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Context of 'May 30, 2001: Convicted Friend of Oklahoma City Bomber Accuses Prosecution of Lying to Get Harsher Sentence against Him'

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Michael and Lori Fortier, friends of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) who are helping him with his bombing plot (see February 17, 1995 and After and Mid-March, 1995), take part in a gun show in Tucson, Arizona. They sell almost all of the weapons McVeigh had obtained from a robbery in Arkansas (see November 5, 1994). McVeigh has told them they could split the profits with him (see December 16, 1994 and After). The Fortiers keep a .22 Hornet, a Ruger Mini 14, and a shotgun. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996]

Entity Tags: Lori Fortier, Timothy James McVeigh, Michael Joseph Fortier

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Timothy McVeigh sits in the courtroom during his trial.Timothy McVeigh sits in the courtroom during his trial. [Source: India Times]Accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) is convicted on all 11 counts of murder and conspiracy. [University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 6/2/1997; Douglas O. Linder, 2001] The jury deliberates for over 23 hours, spread over four days (including a weekend), before announcing it has a verdict. McVeigh, who enters the courtroom with a smile on his face, shows no emotion when the guilty verdicts are read aloud by US District Judge Richard Matsch; Matsch polls the 12 jurors to ensure that they are indeed unanimous in their verdict. McVeigh is convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of eight law enforcement agents who died in the blast, one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, one count of using a weapon of mass destruction, and one count of destruction of a federal building. McVeigh awaits a trial in Oklahoma, where he will face 160 counts of murdering the civilians who died in the bombing; Oklahoma City district attorney Bob Macy says he will file state charges that will bring both McVeigh and fellow conspirator Terry Nichols to court to face the death penalty. Many family members break down in tears as the verdicts are read; one woman shouts, “We got him!” Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler accepts an ovation from the gallery, and later says: “We’re obviously very pleased with the verdict. We always had confidence in our evidence. Now maybe everyone else will have confidence in our evidence.” Defense attorney Stephen Jones says he will prepare his client for the sentencing phase, where many feel McVeigh will be sentenced to death (see June 11-13, 1997). (Both sets of attorneys are under a judicial gag order preventing them from discussing the details of the case.) Jannie Coverdale, who lost her grandchildren in the blast, says she has mixed emotions: “This is bittersweet. After all, this is a young man who has wasted his life. I’m glad they found him guilty, but I’m sad for him, too. I feel sorry for him. He had so much to offer his country.… I want him to get the death penalty, but not out of revenge. It’s necessary. I haven’t seen any remorse from Timothy McVeigh. If he ever walked the streets, he would murder again. I don’t want to see that.” Asked if the verdict will bring her closure, she says: “I don’t think there will ever be closure. Too many people are missing.” Sharon Ice, whose brother Paul Douglas Ice was one of the federal agents killed in the bombing, calls McVeigh a “monster.” Former judge Durant Davidson says he supports the verdict: “I don’t have any question about that. There was a time before the trial started that I didn’t know. [But] after having followed it, there would not have been any question in my mind.” In Washington, President Clinton refuses to comment directly on the verdict, citing the judge’s gag order, but says: “This is a very important and long overdue day for the survivors and families of those who died in Oklahoma City.… I say to the families of the victims, no single verdict can bring an end to your anguish. But your courage has been an inspiration to all Americans. Our prayers are with you.” [Denver Post, 6/3/1997; New York Times, 6/3/1997; Washington Post, 6/3/1997; Associated Press, 1/11/1998] McVeigh’s father William and his sister Jennifer release a statement from their Pendleton, New York, home that reads in part: “Even though the jury has found Tim guilty, we still love him very much and intend to stand by him no matter what happens. We would like to ask everyone to pray for Tim in this difficult time.” [Washington Post, 6/3/1997] Later, a juror says he and his fellows grew more convinced of McVeigh’s guilt with each day that the trial continued. “There is no justification for that kind of action,” juror Tony Stedman will say. [Associated Press, 1/11/1998] As the prosecution leaves the courthouse, a weeping woman pushes her way towards lead attorney Joseph Hartzler, throws her arms around him, and says, “Dear God, thank you for what you have done.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 292]

