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Context of 'May 6-7, 1997: Testimony in McVeigh Trial Shows Trail of Telephone Calls Preceding Oklahoma City Bombing'

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Defense lawyers in the Oklahoma City bombing case (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) accuse prosecutors of misconduct in their handling of witness Thomas Manning, a Firestone tire store manager in Junction City, Kansas, who sold a car to accused bomber Timothy McVeigh days before the bombing (see April 13, 1995). Newly unsealed court documents reveal that Manning’s testimony has been a point of contention since November 1996. Manning has heart problems that might preclude his journeying to Denver to testify in McVeigh’s trial. A deposition was videotaped in Topeka on November 7. Manning had been interviewed eight times by government investigators and three times by defense investigators. His story remained essentially consistent regarding McVeigh’s arrival at his store at 9 a.m. with white smoke billowing from his Pontiac station wagon (see January 1 - January 8, 1995) and $300 in his pocket. But in the deposition, Manning added a detail: McVeigh left the store for 10 to 15 minutes and then returned. This absence could have given him time to make telephone calls that could connect him to the bombing, which killed 168 people. McVeigh’s lawyers say in a filing unsealed today: “If Timothy McVeigh had stayed at the Firestone dealership, as each of Mr. Manning’s previous statements suggest, he could not have placed the telephone calls that the government alleges were in furtherance of the conspiracy. This indicates that someone else placed the calls and that someone else committed the overt acts alleged in the indictment.” The defense is referring to calls found on McVeigh’s telephone credit card, issued under an alias, Darryl (or Daryl or Darrell) Bridges (see August 1994). The credit card record shows that someone made a 54-second call from the J & K Bus Depot, a block from the Firestone tire dealership, to co-conspirator Terry Nichols’s Herington, Kansas, home at 9:51 a.m. Two minutes later, a caller using the same credit card from the same telephone called the Ryder rental office in Junction City and talked for 7 minutes and 36 seconds. Prosecutors believe that during the second telephone call, McVeigh rented the Ryder truck used to deliver the bomb (see April 15, 1995). Defense lawyers now say that prosecutors concocted the detail about McVeigh leaving the Firestone store and returning. Michael Tigar, the lawyer for Nichols, says: “The government has a room at the Marriott Hotel in which witnesses are transmogrified. I wish I had a room where I could do that to people.” Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler says Manning never mentioned McVeigh’s departure to defense lawyers because they had never asked him about it. In papers filed by the prosecution, the defense is accused of not asking Manning about McVeigh’s departure because it was hoping Manning would not mention it. The defense’s decision to avoid the question, the prosecutors say, does not require government lawyers to disclose that they had asked the question in at least one of their interviews and had received an answer that tended to incriminate McVeigh. Other papers unsealed today reveal that defense lawyers have accused prosecutors of obstructing the defense’s investigation, and of destroying exculpatory evidence surrounding the still-unidentified “John Doe No. 2,” a person some suspect of being McVeigh’s accomplice on the day of the bombing (see April 20, 1995). Prosecutors have said they doubt “John Doe No. 2” has any connection to the bombing. The prosecution interviewed David Shafer, an Indiana seed company salesman, about Nichols and his brother James (see May 22, 1995), and decided not to use his testimony. Defense lawyers say Shafer “has been directed by the FBI to destroy notes concerning his recollection of these events.” [New York Times, 1/4/1997] Judge Richard P. Matsch refuses to bar the testimony of any witnesses challenged by the defense, and says there is no evidence that the FBI destroyed information or attempted to influence anyone’s recollections or testimonies. [New York Times, 2/21/1997]

Entity Tags: Michael E. Tigar, David Shafer, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joseph H. Hartzler, Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, Richard P. Matsch, James Nichols, Thomas Manning

