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Context of 'March 31, 1997 and After: McVeigh Jury Begins Selection; Questions Surround Knowledge, Capabilities of Potential Jurors'

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Oliver North testifying before the Iran-Contra Committee.Oliver North testifying before the Iran-Contra Committee. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North testifies before the joint House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. During the course of his testimony, he says he does not know if President Reagan had any knowledge of the diversion of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). North also testifies that William Casey, the recently deceased CIA director (see May 6, 1987), knew of and approved the diversion of funds to the Contras. North admits that the Iranian arms sales were initially designed to help facilitate the release of the American hostages being held by Hezbollah. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Tour de Force - North’s testimony is a “tour de force,” in the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, that allows Republicans the opportunity to reverse the field of the hearings and go on the offensive instead of defending the conduct of the Reagan administration. North, a Marine lieutenant colonel, wears his full-dress Marine uniform throughout his entire testimony with rows of ribbons festooning his chest. Handsome and full of righteous patriotism, he is striking on television, and contrasts well with the nasal, disdainful committee lawyers (see May 5, 1987) who spend four days interrogating him.
Need to Free Hostages Trumps Law - For the first two days, North and House counsel John Nields spar for the cameras. North says that Casey had directed him to create the so-called “Enterprise” (see November 19, 1985 and February 2, 1987), the clandestine organization that supported the Nicaraguan Contras with money, weapons, and sometimes US personnel. North admits to shredding untold amounts of evidence after the operation came to light (see November 21-25, 1986). He also admits to lying to Congress in previous testimony. But all of his actions are justified, he says, by the need to get Iran to free the American hostages. “I’d have offered the Iranians a free trip to Disneyland if we could have gotten Americans home for it,” he declares in response to one question about US arms sales to Iran. Senate counsel Arthur Liman will later write, “He made all his illegal acts—the lying to Congress, the diversion [of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Contras], the formation of the Enterprise, the cover-up—seem logical and patriotic.”
Targeting Covert Operations - Nields’s preferred line of questioning—covert operations—makes many committee members uncomfortable. Some House Democrats want to use the investigation to further their own goals of limiting covert actions, and others simply want the truth to be revealed. In contrast, House Republicans are united in opposition to any details of covert operations being revealed on national television and thus hampering the president’s ability to conduct future operations as needed. After the first day of North’s testimony, committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) exults on PBS that North “probably was as effective as anybody we’ve had before the committee in coming forward very aggressively and stating what he did, saying why he did it, arguing that he was in fact authorized to take the activities that he did.”
Leaky Congress Unfit to Know of Covert Ops, North Contends - North echoes Cheney’s position that the question is not whether White House officials broke the law, but whether Congress was fit to consider the question of national security at all. North goes so far as to question the propriety of the hearings themselves: “I believe that these hearings, perhaps unintentionally so, have revealed matters of great secrecy in the operation of our government, and sources of methods of intelligence activities have clearly been revealed, to the detriment of our security.” North’s message is clear: Congress is not fit to handle covert operations or, by and large, to even know about them. Best for the legislature to allow the White House and the intelligence community to do what needs doing and remain quiet about it. North’s contention that Congress has leaked vital national security information is shot down by Senate committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who not only forces North to admit that he has no evidence of his contention, but that the White House, not Congress, is the main source of leaked classified information. Indeed, North himself has leaked information (see July 7-10, 1987). Inouye’s co-chair, Warren Rudman (R-NH) will later say: “The greatest leaks came out of the White House. North and company were the biggest leakers of all during that period.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 75-78] Nields, addressing North’s implication that the NSC has no obligation to tell the truth to Congress, says towards the end of his session with North: “We do believe in a democracy in which the people, not one lieutenant colonel, decide important policy issues, don’t we? … You denied Congress the facts North had admitted to lying about the government’s involvement with the Hasenfus plane. You denied the elected representatives of the people the facts.” [Boston Globe, 7/9/1987]
Impact on Public Opinion - Results will differ on North’s popularity with viewers (see July 9-31, 1987).

