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Context of 'March 22, 2004: Murder Trial of Oklahoma City Bombing Conspirator Opens; Prosecutors Lambasted by Judge for Jury Impropriety'

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The Alfred P. Murrah Building after being bombed.The Alfred P. Murrah Building after being bombed. [Source: CBS News]A truck bomb destroys the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people in America’s worst domestic terrorist attack. Timothy McVeigh, later convicted in the bombing, has ideological roots both in the Patriot world and among neo-Nazis like William Pierce, whose novel, The Turner Diaries (see 1978), served as a blueprint for the attack. [Washington Post, 4/20/1995; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 127] Initially, many believe that no American set off the bomb, and suspect Islamist terrorists of actually carrying out the bombing (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After). Their suspicions prove groundless. Investigators will find that the bomb is constructed of some 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, carried in 20 or so blue plastic 55-gallon barrels arranged inside a rented Ryder truck (see April 15, 1995). The bomb is detonated by a slow-burning safety fuse, most likely lit by hand. The fuse is attached to a much faster-burning detonation cord (“det cord”) which ignites the fertilizer and fuel-oil mixture. [New York Times, 4/27/1995] The Murrah Federal Building houses a number of federal agencies, including offices for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF); the Social Security Administration; the Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Veterans Affairs, and Agriculture departments; and the Secret Service. [Washington Post, 4/20/1995] It encompasses an entire city block, between 5th and 4th Streets and Harvey and Robinson Streets, and features a U-shaped, indented drive on 5th that allows for quick pickup and delivery parking. The entire building’s facade on this side is made of glass, allowing passersby to see into the offices in the building, as well as into the America’s Kids day care center on the second floor, which by this time is filling with children. It is in this driveway that McVeigh parks his truck. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 99-102]
Entering the City - McVeigh drives into Oklahoma City, entering around 8:30 a.m. from his overnight stop in Ponca City, Oklahoma; the details reported of his entrance into the city vary (see 7:00 a.m. - 8:35 a.m., April 19, 1995). At 8:55 a.m., a security camera captures the Ryder truck as it heads towards downtown Oklahoma City [Douglas O. Linder, 2006] , a sighting bolstered by three people leaving the building who later say they saw the truck parked in front of the Murrah Building around this time. At 8:57, a security camera captures an image of McVeigh’s Ryder truck being parked outside the Murrah Building in a handicapped zone. One survivor of the blast, Marine recruiter Michael Norfleet, later recalls seeing the Ryder truck parked just outside the building next to the little circle drive on 5th Street leading up to the main entrance of the building. Norfleet had parked his black Ford Ranger in front of the Ryder.
McVeigh Lights Fuses - McVeigh drives the Ryder truck west past the Murrah Building on NW Fourth Street, turns north on a one-way street, and turns right on Fifth Street. He pulls the truck over and parks near the Firestone store, next to a chain-link fence. He then lights the five-minute fuses from inside the cab (see 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995), sets the parking brake, drops the key behind the seat, opens the door, locks the truck, exits, and shuts the door behind him. A man later claims to have hit his brakes to avoid someone matching McVeigh’s description as he crossed Fifth Street around 9:00 a.m. McVeigh walks quickly toward a nearby YMCA building where he has hidden his getaway car, a battered yellow Mercury Marquis (see April 13, 1995), in the adjoining alleyway, crossing Robinson Street and crossing another street to get to the alleyway. He begins to jog as he approaches his car. He later says he remembers a woman looking at him as she is walking down the steps to enter the building; he will describe her as white, in her mid-30s, with dirty blonde hair. According to McVeigh’s own recollection, he is about 20 feet into the alley when the bomb goes off. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 184-185; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 158; Douglas O. Linder, 2006; The Oklahoman, 4/2009]
Truck Explodes - At 9:02 a.m., the truck explodes, destroying most of the Murrah Building and seriously damaging many nearby buildings. Eventually, it will be determined that 168 people die in the blast, including 19 children. Over 500 are injured. The children are in the second-story day care center just above the parking space where McVeigh leaves the Ryder truck. McVeigh will later tell his biographers that he is lifted off his feet by the power of the blast.
