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Context of 'April 25, 1998: Former McVeigh Lawyer Says He Will Fight Grand Jury Subpoena'

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Stephen Jones.Stephen Jones. [Source: Associated Press]Attorney Stephen Jones is named by the court as the lead defender of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995). He agrees to work for a taxpayer-funded rate of $125 an hour, considerably less than his usual fee. Jones, who primarily represents large oil and insurance firms, is a Republican activist who failed to unseat Senator David Boren (D-OK) in 1990 and has represented a number of unpopular clients. He is joined by another prominent defense attorney, Robert Nigh Jr., a lawyer recommended to the case by Jones before he himself was chosen to represent McVeigh. Jones discussed the request from Judge David L. Russell with, among others, Governor Frank Keating (R-OK); Jones has done legal work for Keating in the past, and wished to ensure that his representation of McVeigh would not damage Keating’s reputation. Jones eventually accepted Russell’s request; when he accepted, Russell quipped, “I hope I haven’t signed your death warrant.” Jones replied, “That makes two of us.” To the media, Jones says: “My role is as old as the Constitution. Whether I perform professionally will be determined by how I conduct myself and whether my client is satisfied.… I did not seek or request the appointment or even encourage it in any way. I have been drafted. However, I will do my duty.… I will seek, for my part, to avoid the circus atmosphere that has prevailed in certain other well-known jurisdictional proceedings, which have included the self-promotion and self-aggrandizement of some individuals. I am a small-town county-seat lawyer.… I want to set a contrast to the O. J. Simpson [a former athlete and Hollywood celebrity recently acquitted of murdering his wife and another man in a sensational court proceeding] trial, which represents much of what is wrong with the legal process,” he says, referring to what he sees as “a lot of self-aggrandizement by all the parties: the witnesses, the jury, the judge, the lawyers.” He concludes with a warning to the press: “There is a well-recognized tension between the need for a free press and a fair trial, so I hope the ladies and gentlemen of the press will understand that I will defend this case in the courts of law.” Jones is working with McVeigh’s current lawyers, John Coyle and Susan Otto, who are preparing to leave the case (see April 24, 1995 and April 27, 1995). (When the media announces Jones’s naming to the case, one of Coyle’s staffers shouts: “You watch. He will make it all about himself.”) Jones is preparing McVeigh for a grand jury, which is being seated to hear evidence against him. McVeigh turned down the offered services of two lawyers (see May 3, 1995), but is willing to accept Jones’s services. [New York Times, 5/8/1995; New York Times, 6/15/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 231; Serrano, 1998, pp. 248-249; Douglas O. Linder, 2006; TruTV, 2/2009] “There’s no doubt in my mind that Stephen Jones views this to be a horrible crime,” Tony Graham, a former federal prosecutor who has often opposed Jones in court, will comment. “That he can go ahead and represent a person accused of that is the mark of a very professional lawyer.” Enid lawyer and former mayor Norman L. Grey will say: “With Stephen, you know you have a battle on your hands. I don’t think there’s a better legal mind in the area of criminal proceedings, state or federal.” [New York Times, 6/15/1995]
Conspiracy Theories, 'Necessity' Defense - Later, Jones will recall watching news footage of the bombing at his law office in Enid, Oklahoma, and remember his old elementary school being firebombed. “I recognized it as a bombing right away,” he will say. “And the minute I heard about the day care, I thought, ‘That’s it.’ Because I remembered the babies at Waco (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). And later that night I heard about old man Snell [executed white supremacist Richard Wayne Snell—see 9:00 p.m. April 19, 1995] and I thought, ‘Yes, that’s relevant too.’” Author Richard A. Serrano will later write, “Even on that first evening, Jones was thinking conspiracy theories.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 249] Though Jones is not forthcoming about the defense strategy he and McVeigh intend to deploy, legal observers speculate that they will base their defense on attempts to discredit government witnesses that the prosecution will use to build their case against McVeigh. Court observers say McVeigh is working actively with Jones on their defense. In the following days, Jones will begin interviewing people in Kansas, Oklahoma, and elsewhere, trying to undermine the credibility of the witnesses the prosecution is expected to bring into court. Jones is also expected to try to prove that the prosecutors’ evidence against McVeigh is largely circumstantial and therefore open to reasonable doubt. Observers doubt that Jones will try to use an insanity defense, because McVeigh is clearly competent to stand trial. They also doubt that Jones will try to allege that McVeigh was motivated by political opposition to the government, since innocent people, including children, were killed in the blast. No one feels that the prosecution will offer McVeigh any sort of plea deal. [New York Times, 5/11/1995] Researchers later learn that McVeigh wants Jones to present what some call a “necessity defense”—admitting to the bombing and justifying it by detailing what he considers the “crimes” of the federal government that his bombing was designed to prevent. McVeigh believes that if the jury hears about the government’s actions at Ruby Ridge, Idaho (see August 31, 1992 and August 21-31, 1992), and at the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After), at least some of the jurors will be sympathetic. More importantly, such a politicized trial would give McVeigh the opportunity to make his case against an overreaching federal government in the larger court of public opinion. Jones will resist presenting such a defense, in part because he believes that McVeigh has no chance of establishing, as he would be required to do to raise the defense, that the federal government put him in “imminent danger.” [Douglas O. Linder, 2006]
Third Lawyer to Join Jones, Nigh - Two weeks later, Russell will name Houston lawyer Richard Burr to join Jones and Nigh for the defense. Burr has extensive experience working with death penalty cases, and formerly directed the Capital Punishment Project of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Any capital case, but particularly one of this magnitude, calls for our system of justice to perform as reliably, as fairly, and as humanely as it can,” Burr will say. “I feel honored to become a part of the defense team in Mr. McVeigh’s case.” [New York Times, 5/23/1995]