Entity Tags: William Casey, Warren Rudman, Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Arthur Liman, Bush administration (41), Contras, Daniel Inouye, Hezbollah, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Nields, Jake Bernstein, Lou Dubose

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal (see February 1989), is convicted of three counts of falsifying and destroying documents (see November 21-25, 1986 and March 16, 1988), of obstructing a Congressional investigation, and of illegally receiving a gift of a security fence around his home. He is acquitted of nine other counts. Though facing up to ten years in prison and a $750,000 fine, North receives an extremely lenient sentence: three years’ suspended, two years’ probation, community service, and a $150,000 fine. He also has his Marine service pension suspended. During the trial, North admits he lied repeatedly to Congress during his testimony (see July 7-10, 1987), but says that his superiors, including National Security Adviser John Poindexter, ordered him to lie under oath. North contends that he was made a scapegoat for the Reagan administration. “I knew it wasn’t right not to tell the truth about these things,” he says, “but I didn’t think it was unlawful.” US District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell calls North a “low-ranking subordinate who was carrying out the instructions of a few cynical superiors,” and says to North: “I believe you still lack understanding of how the public service has been tarnished. Jail would only harden your misconceptions.” North, who had been staunch in justifying his actions in the Iran-Contra hearings, now expresses remorse over his crimes, saying, “I recognize that I made many mistakes that resulted in my conviction of serious crimes… and I grieve every day.” North, who is a popular speaker with conservative organizations, can pay off his fine with six speaking engagements. Nevertheless, he says he will appeal his conviction. [BBC, 7/5/1989; New York Times, 9/17/1991] North’s conviction will indeed be overturned by an appeals court (see September 17, 1991).

Entity Tags: John Poindexter, Reagan administration, Oliver North, Gerhard Gesell

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

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).

