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Context of 'March 8-9, 1999: Supreme Court Refuses to Hear McVeigh Appeal'

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Terry Nichols and his brother James Nichols are charged by a Michigan federal court with conspiring to help suspected Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh build explosives at Terry Nichols’s farm in Michigan (see December 22 or 23, 1988). Judge Monti Belot rules that Terry Nichols will be held without bail, and will be transferred to Oklahoma City sometime after noon on May 5; the delay in the transfer gives Nichols’s public defender, Steven Gradert, time to file a possible appeal. (Gradert also alleges that when the FBI first interviewed Nichols—see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995—he may not have understood his rights under the law.) The complaint, filed in a federal court in Michigan, does not directly link either of the brothers to the Oklahoma bombing. It does accuse both brothers of building what the complaint calls “bottle bombs” and of experimenting with other explosives with McVeigh in 1992 and 1994 (see April 2, 1992 and After, November 1991 - Summer 1992, October 12, 1993 - January 1994, October 12, 1993 - January 1994, and February - July 1994). Until today, both the brothers were held, not as suspects, but as material witnesses (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995); the conspiracy charges are designed to keep them behind bars until investigators can find more solid links between them and the bombing plot. An affidavit accompanying the complaint says that, like McVeigh, both Nichols brothers blamed the government for the 1993 Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After); authorities have alleged that part of McVeigh’s motivation for the bombing was revenge for the 1993 debacle (see April 24, 1995). An initial version of the affidavit says a witness, Daniel Stomber of Evergreen Township, Michigan, had heard James Nichols “stating that judges and President Clinton should be killed, and that he blamed the FBI and the ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] for killing the Branch Davidians in Waco.” A revised affidavit made public later deletes that information. James Nichols’s lawyer, Miriam Siefer, calls the information in the affidavit “quite stale.” The complaint itself says that James Nichols informed federal agents that his brother and McVeigh had been at his Michigan farm off and on since December 1991. James also told agents that his brother had obtained survival books that had information about bombs, and said he believed McVeigh knew how to build a bomb. The affidavit says James has admitted to building small bombs with McVeigh and his brother, but denied ever buying ammonium nitrate, one of the key ingredients in the Oklahoma City bomb. However, the affidavit says all three men were known to possess quantities of fertilizer and fuel oil, the same materials used in the Oklahoma City bomb, and says that Terry Nichols admitted to FBI investigators that he had bought at least 100 pounds of ammonium nitrate in the recent past. The affidavit says a witness told agents that all three men built other devices made of prescription vials, black powder, blasting caps, and safety fuses, which they detonated in empty fields of James Nichols’s 500 acres. Shrapnel was found in the fields, the affidavit says. Investigators found 28 50-pound bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and a 55-gallon drum of fuel oil on James Nichols’s farm; both ingredients are common on many farms, but James Nichols has claimed to be an organic farmer and thusly would not ordinarily use such materials. The affidavit says that in December 1993, McVeigh used an alias to buy liquid nitro airplane fuel, which could be used with other chemicals to improvise explosives (see December 1993). The complaint and affidavit will be presented to a federal court in Wichita, Kansas, on April 26. James Nichols will be released a month later without bond; US District Judge Paul Borman will rule that the government failed to link him to the bombing (see May 22, 1995). [New York Times, 4/26/1995; Boston Globe, 4/26/1995; New York Times, 4/25/1996; Mickolus and Simmons, 6/1997, pp. 810-811]

Entity Tags: Monti Belot, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dan Stomber, Miriam Siefer, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Terry Lynn Nichols, Paul Borman, Steven Gradert, James Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997), facing execution for his crimes (see June 11-13, 1997), is officially sentenced to death by Judge Richard P. Matsch. The hearing is a formality, as a jury sentenced McVeigh to death the day before; the entire proceeding takes nine minutes. Before Matsch pronounces sentence, he allows McVeigh to speak on his own behalf. McVeigh does so—briefly and cryptically. McVeigh says: “If the court please, I wish to use the words of Justice Brandeis dissenting in Olmstead to speak for me. He wrote: ‘Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.’ That’s all I have.” McVeigh is referring to a dissent written by Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis in a 1928 decision, Olmstead v. United States, which upheld the use of wiretap evidence. Brandeis’s dissent said that the government may not commit crimes to enforce the law, and warned of “terrible retribution” if it did. Stephen Jones, McVeigh’s lead lawyer, refuses to speculate as to why McVeigh chose to use that quote, though Jones says it is a favorite of his client. McVeigh believes the government broke the law in the Branch Davidian siege (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). Jones’s defense partner, Christopher Tritico, tells reporters he is unfamiliar with the quote and will have to look it up. US Attorney Patrick M. Ryan, part of the prosecution team, later says that McVeigh’s remarks were so fleeting that “I didn’t catch it all.” Many families of the bombing victims find McVeigh’s quote cryptic and unclear. Roy Sells, who lost his wife in the bombing, says: “I don’t know if he was referring to the Waco deal or what. I wish he would’ve quoted something from his own heart instead of out of somebody else’s book. I wanted to hear what he had to say about it.” A survivor of the bombing, Paul Heath, says McVeigh’s statement makes it clear he remains unrepentant and still considers himself a revolutionary. During the proceeding, Matsch asks McVeigh for permission to release a letter McVeigh wrote to him on June 22, which asked that Jones be replaced by other lawyers from the defense team for his appeals: Richard Burr, Robert Nigh Jr., and Randall Coyne. The letter was not specific about McVeigh’s reason for requesting Jones’s removal, but cited “problems and difficulties I have had with my appointed counsel in the past.” McVeigh will publicly blame Jones for “screwing up” his trial, and has reportedly told a Buffalo News reporter that he believes Jones repeatedly lied to him about unnamed aspects of the trial (see August 14-27, 1997). Jones merely reminds reporters: “I did not seek this appointment. I am, as I said, a draftee” (see May 8, 1995). [New York Times, 8/14/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 320; University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 2006; University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 2006] McVeigh will later explain his choice of quote to Buffalo News reporter Lou Michel. “I want people to think about the statement,” McVeigh will say. “What [lead prosecutor Joseph] Hartzler is trying to do is not have people learn. He wants to have them put their heads in the sand.” The Brandeis quote, McVeigh will say, reflects on the death penalty: the government says it is wrong for McVeigh to have killed, and yet “now they’re going to kill me. They’re saying that’s an appropriate way to right a wrong?” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 321]

Entity Tags: Paul Heath, Lou Michel, Joseph H. Hartzler, Christopher L. Tritico, Patrick M. Ryan, Timothy James McVeigh, Roy Sells, Richard Burr, Richard P. Matsch, Stephen Jones, Robert Nigh, Jr, Randall Coyne, Louis Brandeis

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The US Supreme Court refuses to hear an appeal of Timothy McVeigh’s conviction for bombing a federal building in Oklahoma City and killing eight federal agents (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and June 2, 1997). [Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Fox News, 4/13/2005]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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