Devastation and Death - When the bomb detonates, the day care center and the children plummet into the basement. The building, constructed with large glass windows, collapses, sending a wave of flying glass shards and debris into the building and the surrounding area. The oldest victim is 73-year-old Charles Hurlbert, who has come to the Social Security office on the first floor. Hurlbert’s wife Jean, 67, also dies in the blast. The youngest victim is four-month-old Gabeon Bruce, whose mother is also in the Social Security office. One victim, Rebecca Anderson, is a nurse who runs towards the building to render assistance. She never makes it to the building; she is struck in the head by a piece of falling debris and will die in a hospital four days after the blast. Her heart and kidneys will be transplanted into survivors of the bombing. [Denver Post, 6/3/1997; New York Times, 6/3/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 153-154; Oklahoma City Journal Record, 3/29/2001] Sherri Sparks, who has friends still unaccounted for in the building, tells a reporter in the hours after the blast, “Oh, I can’t stand the thought of… those innocent children, sitting there playing, thinking they’re safe, and then this happens.” The explosion leaves a 30-foot-wide, 8-foot-deep crater in the street that is covered by the wreckage of the building’s upper floors. The north face of the nine-story building collapses entirely. [Washington Post, 4/20/1995; Washington Post, 4/22/1995] Mary Heath, a psychologist who works about 20 blocks from the Murrah Building, says the blast “shook the daylights out of things—it scared us to death. We felt the windows shake before we heard the noise.” In a neighboring building, a Water Resources Board meeting is just commencing; the audiotape of the meeting captures the sound of the blast (see 9:02 a.m. and After, April 19, 1995). [Washington Post, 4/20/1995; The Oklahoman, 4/2009] Norfleet, trapped in the Marine Corps office, is thrown into a wall by the explosion. His skull is fractured, and a shard of glass punctures his right eye. Three separate arteries are pierced, and Norfleet begins bleeding heavily. Two supply sergeants in the office are far less injured; Norfleet asks one, “How bad am I hurt?” and one replies, “Sir, you look really bad.” One of the two begins giving Norfleet first aid; Norfleet later recalls: “He immediately went into combat mode and started taking care of me. He laid me on a table and he started looking for bandages to administer first aid. And while I was laying on that table, I just knew that I was losing strength and that if I stayed in the building, I would die.” Norfleet wraps a shirt around his head and face to slow the bleeding, and the two sergeants help him to the stairs, through the fallen rubble, and eventually out. Norfleet will later say that he follows “a blood trail of somebody that had gone down the steps before me” to get outside, where he is quickly put into an ambulance. He loses almost half his body’s blood supply and his right eye. He will never fly again, and will soon be discharged for medical incapacity. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 161-162] Eighteen-month-old Phillip Allen, called “P.J.” by his parents, miraculously survives the blast. The floor gives way beneath him and he plunges 18 feet to land on the stomach of an adult worker on the floor below, Calvin Johnson. Landing on Johnson’s stomach saves P.J.‘s life. Johnson is knocked unconscious by the blast and by the impact of the little boy falling on him, but when he awakes, he carries the toddler to safety. P.J.‘s grandfather calls the child “Oklahoma’s miracle kid,” and media reports use the label when retelling the story of the miraculous rescue. P.J. is one of six children in the day care center to survive the blast. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 275-277] Some people later report their belief that the Murrah Building was rocked by a second explosion just moments after the first one, the second coming from a secure area managed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) that illegally stored explosives. Law professor Douglas O. Linder will later write, “Both seismic evidence and witness testimony supports the ‘two blast theory.’” [Douglas O. Linder, 2006] That theory is later disputed (see After 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995).