A federal grand jury indicts Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) on 11 counts of murder and conspiracy. Neither McVeigh nor Nichols are present during the hearing. The grand jury is only empowered to bring federal charges; the eight murder charges are in regards to the eight federal agents slain in the bombing: Secret Service agents Mickey Maroney, Donald Leonard, Alan Whicher, and Cynthia Campbell-Brown; DEA agent Kenneth McCullough; Customs Service agents Paul Ice and Claude Madearis; and Paul Broxterman, an agent in the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Both Nichols and McVeigh are expected to face 160 counts of murder brought by the state of Oklahoma; both will plead not guilty to all counts of the indictment (see August 15, 1995). The indictment levels the following charges:
bullet on September 30, 1994, McVeigh and Nichols purchased 40 50-pound bags of ammonium nitrate (2,000 pounds in total, or one ton) in McPherson, Kansas, under the alias “Mike Havens” (see September 30, 1994);
bullet on October 1, 1994, McVeigh and Nichols stole explosives from a storage locker in Marion, Kansas (the actual date of the theft is October 3—see October 3, 1994);
bullet on October 3-4, 1994, McVeigh and Nichols transported the stolen explosives to Kingman, Arizona, and stored them in a rented storage unit (see October 4 - Late October, 1994);
bullet on October 18, 1994, McVeigh and Nichols bought another ton of ammonium nitrate in McPherson, Kansas, again using the “Mike Havens” alias (see October 18, 1994);
bullet in October 1994, McVeigh and Nichols planned the robbery of a firearms dealer in Arkansas as a means to finance the bombing, and on November 5 they “caused” firearms, ammunition, coins, cash, precious metals, and other items to be stolen from gun dealer Roger Moore (see November 5, 1994);
bullet on December 16, 1994, McVeigh drove with Michael Fortier to Oklahoma City and identified the Murrah Federal Building as the target of the upcoming bombing (see December 16, 1994 and After);
bullet in March 1995 McVeigh obtained a driver’s license in the name of “Robert Kling,” bearing a date of birth of April 19, 1972 (see Mid-March, 1995);
bullet on April 14, 1995, McVeigh bought a 1977 Mercury Marquis in Junction City, Kansas, called Nichols in Herington, Kansas, used the “Kling” alias to set up the rental of a Ryder truck capable of transporting 5,000 pounds of cargo, and rented a room in Junction City (see April 13, 1995);
bullet on April 15, 1995, McVeigh put down a deposit on a rental truck under the name of “Robert Kling” (see April 15, 1995);
bullet on April 17, 1995, McVeigh took possession of the rental truck in Junction City (see 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. April 17, 1995);
bullet on April 18, 1995, at Geary Lake State Park in Kansas, McVeigh and Nichols constructed the truck bomb using barrels filled with ammonium nitrate, fuel, and other explosives, and placed the cargo in the compartment of the Ryder truck (see 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995);
bullet on April 19, 1995, McVeigh parked the truck bomb directly outside the Murrah Building during regular business hours; and
bullet on April 19, 1995, McVeigh “caused the truck bomb to explode” (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995).
The indictment accuses McVeigh and Nichols of plotting the bombing “with others unknown to the Grand Jury.” It does not mention the person identified earlier as “John Doe No. 2” (see June 14, 1995). The grand jury says it is confident others, as yet unidentified, also participated in the plot. Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler says: “The indictment mentions unknown co-conspirators. We will try to determine if there are others who aided and abetted this crime.” After the indictments are handed down, Attorney General Janet Reno says: “We will pursue every lead based on the evidence.… [M]ost of these leads have been pursued and exhausted.… [W]e have charged everyone involved that we have evidence of at this point.” Prosecutors say that while others may well have been involved, the plot was closely held between McVeigh and Nichols. US Attorney Patrick Ryan has already announced he will seek the death penalty against both McVeigh and Nichols (see July 11-13, 1995), a decision supported by Reno (see 4:00 p.m., April 19, 1995). A third conspirator, Michael Fortier, has pled guilty to lesser crimes regarding his involvement; Fortier has testified against McVeigh and Nichols in return for the lesser charges (see May 19, 1995 and August 8, 1995), and defense lawyers are expected to assail Fortier’s credibility during the trials (see April 19, 1995 and After, April 23 - May 6, 1995, and May 8, 1995). Nichols’s lawyer Michael Tigar says, “Terry Nichols is not guilty of the allegations of which he is charged,” calls the case against his client “flimsy” and “irresponsible,” and accuses prosecutors of attempting to try his client “in the national media.” Periodically, Tigar holds up hand-lettered signs reading, among other messages, “Terry Nichols Wasn’t There” and “A Fair Trial in a Fair Forum.” Prosecutors have dropped all charges against Nichols’s brother James Nichols, who was indicted on three related explosive charges (see December 22 or 23, 1988, April 25, 1995, and May 11, 1995). US Attorney Saul A. Green says that “additional investigation failed to corroborate some of the important evidence on which the government initially relied.” [Washington Post, 8/11/1995; New York Times, 8/11/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 189-191; Mickolus and Simmons, 6/1997, pp. 811; Washington Post, 12/24/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 245; Douglas O. Linder, 2001] McVeigh’s lawyer, Stephen Jones, tells reporters after the hearing that he has been in contact with a man who, he says, told the government early in the fall of 1994 of plans to blow up federal buildings. This man, Jones says, was given a “letter of immunity” by the authorities in exchange for information involving a trip he had taken to Kingman, Arizona, Fortier’s hometown, and for information about his discussions with potential bombers whom, Jones says, the man had described as either “Latin American or Arab.” Jones refuses to identify the person to whom he is referring. [New York Times, 8/11/1995]

Entity Tags: Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, Geary State Fishing Lake And Wildlife Area, Cynthia Campbell-Brown, Alan Whicher, Stephen Jones, Donald Leonard, Claude Madearis, Roger E. (“Bob”) Moore, Saul A. Green, Paul Broxterman, Paul Douglas Ice, Janet Reno, James Nichols, Kenneth McCullough, Joseph H. Hartzler, Michael Joseph Fortier, Patrick M. Ryan, Mickey Maroney, Michael E. Tigar