Entity Tags: Jannie Coverdale, Paul Douglas Ice, Jennifer McVeigh, Joseph H. Hartzler, Richard P. Matsch, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Robert (“Bob”) Macy, Tony Stedman, Sharon Ice, William (“Bill”) McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols, Stephen Jones, Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

James Blassengill and his wife, Willie, who lost six family members in the bombing, comfort one another after the verdict.James Blassengill and his wife, Willie, who lost six family members in the bombing, comfort one another after the verdict. [Source: AP / Washington Post]The jury in the trial of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997) unanimously decides that McVeigh should be sentenced to death by lethal injection. The verdict is written in heavy black ink by jury foreman James Osgood, a single word: “Death.”
Statements by Prosecution and Defense - The prosecution puts an array of survivors and family members of the victims on the stand to tell their harrowing stories, and shows videotapes of some of the surviving children battling grave injuries in the months after the bombing. The defense counters with testimonials from some of McVeigh’s former Army friends (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990 and January - March 1991 and After), and a presentation by McVeigh’s divorced parents, Bill McVeigh and Mildred Frazer; the father introduces a 15-minute videotape of McVeigh as a child and concludes simply, “I love Tim.” The defense emphasizes McVeigh’s far-right political views, insisting that his misguided belief that the government intended to impose tyranny on its citizens was fueled by the Ruby Ridge (see August 31, 1992 and August 21-31, 1992) and Branch Davidian (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After) incidents, and drove McVeigh to mount his own strike against a government facility. However, defense lawyer Richard Burr tells the jury, “He is just like any of us.” The defense brings in soldiers who served with McVeigh in the Army to testify about McVeigh’s exemplary service, but their statements are quickly neutralized when prosecutors remind them that they are all taught as their first rule of duty “never to kill noncombatants, including women and children.” Another damning moment comes when prosecutor Beth Wilkinson elicits testimony that shows McVeigh killed more people in the bombing than US forces lost during Desert Storm—168 to 137. Jones pleads for a life sentence without parole. At no time do defense lawyers say that McVeigh feels any remorse towards the lives he took.
Unanimous Verdict - The jury takes about 11 hours over two days to reach its verdict. The jury unanimously finds that at least seven “aggravating circumstances” were associated with McVeigh’s crimes, including his intention to kill, his premeditation and planning, that he created a grave risk to others with reckless disregard for their lives, that he committed offenses against federal law enforcement officials, and that he created severe losses for the victims’ families. They are split in consideration of “mitigating factors” proposed by the defense. Only two find McVeigh to be a “reliable and dependable person”; only four say he had “done good deeds and helped others” during his life; none see him as a “good and loyal friend”; and none agree with the proposition that he “believed deeply in the ideals upon which the United States was founded.” Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler says: “This is not a day of great joy for the prosecution team. We’re pleased that the system worked and justice prevailed. But the verdict doesn’t diminish the great sadness that occurred in Oklahoma City two years ago. Our only hope is that the verdict will go some way toward preventing such a terrible, drastic crime from ever occurring again.” Juror Tonya Stedman says that the jury wrestled with the idea of taking McVeigh’s life for his crimes: “It was difficult because we’re talking about a life. Yes, 168 died as a result of it, but this is another life to consider. This was a big decision. I feel confident in the decision we made.” Most relatives of the bombing victims echo the sentiments expressed by Charles Tomlin, who lost a son in the explosion: “I could see the strain on them [the jurors]. You know it was a hard decision to make to put a man to death, but I’m glad they did.” However, some agree with James Kreymborg, who lost his wife and daughter in the blast. Kreymborg says he “really did not want the death penalty” because “I’ve had enough death.” Mike Lenz, whose pregnant wife died in the blast, says: “It’s not going to bring back my wife and lessen my loss. My reason for believing or wanting to put McVeigh to death is it stops. It stops here. He can’t reach out and try to recruit anybody else to his cause.” Marsha Kight, who lost her daughter in the explosion, says she would have preferred a life sentence in prison: “There is a lot of pain in living—death is pretty easy.” Lead defense attorney Stephen Jones acknowledges respect for the jury’s decision, and adds: “We ask that the barriers and intolerance that have divided us may crumble and suspicions disappear and hatred cease. And our divisions and intolerance being healed, we may live together in justice and peace. God save the United States of America. God save this honorable court.” President Clinton had publicly called for the death sentence after the bombing (see April 23, 1995), but avoids directly commenting on the jury’s decision, citing the impending trial of fellow bombing suspect Terry Nichols (see November 3, 1997). Instead, Clinton says: “This investigation and trial have confirmed our country’s faith in its justice system. To the victims and their families, I know that your healing can be measured only one day at a time. The prayers and support of your fellow Americans will be with you every one of those days.” McVeigh faces 160 murder charges under Oklahoma state law. [New York Times, 6/4/1997; Denver Post, 6/14/1997; Washington Post, 6/14/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 297-300, 308, 313-315; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Douglas O. Linder, 2006; Douglas O. Linder, 2006] McVeigh shows no emotion when the sentence is read. When he is escorted out of the courtroom, he flashes a peace sign to the jury, then turns to his parents and sister in the front row, and mouths, “It’s okay.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 315]
McVeigh Will Be Incarcerated in Colorado 'Supermax' Facility - McVeigh will be held in the same “supermax” federal facility in Florence, Colorado, that houses Theodore Kaczynski, the “Unabomber” (see April 3, 1996), and convicted World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef (see February 26, 1993 and February 7, 1995). In a letter to the authors of McVeigh’s authorized biography, American Terrorist, Kaczynski will later say he “like[s]” McVeigh, describing him as “an adventurer by nature” who, at the same time, is “very intelligent” and expressed ideas that “seemed rational and sensible.” [Douglas O. Linder, 2006] A person who later speaks to McVeigh in prison will call him “the scariest man in the world” because he is so quiet and nondescript. “There’s nothing alarming about him—nothing,” the person will say. “He’s respectful of his elders, he’s polite. When he expresses political views, for most of what he says, Rush Limbaugh is scarier. That’s what’s incredibly frightening. If he is what he appears to be, there must be other people out there like him. You look at him and you think: This isn’t the end of something; this is the beginning of something.” [Nicole Nichols, 2003] McVeigh is one of only 13 people to be sentenced to death under federal law. It has been 34 years since any prisoner sentenced to death under federal law was executed. [New York Times, 6/4/1997] He will speak briefly and obscurely on his own behalf when Judge Richard Matsch formally sentences him to death (see August 14, 1997).