Explosion's Effects Felt Miles Away - Buildings near the Murrah are also damaged, seven severely, including the Journal Record newspaper building, the offices of Southwestern Bell, the Water Resources Board, an Athenian restaurant, the YMCA, a post office building, and the Regency Tower Hotel. Two Water Resources Board employees and a restaurant worker are killed in the blast. The Journal Record building loses its roof. Assistant Fire Chief Jon Hansen later recalls, “The entire block looked like something out of war-torn Bosnia.” Every building within four blocks of the Murrah suffers some effects. A United Parcel Service truck 10 miles away has its windows shattered by the blast. Cars in parking lots around the area catch fire and burn. Millions of sheets of paper, and an innumerable number of glass shards, shower down for hundreds of feet around the building. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 28-30]
Truck Axle Crushes Nearby Car - Richard Nichols (no relation to bomber Timothy McVeigh’s co-conspirator Terry Nichols), a maintenance worker standing with his wife a block and a half away from the Murrah Building, is spun around by the force of the blast. They throw open the back door of their car and begin taking their young nephew Chad Nichols out of the back seat, when Richard sees a large shaft of metal hurtling towards them. The “humongous object… spinning like a boomerang,” as Richard later describes it, hits the front of their Ford Festiva, smashing the windshield, crushing the front end, driving the rear end high into the air, and sending the entire car spinning backwards about 10 feet. Chad is not seriously injured. The metal shaft is the rear axle of the Ryder truck. Later, investigators determine that it weighs 250 pounds and was blown 575 feet from where the truck was parked. Governor Frank Keating (R-OK) points out the axle to reporters when he walks the scene a day or so later, causing some media outlets to incorrectly report that Keating “discovered” the axle. The scene will take investigators days to process for evidence. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 32; New York Times, 6/3/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 187-189]
First Responders Begin Arriving - Within minutes, survivors begin evacuating the building, and first responders appear on the scene (see 9:02 a.m. - 10:35 a.m. April 19, 1995).
McVeigh's Getaway - McVeigh flees the bomb site in his Mercury getaway car (see 9:02 a.m. and After, April 19, 1995), but is captured less than 90 minutes later (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995).

The sketches of “John Doe No. 1” and “John Doe No. 2” as released by the FBI.The sketches of “John Doe No. 1” and “John Doe No. 2” as released by the FBI. [Source: The Oklahoman]The FBI releases sketches of the two men believed to be responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing the day before (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). The men are identified as “John Doe No. 1” and “John Doe No. 2.” [Indianapolis Star, 2003; The Oklahoman, 4/2009] The sketches are based on interviews with witnesses in Oklahoma City and in Kansas (see April 15, 1995). FBI agent Raymond Rozycki speaks to three employees at Elliott’s Body Shop in Junction City, Kansas, who give him most of the details used to compile the sketches (see April 13, 1995 and April 15, 1995). [Fox News, 4/13/2005] Additionally, Attorney General Janet Reno announces a $2 million reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of the bombers. [Mickolus and Simmons, 6/1997, pp. 809] The sketches are released on the authority of lead FBI agent in charge Weldon Kennedy (see After 9:02 a.m., April 19, 1995). In the following days, updated sketches are released, showing “John Doe No. 2” in profile and wearing a baseball cap with lightning streaks on the side. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 193, 261]