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

According to reports by the Dallas Morning News, indicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) has confessed to planning the bombing and detonating a bomb in front of the Murrah Federal Building. [Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Indianapolis Star, 2003] Reporter Pete Slover cites as his source “summaries of several 1995 interviews with a defense team member” [New York Times, 3/1/1997] , though he later admits in a court filing that he could not be sure the story was true before filing it. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 271] Researchers will later learn that McVeigh suspects his lead attorney Stephen Jones of leaking his purported confession to the press. The leak is later shown to be from a member of Jones’s staff, who gave a computer disk containing FBI reports to Slover, apparently unaware that the McVeigh “confession” was also on the disk. [Douglas O. Linder, 2006] However, this reported speculation is countered by an opinion advanced in 1998 by author Richard A. Serrano, who will write that the defense’s work to humanize McVeigh and “soften” his image (see June 26, 1995) “was blown apart” by the leaked information. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 271] The Morning News prints the article on its Web site seven hours before its next print edition can be published, and later cites a desire to match the immediacy of television and to ensure its exclusive isn’t “scooped” by a competitor. Editors worried before publication that McVeigh’s lawyers might leak the story in one fashion or another to another media outlet. [New York Times, 3/3/1997]
Details of Bombing Plot, Involvement by Co-Conspirator Nichols, Denials of Wider Conspiracy - According to documents obtained by the Morning News, McVeigh’s defense lawyers wrote that McVeigh told one of them that his bombing of the Murrah Federal Building during working hours would leave a “body count” that would make a statement to the federal government. McVeigh also named his friend, alleged co-conspirator Terry Nichols, as being intimately involved with the bomb plot (see August 10, 1995), but insisted he alone drove the Ryder truck containing the bomb that destroyed the Murrah Building. McVeigh also denied any involvement by Terry Nichols’s brother James Nichols (see December 22 or 23, 1988, May 11, 1995, and April 25, 1995). The Morning News describes the source of its reporting as summaries of several 1995 interviews with a member of the defense team’s staff, conducted between July and December 1995 at the El Reno Federal Corrections Center in Oklahoma, where McVeigh was held before his transfer to the Denver area in March 1996. The summaries, the Morning News says, validate much of the prosecution’s contention that McVeigh and Nichols committed robberies and burglary in the course of assembling money and materials for the bombing, even as it acknowledges that they could not be used by prosecutors in either man’s trial. One summary of a July 1995 interview has a staffer asking McVeigh if it would have been better to bomb the building at night when relatively few people would have been present. According to the staffer: “Mr. McVeigh looked directly into my eyes and told me: ‘That would not have gotten the point across to the government. We needed a body count to make our point.’” According to the documents, McVeigh and Nichols used significantly more ammonium nitrate than federal investigators have estimated—some 5,400 pounds as compared to federal estimates of 4,800 pounds—and about $3,000 worth of high-powered racing fuel to make a lethal explosive combination. “Mr. McVeigh states that 108 50-pound bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizer were mixed with the nitro fuel purchased by Terry Nichols,” one summary reads. The summaries also have McVeigh admitting to his involvement in a 1994 robbery carried out by Nichols and himself to fund the bombing plot (see November 5, 1994 and Before July 3, 1995). “Mr. McVeigh stated that he laid out the plan and that Terry Nichols alone broke into [gun dealer Roger] Moore’s house and stole the weapons,” one summary reads. The summary tallies closely with recent statements by McVeigh’s friend Michael Fortier, who pled guilty to helping transport the stolen weapons and is now helping the prosecution (see May 19, 1995 and August 8, 1995). Fortier has testified that he and McVeigh sold the weapons stolen from Moore in Arizona. McVeigh also detailed a burglary committed by himself and Nichols at a Kansas rock quarry (see October 3, 1994). He also gave information about a third burglary carried out by himself and Fortier of a National Guard armory (see February - July 1994), where they attempted to steal welding tools but only made off with hand tools. According to the summaries, McVeigh denied being part of a larger conspiracy, and said the bomb plot was conceived and executed by himself and Nichols. He called a witness who claimed knowledge of a Middle Eastern or Islamist connection (see February - July 1994) a “bullsh_t artist.” He