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Prosecutors in the Timothy McVeigh bombing trial (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, August 10, 1995, and April 24, 1997) bring on a number of witnesses that show McVeigh was the telephone caller who reserved the Ryder rental truck that carried the Oklahoma City bomb (see April 15, 1995). Both McVeigh and accused co-conspirator Terry Nichols used a telephone debit cart issued under the alias “Daryl Bridges” by The Spotlight, a racist newsletter published by the far-right Liberty Lobby (see August 1994). A telephone debit card is pre-paid and makes it difficult to put together a record of billed calls. Twenty-nine representatives from telephone companies explain how they gathered records related to the case. Frederic Dexter, a computer expert from the FBI who worked on telephone reconstructions on the Unabomber (see April 3, 1996) and World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993 and February 7, 1995) cases, explains how his team had reassembled the records for 647 calls billed to the Daryl Bridges card, sifting through tens of thousands of computerized bits of data. A representative from the long-distance company Sprint tells of a call to the debit card’s toll-free number on the morning of April 14, 1995 from a pay phone in Junction City, Kansas, the same morning that someone called a Junction City truck rental office to reserve the Ryder truck that carried the bomb (see April 13, 1995). At the time, prosecutors say, McVeigh was a block away, buying a car, and had stepped out for a few minutes. The call was made at 9:54 a.m.; phone records show that only two calls came into the rental office that day, one at 9:54 a.m. and the other in the afternoon. The technical testimony is broken by the emotional testimony of a survivor of the blast, former Army Captain Lawrence Martin, who was severely injured when the bomb went off. Martin breaks down in tears while recalling the last moments of life of his friends and colleagues in the Murrah Building. [New York Times, 5/8/1997]

Entity Tags: Frederic Dexter, Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, Lawrence Martin