One Identified within a Day; Second Never Identified, May Not Exist - Within a day, “John Doe No. 1” is identified as Timothy McVeigh (see April 21, 1995). Lea McGown, the owner of the Dreamland Motel in Junction City, Kansas, speaks to FBI agents and recognizes “Robert Kling” as “Tom McVeigh,” a man who stayed in the motel the week before (see April 13, 1995, 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). McVeigh had checked into Room 25 on Friday, April 14, she says, and stayed through the weekend. She also remembers McVeigh driving a large Ryder truck to the motel. “John Doe No. 2,” described as a stocky, swarthy man with a lantern jaw and a tattoo on his arm, will never be conclusively identified (see June 14, 1995). Agents seal off Room 25 and begin going over it for forensic evidence. [New York Times, 4/24/1995; New York Times, 6/3/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 194; Indianapolis Star, 2003] In 1998, author Richard A. Serrano will characterize “John Doe No. 2” as the man who “either got away with the biggest crime in US history or is a man who never lived.… Discounting the crank or ‘hysterical’ sightings (see February 17, 1995 and After, April 13, 1995, April 15, 1995, April 15, 1995, 3:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, 9:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, 8:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, April 18, 1995, and (1:00 a.m.) April 19, 1995), only three people ever saw John Doe No. 2. Eldon Elliott, Vicki Beemer, and Tom Kessinger, the three Ryder employees (see April 13, 1995 and April 15, 1995), would recall only minor details about the man, and their recollections were as shadowy as his face.” Beemer will later say: “They were both in the office. I really don’t recall what the other guy—he was in there, but I don’t really recall where he was standing exactly.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 259-260]
False Sightings - Bogus sightings and detentions will abound after the sketches of “John Doe No. 2” are released. In Georgia, motorist Scott Sweely is stopped by a local sheriff and ordered to crawl out of his car window and lie facedown on the asphalt. Someone at a gas station told local police that Sweely looked like the sketch of Doe No. 2. Sweely is taken into custody and grilled by federal agents for four hours before being released. In Minnesota, a man resembling Doe No. 2 is arrested at gunpoint at the Mall of America. In California, a man AWOL from the US Army is rousted from his home and transferred to Los Angeles, where crowds scream and demand “justice” be carried out against him. A former Army friend of McVeigh’s, Roger L. Barnett (see January - March 1991 and After and January - March 1991 and After), is considered a possible Doe No. 2. Barnett resembles the descriptions of the supposed accomplice—he is stocky and has a skull-and-crossbones tattoo on his arm. He also lives near the Arkansas state line, close to the gun dealer whom alleged co-conspirator Terry Nichols robbed to help finance the bombing (see November 5, 1994). However, time cards from his workplace show Barnett was at work the entire week of the bombing, and he passes a lie detector test. Another Army friend, Ray Jimboy, now working as a fry cook in Okemah, Oklahoma, is briefly considered a possibility, but a lie detector test clears him. For a time, Joshua Nichols, Terry Nichols’s son, is considered a possible Doe No. 2, though Joshua is 13 years old. The FBI is bombarded with calls; one husband even tells agents that the Doe No. 2 sketch is his wife. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 260-262]

Entity Tags: Janet Reno, Vicki Beemer, Elliott’s Body Shop (Junction City, Kansas), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Eldon Elliott, Dreamland Motel (Junction City, Kansas), Tom Kessinger, Timothy James McVeigh, Weldon Kennedy, Scott Sweely, Raymond Rozycki, Lea McGown, Ray Jimboy, Richard A. Serrano, Joshua Nichols, Roger L. Barnett, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The FBI says it has ascertained the identity of “John Doe No. 2,” a second suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing (see April 18, 1995, 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 20, 1995). The bureau says it believes “No. 2” is from Oklahoma, but is unsure of his current whereabouts. The FBI does not release the name of the suspect. [New York Times, 4/22/1995] The FBI’s announcement may be related to information it has gleaned from witnesses in Herington, Kansas, who told investigators that they had seen both “John Doe No. 1” (bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh—see April 21, 1995) and “No. 2” staying with McVeigh’s alleged co-conspirator Terry Nichols (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995) at Nichols’s Herington home (see (February 20, 1995)). [New York Times, 4/26/1995] Two months later, the FBI will announce that “No. 2” is an Army private with no connection to the bombing (see June 14, 1995).