also said that another conspiracy theory centered around right-wing activist Andreas Strassmeir is groundless (see January 23, 1993 - Early 1994 and April 20, 1995). [Dallas Morning News, 3/1/1997; Washington Post, 3/1/1997] Initially, McVeigh’s lead defense attorney Stephen Jones calls the documents “a hoax” and denies that McVeigh made any of those statements. The Dallas Morning News is trying to garner attention and subscriptions, Jones says, and implies that the Morning News’s source is “setting up” the paper: “They just bought the Brooklyn Bridge,” he says. The Morning News has informed Jones of the identity of the source that provided it with the documents. [Washington Post, 3/1/1997] “This is about the most irresponsible form of journalism,” Jones says. He says that after McVeigh learned of the story, his client said, “There’s a practical joker every week.” [New York Times, 3/1/1997]
Defense Alleges Press Stole Documents - The Morning News denies a subsequent defense allegation that Slover stole thousands of computerized documents belonging to McVeigh’s defense lawyers, documents Jones says were used in the Morning News’s reporting. Jones says the documents acknowledge McVeigh’s responsibility for the bombing, but do not constitute a confession. The Morning News, Jones says, got the documents “by fraud, deception, misrepresentation, and theft” involving the defense’s computer files. Attorney Paul Watler, speaking for the Morning News, “categorically denies it committed any crime,” and says the documents were obtained through “routine news-gathering techniques.” The Morning News “did not hack into Mr. Jones’ computer system, and it did not assist anyone else in doing so,” Watler says. Jones says the documents are not, as some reports say, notes of a defense staffer’s conversations with McVeigh; defense lawyers have previously alleged that they produced a “fake confession” designed to persuade a witness to talk to defense investigators. Jones says any such false confessions, if they exist, would not be used during McVeigh’s trial. Jones says he may ask Judge Richard Matsch to delay the trial for 90 days to allow for a “cooling-off period” and allow “people to move on.” Watler says Jones is using the allegations to cloud the trial proceedings. [Dallas Morning News, 3/4/1997; New York Times, 3/4/1997] Freelance journalist J.D. Cash, who writes for a far-right publication called The Jubilee and a small Oklahoma newspaper, the McCurtain Daily Gazette, denies reports that he is the source of the article. Cash says he is not “the intermediary who set up The Dallas Morning News,” but says he is familiar with the documents described in the newspaper’s accounts. The confession, Cash says, is “a mixture of fact and fantasy.”
Possible Negative Impact on Jury - Observers worry that the story may prejudice a potential jury. “It’s a worst-case scenario,” says legal studies professor Jeffrey Abramson. “At the witching hour, but before people have been isolated from pretrial publicity, you get explosive evidence, exactly the kind of thing that makes it very difficult for a defendant to think he hasn’t already been tried in the press.” Law professor Rita J. Simon says the article could make a fair trial very difficult. “The jurors will know there was some report about a confession,” she says. “I can’t imagine, no matter where you hold the trial, that the jurors will not hear about it. As soon as the trial gets under way, the story will come out afresh.” [New York Times, 3/2/1997]
Second Purported Confession - Days later, a second confession from McVeigh is reported, this time published by Playboy magazine. The article containing the purported confession is written by freelance reporter Ben Fenwick, and is apparently based on an internal summary of the case compiled by the McVeigh defense team (see Early 2005). Fenwick had obtained the document in 1996, he later says, and had kept it under wraps in the hopes of eventually writing a book about the case. He quickly wrote an article based on the document and sold it to Playboy after Slover’s article hit the press. According to Fenwick’s article, McVeigh says he detonated the bomb when he was a block away from the Murrah Building, and admitted to the bombing during a lie detector test administered by his lawyers. Other details in the article contradict physical evidence already presented in open court. Jones says: “These escalating reports of alleged statements by Mr. McVeigh are corrupting the heart of the jury system. The American ideals of justice are being held hostage to sensationalism.” Fenwick is soon hired by ABC News as a legal consultant, an arrangement that allows ABC to quote extensively from the article in a special broadcast aired shortly before the trial begins. Fenwick will later admit that he did not authenticate the document before using it. The document and the article will lead the FBI to discover McVeigh’s purchase of racing fuel from an Ennis, Texas, dealer (see October 21 or 22, 1994). [New York Times, 3/14/1997; New York Times, 3/18/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 271]

