Nichols is already serving a life term in federal prison (see June 4, 1998) for his role in the bombing as it pertained to eight federal law enforcement officials killed in the blast. Nichols faces the death penalty in the upcoming trial. The United States Supreme Court has already ruled that a state trial does not amount to double jeopardy. The preliminary hearing features the same arguments and some of the same witnesses that testified against Nichols in 1997, most prominently Michael Fortier, a friend of Nichols’s co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh who is also serving jail time for his role in the bombing conspiracy (see May 27, 1998). [New York Times, 5/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Allen McCall, Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, Michael Joseph Fortier

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The FBI orders an internal review of its files to determine whether documents related to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing case were improperly withheld from investigators or defense lawyers. Bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, already convicted on federal charges related to the case and serving a life sentence (see June 4, 1998), faces 161 counts of first-degree murder in an upcoming trial in McAlester, Oklahoma (see May 13, 2003). Recent press reports have raised new questions as to whether Nichols’s co-conspirator, bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001), had more accomplices than just Nichols. An Associated Press report says that documents not introduced at McVeigh’s trial (see June 2, 1997) indicated that FBI agents had destroyed evidence and failed to share other information that indicated McVeigh was part of a larger group of white supremacists who may have helped him carry out the bombing (see (April 1) - April 18, 1995). McVeigh had murky ties with a group called the Aryan Republican Army (ARA—see 1992 - 1995 and November 1994) and perhaps took part in bank robberies the group carried out. Moreover, ARA members possessed explosive blasting caps similar to those McVeigh used in the bomb; additionally, a driver’s license in the name of an alias used by Roger Moore, a man robbed by Nichols as part of an attempt to finance the bombing (see November 5, 1994), was later found in the possession of ARA member Richard Guthrie. Law enforcement officials continue to insist that no evidence exists of any larger conspiracy involving anyone other than Nichols and McVeigh, and the FBI’s internal review is motivated by nothing more than “an abundance of caution.” A government official says: “If there’s information out there, that needs to be looked at. This will be a document review to ascertain whether there are documents that were relative to the investigation and that should have been reviewed during the investigation or the prosecution.” If additional records are identified, the Justice Department will determine whether records were improperly withheld from defense lawyers in the case, the official says. The FBI had to conduct a similar document review just days before McVeigh’s 2001 execution after the Justice Department disclosed that the bureau had not turned over thousands of pages of interview reports and other material to McVeigh’s lawyers (see May 10-11, 2001). [New York Times, 2/27/2004; New York Times, 3/16/2004] Also, former television reporter Jayna Davis says she has unearthed ties between McVeigh, Nichols, and Iraqi soldiers operating undercover in the US; Davis has said the FBI refused to act on her information, and has accused the agency of a cover-up (see March 20, 2001). Retired FBI agent David Cid, who worked on the original case, calls Davis’s allegations absurd. “What possible motive would we have to conceal a Middle Eastern link?” he asks. “That was our immediate first assumption anyway” (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After). The presiding judge in the case, District Court Judge Steven Taylor, will conduct a hearing after the FBI’s announcement, but Nichols’s trial will not be delayed. [New York Times, 2/29/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard Guthrie, Aryan Republican Army, David Cid, Jayna Davis, Terry Lynn Nichols, Roger E. (“Bob”) Moore, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steven W. Taylor, Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The trial of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see May 13, 2003) begins in McAlester, Oklahoma, with the trial judge, Steven Taylor, ruling that the trial will not be delayed because of allegations that the prosecution withheld documents from the defense (see February 27, 2004). Nichols faces 161 counts of first-degree murder, and could receive the death penalty if convicted. Taylor warns prosecutors that any withholding of evidence by prosecutors or the Justice Department would void the case entirely, saying: “There will not be a mistrial. There will be a dismissal, period.” Taylor says, “It would be irresponsible for this court to shut down this trial today based on speculation and guesswork what the FBI can come up with.” The defense intends to argue that Nichols was just one small cog in a much larger conspiracy involving convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001) and an undetermined number of unnamed accomplices, perhaps American white supremacists or Middle Eastern radicals; defense lawyer Barbara Bergman tries and fails for a delay, telling Taylor: “Everywhere we turn we are being stymied by the federal government, your honor. It’s outrageous. Why is the federal government so afraid?” Taylor says he will allow the defense considerable leeway in questioning government witnesses: “Some call a trial a search for truth. If the FBI thinks it important to search for truth while we’re conducting this trial, then they should cooperate with the search for truth in this courtroom.” The jury has not yet been seated, and lawyers will not give their opening arguments for at least a week. Brian T. Hermanson is Nichols’s lead lawyer; Lou Keel leads the prosecution. [New York Times, 3/2/2004; New York Times, 3/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Steven W. Taylor, Barbara Bergman, Brian Hermanson, Lou Keel, Terry Lynn Nichols, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Lead defense lawyer Brian Hermanson.Lead defense lawyer Brian Hermanson. [Source: Corbis / TruTV]Michael E. Tigar, the former lead attorney for convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see June 4, 1998) who now faces a state trial on 161 counts of first-degree murder (see March 1, 2004), joins Nichols’s current defense team in speculating that the bombing may have been carried out by a larger group of white supremacists, of which Nichols was only a minor member and perhaps little more than a scapegoat. While prosecutors say they have “an avalanche of evidence” showing Nichols’s heavy involvement, defense lawyers led by Brian T. Hermanson say that Nichols and his cohort, convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997), were part of the purported larger conspiracy. McVeigh, Hermanson argues, “conspired with others whose identities are still unknown” and “orchestrated various events and evidence so as to make it appear that Mr. Nichols was involved and, thereby, direct attention away from others.” Some evidence exists of McVeigh’s involvement with the violent white supremacist group Aryan Republican Army (ARA—see 1992 - 1995 and November 1994) and it is possible that McVeigh took part in bank robberies the group carried out. Tigar says, “Is it too bad they killed Tim?” referring to McVeigh’s execution (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001). “If they really wanted to find out what happened, maybe some of the revelations, now that the cover is blown, maybe he would have talked. Who knows?” Tigar seems to be implying that the government executed McVeigh to ensure his silence, a conclusion prosecutors dispute. Prosecutors say they have given the defense all exculpatory evidence, and that they can indisputably prove Nichols’s guilt. Assistant Oklahoma County District Attorney Sandra H. Elliott says, “Whether or not anybody else is involved, we can prove Mr. Nichols is.” Mark S. Hamm, a criminology professor who has written about the ARA, says: “The preponderance of evidence points to the fact that McVeigh had some sort of ongoing relationship with members of the ARA. [But t]here’s no smoking gun here.” Stephen Jones, who represented McVeigh during his trial (see May 8, 1995), says: “Where the Nichols defense clearly wants to go is to try for an acquittal or hung jury using material the government withheld.” If successful, the Nichols lawyers will try to get Nichols’s federal conviction (see December 23, 1997) reversed. However, “it has to succeed in [these proceedings] first.” [New York Times, 3/16/2004]