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

FBI agent Stephen E. Smith testifies in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and November 3, 1997).
Nichols Told of Picking Up McVeigh - Smith testifies that Nichols told him and other FBI agents that on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1995, three days before the bombing, he drove around downtown Oklahoma City looking for his alleged co-conspirator, convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997). Nichols, says Smith, drove around the Murrah Federal Building, McVeigh’s target, several times before finding McVeigh in a nearby alley (see April 16-17, 1995). McVeigh, according to what Nichols told Smith, had asked Nichols for a ride from Oklahoma City back to Nichols’s Herington, Kansas, home (see (February 20, 1995)) because his car had broken down. Nichols found McVeigh, Smith says: “[H]e was standing in a light rain with Mr. Nichols’s TV set and a green laundry bag.” Smith was one of the agents who interrogated Nichols for nine hours after the bombing (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995). He was not allowed to testify in McVeigh’s trial, but was allowed to introduce the 22 pages of handwritten notes taken during Nichols’s interrogation. Smith’s testimony is the first to describe what Nichols said about the trip from Oklahoma City to Herington. McVeigh was going to bring Nichols a television set, Nichols told Smith, when his car broke down. Nichols said after he received the telephone call from McVeigh at around 3 p.m., he left about 10 minutes later and drove straight to Oklahoma City. McVeigh had told him to “drive around the block a couple times,” Nichols told the agents, and added that he passed “that building” several times. The alley McVeigh was standing in was, Smith testifies, next to the YMCA near the Murrah Building. Nichols told Smith and the other agents that McVeigh was “hyper” during the return trip to Herington, and they talked about the upcoming anniversary of the federal assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Texas (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). Nichols told the agents that McVeigh told him “he would see something big in the future.” Nichols, Smith testifies, asked if McVeigh was planning to rob a bank; McVeigh replied, “No, but I’ve got something in the works.” Nichols was shocked to learn that McVeigh was a suspect in the bombing, Smith testifies: “He thought Tim was driving back east to see his family.” Nichols told the agents he could not discern any motive for the bombing, since McVeigh “was supposed to receive an inheritance from his grandfather and he would have money” to do whatever he wanted. Smith testifies that when the agents asked Nichols if he was worried about what McVeigh might say about him, Nichols replied that “he’d be shocked if Mr. McVeigh implicated him.… Terry Nichols said he trusted Timothy McVeigh more than anyone. Timothy McVeigh lived up to his arrangements and took responsibility for his actions.” Smith adds that Nichols never clarified what he meant. Nichols told the agents that the Easter telephone call was the first contact he had had with McVeigh since November 1994. However, other testimony has shown numerous contacts between McVeigh and Nichols since that time period (see November 7, 1994, March 1995, April 13, 1995, April 15, 1995, and April 15-16, 1995). [New York Times, 11/21/1997] Nichols also told federal agents that he spent the morning of April 18 at an auction in Fort Riley, Kansas, and that the same morning, McVeigh had borrowed his pickup truck to run errands. Nichols told agents that the morning of April 18, McVeigh called at 6:00 a.m. and asked to borrow the truck. Nichols agreed, and the two met at a McDonald’s restaurant in Junction City, Kansas, around 7:30 a.m. The two drove to the auction site, and McVeigh took the truck, leaving Nichols at the auction. McVeigh returned after 1:00 p.m. Nichols told agents he signed in at the auction site sometime around noon. [New York Times, 11/26/1997]
Story Contradicted by Other Evidence - Other evidence has shown that Nichols’s story about driving to Oklahoma City to pick up McVeigh and a television set is false. That evidence has shown that on April 16, Nichols met McVeigh at a Dairy Queen in Herington, then the two drove separately to Oklahoma City to scout the location for the bomb. McVeigh left his getaway car at the scene (see April 13, 1995) and the two drove back to Herington in Nichols’s pickup truck (see April 16-17, 1995). On the morning of April 18, McVeigh, staying at a motel in Junction City with his rented Ryder truck (see April 15, 1995), met Nichols at a Herington storage unit (see (February 20, 1995)). The two loaded bags of fertilizer and drums of nitromethane into the Ryder truck, and McVeigh told Nichols, “If I don’t come back for a while, you’ll clean out the storage shed.” They drove separately to Geary County State Fishing Lake, where they met and mixed the explosive components. Nichols later told investigators that he cleaned out the storage shed on April 20. One witness told investigators that he saw McVeigh with a man resembling Nichols at the motel. Other witnesses recalled seeing the Ryder truck parked behind Nichols’s house on April 17, and the Ryder truck and a pickup truck resembling Nichols’s at Geary Lake on April 18. Other witnesses said that on either April 17 or 18, they saw what appeared to be Nichols’s pickup truck parked behind the Herington storage shed (see 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). Videotape from the Regency Towers Apartments, one and a half blocks from the bombed Murrah Federal Building, showed Nichols’s dark blue pickup with a white camper shell passing the building on April 16, though the videotape does not itself disprove Nichols’s claims of driving to Oklahoma City to pick up McVeigh and a television set. [Denver Post, 12/24/1997; Fox News, 4/13/2005] Prosecutors will soon submit evidence showing that Nichols’s claims of his whereabouts on April 18 are incorrect (see November 25, 1997).
Shared Interest in Bombs - Nichols also said that he and McVeigh were curious about bombs. They read books and magazines about them, and discussed how they worked. Nichols told the agents that “it’s possible he [McVeigh] could make a device to blow up a building without my knowledge.” Nichols, Smith testifies, insisted that their interest in bombs was strictly out of curiosity. Nichols told Smith and the other agents that he had learned about explosives from people “who came by the table at gun shows and literature he had read.” Nichols also said that he had learned “ammonium nitrate fertilizer can be used to make a bomb.… I imagine you have to put a blasting cap on it.” Smith testifies that someone had informed Nichols that ammonium nitrate could be mixed with diesel fuel to make a bomb, but adds that Nichols said he had not done that.
Cross-Examination - Nichols’s defense lawyer, Ronald G. Woods, has Smith read the entire 22-page sheaf of handwritten notes he took during his interviews with Nichols, then tells Judge Richard P. Matsch that the typewritten transcript of those notes “was not accurate or complete.” Woods also questions why the interviews were not tape-recorded. Smith calls his notes accurate, but admits that he had not written down what he now testifies was Nichols’s silence when shown a letter he had written to McVeigh the previous November urging him to “Go for it.” During the interview, Smith says Nichols admitted to having the knowledge needed to build a fertilizer bomb after initially denying it. [Washington Post, 11/21/1997; New York Times, 11/22/1997; Denver Post, 12/24/1997]

Entity Tags: Geary State Fishing Lake And Wildlife Area, Murrah Federal Building, Ronald G. Woods, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard P. Matsch, Terry Lynn Nichols, Stephen E. Smith, Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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