Entity Tags: Jeffrey Abramson, James Nichols, Terry Lynn Nichols, Andreas Strassmeir, Dallas Morning News, J.D. Cash, Ben Fenwick, Stephen Jones, Timothy James McVeigh, Rita J. Simon, Roger E. (“Bob”) Moore, Murrah Federal Building, Michael Joseph Fortier, Paul Watler, Playboy, Pete Slover, Richard P. Matsch, Richard A. Serrano

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Jury selection begins in the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995). Judge Richard Matsch has denied defense attempts to delay the trial after a brief controversy erupted over media reports using defense documents (see February 28 - March 4, 1997). “I have full confidence that a fair-minded jury can and will be impaneled and that those selected will return a just verdict based on the law and evidence presented to them,” Matsch wrote on March 17. Jurors’ identities are kept hidden from the press. One potential juror, asked by US Attorney Patrick Ryan, “Did you watch a lot of the coverage?” answers: “It was unavoidable. In Oklahoma, it was wall to wall and floor to ceiling.” Another potential juror says he worries about his safety in regards to what he will learn in the course of the trial: “It would seem this case goes further, wider, and deeper in many ways. A juror is going to be an insider on information he might just as soon not know.” [Washington Post, 3/18/1997; New York Times, 4/1/1997; Douglas O. Linder, 2001] The pressure of this being a death-penalty trial, and the prospect of potentially confusing forensic evidence countered by the raw emotions of the bombing itself and of the conspiracy theories surrounding the proceedings, raises oft-asked questions about the competence of 12 jurors to find the truth in such a complex situation. The difference between an open-minded juror and one who is ignorant or intellectually challenged is difficult for lawyers and observers to assess. New York Times reporter Laura Mansnerus reflects on the trial of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, charged with crimes relating to the Iran-Contra scandal (see July 7-10, 1987 and May-June, 1989), in which, she writes: “When the jury was selected for the 1989 trial of Oliver North, a search went out for 12 people who knew nothing about Oliver North, which produced, well, 12 people who knew nothing about Oliver North. One person who qualified for service said she had seen him on television, but added, ‘It was just like I was focusing on the Three Stooges or something.’” That ill-informed jury proved remarkably pliable to North’s theatrics, Mansnerus writes, and many believe McVeigh’s defense team hopes for a similar jury pool that may be willing to set aside scientific evidence in favor of conspiracy theories and emotional pleas. Jury expert Jeffrey Abramson of Brandeis University tells Mansnerus: “In a case that’s heavy on scientific, forensic evidence, the defense is going to favor people who are less sophisticated about scientific matters and who are prone to conspiracy theories. That’s the classic defense approach.” Philadelphia prosecutor Jack McMahon warned in a well-known 1986 instructional video of the pitfalls that can result in letting “smart people” on the jury, saying: “Smart people will analyze the hell out of your case. They have a higher standard. They take those words ‘reasonable doubt’ and they actually try to think about them. You don’t want those people.” Moreover, people with jobs requiring any real level of responsibility are routinely excused from jury service; this case is no exception, leaving a pool of jurors with little or no steady employment, spotty educational status, and somtimes limited intellectual capabilities to judge McVeigh’s innocence or guilt. [New York Times, 4/6/1997]

Entity Tags: Jeffrey Abramson, Timothy James McVeigh, Jack McMahon, Patrick M. Ryan, Laura Mansnerus, Richard P. Matsch