Entity Tags: David Boren, David L. Russell, John Coyle, Frank Keating, Tony Graham, Norman L. Grey, Susan Otto, Richard A. Serrano, Timothy James McVeigh, Richard Burr, Stephen Jones, Robert Nigh, Jr

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The lawyers present their closing arguments in the trial of Timothy McVeigh, the accused Oklahoma City bomber (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995).
McVeigh 'a Traitor' Who 'Deserves to Die' - Federal prosecutor Larry Mackey delivers a meticulous recap of the prosecution’s case (see May 21, 1997), portraying McVeigh as a “domestic terrorist” guilty of “a crime of ghastly proportions.… Timothy McVeigh is a domestic terrorist [who was] motivated by hatred of the government.… This is not a prosecution of Tim McVeigh for his political beliefs. This is a prosecution of Tim McVeigh because of what he did: He committed murder. This is a murder case.” Mackey asks the jurors: “Who could do such a thing? Who could do such a thing? Based on the evidence, the answer is clear: Timothy McVeigh did it.” Referring to McVeigh’s well-documented hatred of the government and McVeigh’s own writings, Mackey concludes: “The law enforcement officers who died were not treasonous officials… or ‘cowardice bastards.’ The credit union employees who disappeared were not tyrants whose blood had to be spilled. And certainly the 19 children who died were not the storm troopers McVeigh said must die because of their association with the evil empire. In fact, they were bosses and secretaries, they were blacks and whites, they were mothers, daughters, fathers and sons. They were a community. So who are the real patriots and who is the traitor?” Concluding the prosecution’s close, attorney Beth Wilkinson points at McVeigh and says to the jury: “Look into the eyes of a coward and tell him you will have courage. Tell him you will speak with one unified voice as the moral conscience of the community and tell him he is no patriot. He is a traitor and he deserves to die.” [University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 5/29/1997; Washington Post, 5/30/1997; New York Times, 5/30/1997; New York Times, 5/30/1997; Washington Post, 6/14/1997]
McVeigh 'Not a Demon, Though Surely His Act Was Demonic' - For the defense, attorneys Stephen Jones and Robert Nigh Jr. portray McVeigh as the innocent victim of an overzealous investigation and the treachery of his friends (see May 28, 1997). Jones and Nigh say that McVeigh was victimized by a rush to judgment led by a federal government desperate to solve the worst act of terrorism on US soil, and by a public overwhelmed by sympathy for the victims of the bombing. “The emotion is a twin emotion,” Jones says. “On one hand what has been evoked has been sympathy for the victims, and on the other hand repugnance” for McVeigh’s far-right political philosophy. “The evidence demonstrates tragically that what law enforcement did was terribly, terribly wrong,” Nigh adds. “Instead of an objective investigation of the case, the federal law enforcement officials involved decided the case and then jammed the evidence and witnesses to fit the decision.” Jones insists: “There’s no witness who saw Tim McVeigh in a Ryder truck (see May 23, 1997). There’s no witness that saw Tim McVeigh build a bomb. [The prosecution’s case is built of] speculation, inference piled on inference, trying to put an 11 and a half size foot in an eight and a half size