Entity Tags: Terry Lynn Nichols, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Federal authorities say that the Arizona license plate missing from accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s Mercury (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995) appears on a vehicle in a security camera videotape made near the Murrah Federal Building just before the bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Authorities believe the second suspect in the bombing, “John Doe No. 2” (see April 20, 1995), may have used that vehicle for his getaway. The videotape shows both the vehicle—not McVeigh’s Mercury Marquis—and the Ryder truck containing the bomb. The Associated Press attributes the report to a federal official who speaks on condition of anonymity. [New York Times, 4/29/1995]

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Associated Press

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Law enforcement authorities call off the search for the so-called “John Doe No. 2,” believed to be another person involved in the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 20, 1995). Officials say the sketch identifying the man is of an innocent person. The sketch has been “enhanced” twice to further aid in identification. [Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Indianapolis Star, 2003] Government prosecutors say that the person believed to be depicted in the sketches is Todd David Bunting, an Army private from Fort Riley, Kansas; they say that Bunting has no connections to McVeigh or the bombing. A witness has told the FBI that he saw Bunting at Elliott’s Body Shop, a truck rental agency in Junction City, Kansas, on April 17, two days before the blast, either in the company of accused bomber Timothy McVeigh (see April 21, 1995 and April 24, 1995) or standing close to him while McVeigh rented the Ryder truck used in the bombing (see 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). Authorities now believe that Bunting was at the rental shop on April 16, the day before McVeigh’s visit, or perhaps April 18, the day after. The FBI releases a statement that says in part: “That individual… resembles the sketch previously circulated as the second of two men who rented the truck on April 17 and who has been called John Doe No. 2.… [The FBI] has determined that individual who has been interviewed was not connected to the bombing.” Some investigators believe that the witness, the rental agent at the shop, became confused under pressure from investigators to recall the details of the second man he says he saw with McVeigh. [New York Times, 6/14/1995; Mickolus and Simmons, 6/1997, pp. 811; The Oklahoman, 4/2009] Bunting will later say that it is his face depicted in the composite sketches of “John Doe No. 2.” [New York Times, 12/3/1995] He closely resembles the sketch, and has a Carolina Panthers baseball cap with lightning strikes down the sides, much like the cap Doe No. 2 was said to wear. He even has a tattoo on his right arm where one witness said Doe No. 2 has a tattoo. The press learns of the Bunting identification before the FBI can hold an official press conference announcing its findings, and reporters trek to Timmonsville, South Carolina, where Bunting is attending the funeral of his mother-in-law, to interivew him; some reporters even barge into the funeral home. Bunting will later stand before cameras and reporters in a press conference held in Fort Riley, where he says he was at Elliott’s Body Shop in the company of another man, Sergeant Michael Hertig, to rent a truck and pack up his belongings to transfer to Fort Benning. He talks of the FBI’s questioning of him, and of the chill he felt when he learned he was being connected to the bombing, however tenuously. Author Richard A. Serrano will later write that after repeated humiliating press reports of false identifications of Doe No. 2 (see April 20, 1995 and May 1-2, 1995), the FBI wants the problems of Doe No. 2 to “go away… dissolve from the nation’s consciousness.” Serrano will suggest that agents deliberately found an innocent man, Bunting, who bears a strong resemblance to the sketch, and decided to use him to end the speculation. If true, the FBI’s efforts will be fruitless: the speculation will continue for years, with a Web site, “John Doe Times,” posted by an Alabama militiaman, hosting anti-government postings and criticism of the ongoing investigation. The far-right “Spotlight” newsletter will say in 1996 that federal agents had employed “dupes” to bomb the Murrah Building, and that McVeigh and Doe No. 2 were mere patsies. The newsletter will claim that Doe No. 2, a government provocateur, lives in hiding on an Indian reservation in upstate New York. Others will speculate that Doe No. 2 is white supremacist Michael Brescia (see August 1994 - March 1995, (April 1) - April 18, 1995, April 8, 1995, and 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), who bears a close resemblance to the sketch. Brescia later pleads guilty to crimes unrelated to the bombing and will deny any involvement. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 265-266] Author Nicole Nichols, an expert in right-wing domestic terrorism unrelated to accused co-conspirator Terry Nichols, will later speculate that Doe No. 2 is actually Andreas Strassmeir, a gun aficianado and member of the militaristic Elohim City compound along with Brescia (see 1973 and After). Press reports later state that McVeigh denies any involvement by Strassmeir (see February 28 - March 4, 1997). Prosecutors will later reiterate that Bunting is “John Doe No. 2” and reiterate that he has no connection to the bombing (see January 29, 1997).

