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Context of 'May 16, 2001: FBI Director Admits ‘Serious Error’ in Failure to Release Oklahoma City Documents before Trials of Conspirators'

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Federal authorities investigating the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) find the address left on suspect Timothy McVeigh’s recent hotel registration (see April 13, 1995 and 3:30 a.m. April 18, 1995). The address is of the family farm owned by James Nichols, the brother of McVeigh’s co-conspirator Terry Nichols. Late in the evening of April 20, FBI investigators speak with two detectives from Sanilac County, Michigan, David Hall and Paul Cowley. Hall and Cowley had gathered information about bombing experiments that had taken place on a farm belonging to James Nichols (see December 22 or 23, 1988 and October 12, 1993 - January 1994). By 9 a.m. on April 21, Hall and Cowley facilitate an interview between the investigators and Kelly Langenburg, James Nichols’s ex-wife. By this time, Langenburg has spoken with her son Chase and gathered more information for the investigators. After speaking with the investigators, the agents tell local police officers that “[t]his is the best information we’ve received so far, and we’re going to run with [James Nichols].” Langenburg also tells the agents that Terry Nichols had been married to her sister, Lana Padilla (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990 and November 1988). Agents then contact Padilla in Las Vegas, and on April 21, teams of agents interview her and her son Joshua, Nichols’s son. She confirms that she has spoken to Nichols earlier this day, and gives the FBI his address in Herington, Kansas (see (February 20, 1995)). She says that Nichols is “an associate” of McVeigh’s. At this point, the FBI considers James Nichols a more likely suspect for a co-conspirator than Terry Nichols. [New York Times, 6/27/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 200]

Entity Tags: Joshua Nichols, Chase Nichols, David Hall, James Nichols, Kelly Langenburg, Terry Lynn Nichols, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lana Padilla, Paul Cowley, Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Justice Department reveals that it failed to turn over nearly 4,000 pages of documentary evidence to the defense in the trial of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and June 2, 1997). Attorney General John Ashcroft postpones McVeigh’s execution (see January 16, 2001) for 30 days to allow defense attorneys to review the newly released documents. [Douglas O. Linder, 2001; New York Times, 5/11/2001; Washington Post, 5/11/2001; Fox News, 4/13/2005] Apparently many of the documents relate to the FBI’s investigation into the never-identified “John Doe No. 2” (see April 20, 1995, April 21, 1995, April 29, 1995, and June 14, 1995), which the agency now terms a “dead-end” investigation. Sources say many of the documents are “302 forms,” the forms that document the raw interviews conducted by agents with witnesses. [Washington Post, 5/11/2001; Mayhem (.net), 4/2009] The documents were found by bureau archivists in Oklahoma City as they canvassed the agency’s 56 field offices in a final search of records related to the bombing in anticipation of McVeigh’s execution (see June 11-13, 1997). Lawyers for both McVeigh and his convicted co-conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998) were legally entitled to review the records as they prepared for the two trials. Justice Department spokesperson Mindy Tucker issues the following statement: “On Tuesday, May 8, the Department of Justice notified Timothy McVeigh’s attorney of a number of FBI documents that should have been provided to them during the discovery phase of the trial. While the department is confident the documents do not in any way create any reasonable doubt about McVeigh’s guilt and do not contradict his repeated confessions of guilt, the department is concerned that McVeigh’s attorneys were not able to review them at the appropriate time.” The FBI blames its obsolete computer system for the error. Prosecutors say the documents were not material to either case. McVeigh’s former lawyer Stephen Jones says, “I said all along they weren’t giving us everything.” [New York Times, 5/11/2001; Indianapolis Star, 2003] Law professor James S. Liebman, who helped conduct an extensive study of death penalty appeals across the country, says the failure to produce the documents is “something I’ve just never heard of.… I can tell you, it’s extremely rare if it’s ever happened before.” [Washington Post, 5/11/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, James S. Liebman, Mindy Tucker, Stephen Jones, John Ashcroft, Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

FBI Director Louis J. Freeh admits that the bureau made a “serious error” in failing to produce nearly 4,000 pages of documents related to the Oklahoma City bombing before the convictions of conspirators Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) and Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998). McVeigh’s lawyers are seeking a delay in McVeigh’s execution to give them a chance to review the newly-released documents (see May 10-11, 2001); the execution, scheduled for today, has already been postponed until June 11. Nichols’s lawyers have asked for a new trial based on the documents’ release (see May 15, 2001). In a hearing before a House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee, Freeh gives details of how the breakdown occurred, and says he has ordered immediate corrective steps. “The FBI committed a serious error by not ensuring that every piece of information was properly accounted for and, when appropriate, provided to the prosecutors so that they could fulfill their discovery obligations,” Freeh tells the House committee members. “It was our unquestionable obligation to identify every document regardless of where it was generated and regardless of where in our many, many offices it resided.” However, Freeh says, none of the documents would have had a bearing on the trials of either McVeigh or Nichols: “Several lawyers and agents from the Justice Department and the FBI conducted a page-by-page review of the material. Nothing in the documents raises any doubt about the guilt of McVeigh and Nichols.” Representative David R. Obey (D-WI) says, “I find it incredibly frustrating that year after year the agency which is supposed to be the quintessential example of excellence in law enforcement winds up being an example of Mr. Foul-up.” [New York Times, 5/17/2001] Lawyers for both Nichols and McVeigh will receive the documents. [New York Times, 5/27/2001]

Entity Tags: Louis J. Freeh, David Obey, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Timothy James McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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