shoe.” The defense also insists that evidence presented against their client was tainted by sloppy FBI lab technicians (see January 27, 1997), and that witness testimonies were unreliable and in some cases fabricated (see April 29-30, 1997 and May 12-13, 1997). Defense lawyer Christopher L. Tritico calls the FBI laboratory that handled the case “a ship without a rudder, without a sail, without a captain, adrift, making judgment calls that affect the rest of people’s lives.” In a statement that seemingly concedes McVeigh’s guilt, Jones says of McVeigh, “[H]e is not a demon though surely his act was demonic.” He asks that McVeigh be spared so that some day the full story might come out, and so that the political alienation he personifies would not be rekindled by his execution. [Washington Post, 5/30/1997; New York Times, 5/30/1997; New York Times, 5/30/1997; Washington Post, 6/14/1997]

Entity Tags: Christopher L. Tritico, Robert Nigh, Jr, Stephen Jones, Beth Wilkinson, Timothy James McVeigh, Larry A. Mackey

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Stephen Jones, the former lawyer for convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997, June 11-13, 1997, and August 14-27, 1997), says he will fight a subpoena from a grand jury investigating the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Documents unsealed today show that the grand jury asked the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office in February to subpoena Jones. “I will not testify,” Jones says, citing both his attorney-client privilege and the Oklahoma shield law protecting journalists from testifying before grand juries. Jones says the shield law applies to him because he is writing a book and three law review articles about issues arising from the case that do not involve privileged information, as well as his appearances as a television commentator. The grand jury was convened after a campaign by Oklahoma State Representative Charles Key (R-Oklahoma City) and accountant Glenn Wilburn (see June 30, 1997). The grand jury does not have any connection with the District Attorney’s upcoming charges against both McVeigh and his co-conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998). McVeigh’s current lawyer, Robert Nigh Jr., says the subpoena is a surprise to him. McVeigh has not waived his attorney-client privilege as it pertains to Jones, and any testimony by Jones could jeopardize McVeigh’s appeals. “He’s asked the 10th Circuit to grant a new trial,” Nigh says. “Anything revealed to the grand jury in the nature of defense work product could defeat our defense at a new trial and reveal our strategy.” Law professor Samuel Issacharoff has mixed feelings about the subpoena: “It should be unusual, exceptional and discouraged to try to turn lawyers into witnesses,” he says. “On the other hand, there is a distressing practice of lawyers holding press conferences and holding themselves out as commentators on the events of the day, including their perception of the client. The result is, they seem to invite this. It is a very unfortunate development because it places the lawyer’s interests starkly against those of the client.” [New York Times, 4/25/1998]

Entity Tags: Robert Nigh, Jr, Charles R. Key, Glenn Wilburn, Stephen Jones, Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, Samuel Issacharoff

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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