Entity Tags: Andreas Strassmeir, Elliott’s Body Shop (Junction City, Kansas), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Nicole Nichols, Michael Hertig, Todd David Bunting, Michael William Brescia, Richard A. Serrano, Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Accused Oklahoma City conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and December 15-16, 1997) is convicted of one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and eight counts of involuntary manslaughter. He is found not guilty of use of a weapon of mass destruction (see April 16-17, 1995), and of using an explosive, as well as the more serious charges of first-degree and second-degree murder. The jury took 41 hours over six days to decide Nichols’s fate (see December 16-18, 1997). By rejecting the murder charges in the deaths of eight federal law-enforcement officials, the jury concludes that Nichols did not provably intend to kill the people inside the Murrah building. Observers and researchers such as law professor Douglas O. Linder will later conclude that the jury believed the defense’s contention that Nichols had withdrawn from the bombing plot (see March 1995 and March 31 - April 12, 1995), and was probably swayed by Nichols’s decision to stay home on the day of the bombing instead of joining convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City (see June 2, 1997) at the bomb site. The jury may also have been moved by Nichols’s show of emotion during the trial; unlike the stoic McVeigh, Nichols broke down and wept during several moments in the proceedings. Legal analysts say the split verdict is in part because of a much more effective defense (see December 2, 1997) than that presented by Nichols’s co-conspirator, McVeigh (see August 14-27, 1997), who was sentenced to death for carrying out the bombing (see June 2, 1997). Kentucky defense lawyer Kevin McNally says of the verdicts: “[They mean] he had a much less culpable state of mind regarding the homicides. To the jury, he engaged in certain actions that were reckless, but it wasn’t a premeditated killing.” Former federal prosecutor Marvin L. Rudnick says the jury “probably compromised” on the involuntary manslaughter verdicts. Lead prosecutor Larry Mackey says: “The jury has spoken. We accept their verdict in its entirety. We are prepared to go forward now with the penalty phase.” Nichols’s lead attorney, Michael Tigar, immediately files an appeal and says he will challenge any attempt by the jury to sentence Nichols to death. However, analysts feel that Nichols will escape execution. Denver attorney Andrew Cohen says: “I would be very surprised if the jury sentenced Nichols to death. They distinguished in their own minds what both men did.” Both McVeigh and Nichols face 160 counts of murder in an Oklahoma state court. [New York Times, 12/23/1997; Washington Post, 12/24/1997; New York Times, 12/24/1997; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Indianapolis Star, 2003; Douglas O. Linder, 2006] Under federal law, a conviction of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction can lead to the death penalty. The law is only three years old and has never been used. This death penalty provision was passed by Congress in 1994 after the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York (see February 26, 1993). [New York Times, 12/25/1997]
Mixed Reactions - Predictably, reactions regarding the verdict are mixed. Claudia Denny, whose two children were seriously injured in the blast, says, “We’re all disappointed, but we can live with it.” She says she would have preferred murder convictions, but “one more terrorist is off the street.… The important thing to us now is our children. This doesn’t change that. It doesn’t matter.” Bud Welch, who lost his daughter in the bombing, says that the involuntary manslaughter convictions were inappropriate because that charge is what people get “for running a stoplight” and killing someone with a car. Diane Leonard, whose husband was one of the eight law enforcement agents killed, calls the verdict “a slap in the face.” Marsha Knight, whose daughter was one of the 160 civilians killed in the blast, says: “He conspired to build the bomb. What the hell did they think he was going to do with it?” [New York Times, 12/24/1997; Washington Post, 12/24/1997] President Clinton says the convictions of McVeigh and Nichols “should offer a measure of comfort” to the relatives of the victims. But, he adds, “I know that no verdict in a court of law can ease the loss of a loved one.” [New York Times, 12/23/1997]
Judge Offers Leniency, Nichols Turns Down Offer - Judge Richard Matsch later tells Nichols he will consider some leniency in sentencing him to prison if he cooperates in helping the government learn more about the bombing conspiracy. Nichols rejects the offer. [Indianapolis Star, 2003]

Entity Tags: Andrew Cohen, Kevin McNally, Bud Welch, Douglas O. Linder, Claudia Denny, Diane Leonard, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Marvin L. Rudnick, Timothy James McVeigh, Marsha Knight, Michael E. Tigar, Terry Lynn Nichols, Richard P. Matsch, Larry A. Mackey

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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

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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