Entity Tags: Sandra H. Elliott, Aryan Republican Army, Brian Hermanson, Michael E. Tigar, Stephen Jones, Timothy James McVeigh, Mark S. Hamm, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Lawyers make their opening statements in the trial of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see March 1, 2004), charged with 161 counts of first-degree murder in the bombing. Nichols is already serving a life sentence from a conviction in federal court (see December 23, 1997). Assistant District Attorney Lou Keel calls Nichols and executed Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001) “partners in terror,” and tells of a plethora of evidence joining the two in the conspiracy to destroy the Murrah Federal Building (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Lead defense lawyer Brian T. Hermanson says that Nichols was the victim of “manipulation” and “betrayal” by his friend McVeigh. The prosecution seems to be following a similar path as that taken in Nichols’s federal trial, but Nichols’s defense is trying to raise new doubts about others possibly involved in the conspiracy (see March 16, 2004), including questioning the existence and identity of the infamous “John Doe No. 2,” a purported fellow conspirator who was never caught and whom the FBI has said never existed (see April 20, 1995, April 21, 1995, April 29, 1995, and June 14, 1995).
Judge Lashes Prosecution for 'Inexcusable Conduct' - Judge Steven Taylor excoriates the prosecution for its “inexcusable conduct” in withholding an impropriety in jury selection, saying that the impropriety might cause a mistrial later in the case. Taylor says the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office failed to inform the court until the jury was already chosen that among the 12 jurors and six alternates were three relatives of a prosecutor with local roots who had worked on jury selection. “The court cannot imagine why the prosecutors affirmatively chose not to reveal this information during the jury selection,” Taylor says, blaming prosecutor George Burnett for the lapse. Burnett, Taylor says, knew in early March that he was related to three or four people in the 357-member jury pool, but continued to participate in the process of jury selection that included three of his relatives. At that point, Burnett told his fellow prosecutors, but no one told Taylor until March 12, the day after the jury was selected and the process closed. The jurors bear no blame in the matter, Taylor says. He dismissed the three jurors in question, leaving only three alternates. If the jurors should fall below the requisite dozen, he warns, “the trial will not end in a mistrial, it will end in a dismissal with prejudice,” meaning Nichols cannot be retried on the charges. Prosecutors do not respond in court to Taylor’s admonishment, and say nothing to reporters, as Taylor has barred both sides from speaking to reporters about the case. [New York Times, 3/23/2004]

Entity Tags: Lou Keel, Brian Hermanson, George Burnett, Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, Steven W. Taylor

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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