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

April 24, 1997: McVeigh Trial Opens

Opening statements are 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).
Heavy Security - Security in and around the Byron Rogers Federal Building and Courthouse in Denver, where the trial is being held, is tight. Roads and sidewalks approaching the building are blocked off. Special credentials are needed to walk around certain areas inside the courthouse. Pedestrian traffic in and out of the federal office next door is constrained with a heavy police presence. Federal officers look under the hoods of cars and check beneath vehicles with mirrors on the streets surrounding the building. Concrete barriers prevent vehicles from getting too close to the building. Even the nearby manhole covers are sealed shut. [CNN, 4/17/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 274]
Jury Makeup - The jury (see March 31, 1997 and After) is composed of seven men and five women; their identities and personal information have been shielded so they can avoid being sequestered. Six alternate jurors—three men and three women—are also available. The jurors include a retired teacher, a registered nurse, an auto mechanic, a real estate manager, and a store manager who served in the Air Force. Several are military veterans. One said during jury selection that he hopes the trial will not turn McVeigh into another victim: “I believe there have been enough victims. We don’t need another one.” James Osgood, the jury foreman and store manager, believes in mandatory gun ownership. (Like the other members of the jury, Osgood’s identity will not be revealed until after the trial is concluded.) Several expressed their doubts and worry about being able to impose the death penalty if McVeigh is convicted. Some 100 potential jurors were screened to create this jury of 12 members and six alternates. As the trial commences, McVeigh greets the jury by saying, “Good morning.” He will not speak to them again during the trial. Judge Richard P. Matsch begins by saying: “We start the trial, as we are today, with no evidence against Timothy McVeigh. The presumption of innocence applies.” [Washington Post, 4/23/1997; New York Times, 4/23/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 275; Douglas O. Linder, 2001]
Prosecution: McVeigh a Cold, Calculating Terrorist - Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler begins with an emotional evocation of the bombing and the story of one of the victims, Tevin Garrett, a 16-month-old child who cried when his mother Helena Garrett left him at the Murrah Building’s day care center. The mothers could wave at their children through the day care’s glass windows, Hartzler says. “It was almost as if you could reach up and touch the children. None of those parents ever touched their children again while they were alive.” He says of Tevin Garrett’s mother, “She remembers this morning [the morning of the bombing] because it was the last morning of [Tevin’s] life” (see 9:02 a.m. - 10:35 a.m. April 19, 1995). Hartzler wastes little time in slamming McVeigh as a “twisted,” calculating terrorist who murdered 168 people in the hope of starting a mass uprising against the US government. McVeigh, Hartzler says, “chose to take their innocent lives to serve his own twisted purposes.… In plain and simple terms, it was an act of terror and violence, intended to serve a selfish political purpose. The man who committed this act is sitting in this courtroom behind me. He is the one who committed those murders.” Hartzler says that McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City to avenge the federal assault on the Branch Davidian religious compound outside Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993, April 19, 1993 and After, and April 24, 1995). “Across the street, the Ryder truck was there to resolve a grievance,” Hartzler says. “The truck was there to impose the will of Timothy McVeigh on the rest of America and to do so by premeditated violence and terror, by murdering innocent men, women, and children, in hopes of seeing blood flow in the streets of America.” He notes that McVeigh carried an excerpt from the violently racist novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978) that depicts the bombing of FBI headquarters in Washington. Hartzler reads the following line from the excerpt: “The real value of our attack lies in the psychological impact, not in the immediate casualties.” Hartzler also notes the T-shirt McVeigh wore when he was arrested, a shirt that Hartzler says “broadcast his intentions.” On the front was a likeness of Abraham Lincoln and on the back a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Drops of scarlet blood dripped from a picture of a tree. Investigators found traces of residue on McVeigh’s shirt, in his pants pockets, and on a set of earplugs found in his pocket (see Early May 1995 and After). Hartzler reads from a document McVeigh had written on a computer belonging to his sister, Jennifer (see November 1994). In a letter addressed to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, McVeigh wrote: “All you tyrannical [expletive], you’ll swing in the wind one day for your treasonous attacks against the Constitution of the United States.… Die, you spineless, cowardice [sic] b_stards” (see May 5-6, 1997). Hartzler says the trial has nothing to do with McVeigh’s beliefs or his freedoms of expression: “We aren’t prosecuting him because we don’t like his thoughts. We’re prosecuting him because his hatred boiled into violence.” Of the innocent victims, Hartzler tells the jury that McVeigh “compared them to the storm troopers in [the popular science fiction movie] Star Wars (see October 21 or 22, 1994). Even if they are innocent, they work for an evil system and have to be killed.” Hartzler moves to preempt expected defense attacks on the prosecution’s star witness, Michael Fortier (see After May 6, 1995, May 19, 1995 and August 8, 1995), on reports that evidence was mishandled by an FBI crime lab (see January 27, 1997), and the failure to identify or apprehend the now-infamous “John Doe No. 2” (see June 14, 1995). Hartzler concludes: “Timothy McVeigh liked to consider himself a patriot, as someone who could start a second American revolution. Ladies and gentlemen, statements from our forefathers can never be twisted to justify warfare against women and children. Our forefathers didn’t fight British women and children. They fought other soldiers, they fought them face to face, hand to hand. They didn’t plant bombs and then run away wearing earplugs” (see Early May 1995 and After) Hartzler returns to the prosecutors’ table; Matsch calls a brief recess.
Defense: McVeigh Innocent, Framed by Lies - McVeigh’s attorney, Stephen Jones, tells the jury that McVeigh is innocent, and says that McVeigh’s views fall within the “political and social mainstream.” Like Hartzler, he begins with the story of a mother who lost one of her two children in the bombing, saying that the mother saw someone other than McVeigh outside the Murrah Building before the bomb went off. “I have waited two years for this moment,” Jones says, and says he will prove that other people, not McVeigh, committed the bombing. Jones sketches McVeigh’s biography, focusing on his exemplary military service and the bitter disappointment he suffered in not being accepted in the Army’s Special Forces (see January - March 1991 and After). It was after he left the Army, Jones says, that McVeigh began to steep himself in political ideology. But far from being an extremist, Jones says, McVeigh began to study the Constitution. The shirt he wore when he was arrested bore the motto “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” but that is not merely a revolutionary slogan, Jones notes: it is the motto of the State of Virginia. McVeigh was “extremely upset” over what he viewed as government abuses of individual liberty, Jones admits, but says it was no different from how “millions of people fear and distrust the government.” McVeigh’s statement that “something big was going to happen” (see Mid-December 1994, March 25, 1995 and After, and April 15, 1995) had nothing to do with the bombing, Jones says, but was merely a reflection of the increasing anxiety and concern he was seeing among his friends and fellow political activists, all of whom believed “that the federal government was about to initiate another Waco raid, except this time on a different scale” (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). “[B]eing outraged is no more an excuse for blowing up a federal building than being against the government means that you did it.” Jones spends much of his time attacking Fortier’s credibility as well as the consistency of other prosecution witnesses, saying that they will give “tailored testimony” crafted by the government to bolster its case, and focuses on the reports of crime lab mishandling of key evidence (see April 16, 1997): “The individuals responsible for the evidence… contaminated it… manipulated it, and then they engaged in forensic prostitution,” he says. After the case is done, Jones says, the jury will see that the evidence shows, “not just reasonable doubt, but that my client is innocent.” He closes by reminding the jury, “Every pancake has two sides.” [Washington Post, 4/25/1997; New York Times, 4/25/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 275-280; Douglas O. Linder, 2006]

Entity Tags: Byron Rodgers Federal Building and Courthouse, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Osgood, Joseph H. Hartzler, Helena Garrett, Richard P. Matsch, Stephen Jones, Timothy James McVeigh, Michael Joseph Fortier, Tevin Garrett

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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