Entity Tags: Joseph H. Hartzler, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Tonya Stedman, James Kreymborg, Charles Tomlin, James Osgood, Beth Wilkinson, Timothy James McVeigh, William (“Bill”) McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols, Marsha Kight, Theodore J. (“Ted”) Kaczynski, Mildred (“Mickey”) Frazer, Mike Lenz, Richard P. Matsch, Stephen Jones, Richard Burr

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

Michael Fortier, a co-conspirator in the Oklahoma City bombing (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990, March 1993, May-September 1993, February - July 1994, October 21 or 22, 1994, and December 16, 1994 and After) who cooperated with authorities in testifying against bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (see May 19, 1995, August 8, 1995, April 29-30, 1997, May 12-13, 1997, and November 12-13, 1997), is sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in the bomb plot, fined $200,000, and ordered to pay $4,300 in restitution. Judge G. Thomas Van Bebber’s decision seeks a middle ground between the relatives of bombing victims, who have demanded a harsh sentence for Fortier, and federal prosecutors, who recommend leniency for Fortier’s cooperation. Fortier’s lawyer Michael McGuire tells Van Bebber: “Michael Fortier did not believe Timothy McVeigh was going to carry out the bombing. For his negligence, he will always be the unforgiven man.” Fortier also receives credit for the 34 months he has already served in detention. In the sentencing hearing, Fortier apologizes to the victims for not turning in McVeigh and Nichols ahead of the bombing. “I deeply regret not taking the information I had to the police,” he says through tears. “I sometimes daydream that I did do this and became a hero, but [the] reality is that I am not.… I have paid close attention to the testimony given by the bombing survivors. The stories are so horrifying, so heartbreaking, and so full of human suffering that I cannot bear them. I am too weak to contemplate them for long. I feel as if my mind will break and I’ll cry and cry and never stop. Dear people, please, I offer my apology and I ask you to forgive me.… Please, please don’t let thoughts of me continue to hurt you.” Many survivors and victims’ relatives testify at the sentencing, telling of the grief and despair they and their families have suffered. Constance Favorite, who lost a daughter in the bombing, tells the judge: “All he needed to do was take responsibility and call. One phone call would have done it.” Marsha Kight, who also lost a daughter in the bombing, says Fortier’s sentence is too light. “Life in prison is what I would have considered enough,” she says. “I think he conspired. I think he helped buy components for the bomb. What do you call that?” Prosecutors call the sentence “appropriate” and say they are unmoved by Fortier’s declarations of remorse. “I think everyone in the courtroom had to think that it’s a little too late and a little too little,” says US Attorney Patrick M. Ryan. Van Bebber, chief judge of the US District Court for Kansas, was appointed to handle the sentencing because an appeals court ruled in 1995 that Oklahoma City federal judges had a potential conflict of interest in the case. The Oklahoma City federal courthouse sits across the street from where the Murrah building once stood, and itself was damaged by the bombing. [Washington Post, 5/28/1998; New York Times, 5/28/1998; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; The Oklahoman, 4/2009] Van Bebber rejected pleas for leniency from Fortier’s lawyers, who asked that Fortier be sentenced to serve the 33 months he has already been incarcerated—essentially setting him free immediately. He followed prosecutors’ recommendations that Fortier serve between 11 and 14 years, after saying that he was considering sentencing Fortier to over 17 years in prison. [New York Times, 5/13/1998] Fortier’s lawyers say they will appeal the sentence, and accuse prosecutors of misrepresenting the amount of jail time they would seek if Fortier cooperated with the investigation and testified in the McVeigh and Nichols trials. [Indianapolis Star, 2003] Fortier will win an appeal of his sentencing; the appellate court will find that Van Bebber used sentencing guidelines that were too strict. Fortier’s jail sentence will remain the same, but his fine will be reduced to $75,000. [The Oklahoman, 4/2009] He serves his sentence in the “supermax” federal facility in Florence, Colorado, that houses Theodore Kaczysnki, the “Unabomber” (see April 3, 1996), and convicted World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef (see February 26, 1993 and February 7, 1995). He will be released in January 2006, after serving 10 years and six months of his sentence. [Douglas O. Linder, 2001]

Entity Tags: Marsha Kight, G. Thomas Van Bebber, Michael Joseph Fortier, Michael McGuire, Constance Favorite, Theodore J. (“Ted”) Kaczynski, Timothy James McVeigh, Ramzi Yousef, Patrick M. Ryan, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Judge Richard P. Matsch sentences convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997) to life in prison without the possibility of parole after his jury cannot decide whether to sentence him to death (see January 7, 1998). He is also sentenced to eight concurrent six-year terms for the deaths of eight federal agents. Matsch orders Nichols to pay $14.5 million in restitution to the General Services Administration (GSA) for the destruction of the Murrah Federal Building. Nichols swears he has only $40,000 in assets; Matsch says that any future proceeds he might receive for selling his story would be given over to the government. Nichols’s defense team tried in vain to assert that Nichols was a “dupe” of fellow defendant Timothy McVeigh (see June 11-13, 1997) and should be given a lighter sentence. Nichols, who refused to provide information about the bombing plot, gave Matsch a written apology (see March 10, 1998). Matsch says Nichols committed an act of treason that demands the most severe punishment: “The only inference that can be drawn from the evidence is that the purpose of the plan was to change the course of government through fear and intimidation.… The evidence shows to my satisfaction that the intention was to disrupt, to disorganize, to intimidate the operations of these agencies and United States government. Apparently, the intention was that the response would be fear and terror and intimidation and that these people would not be able to perform their work and that the response throughout the nation would be hysteria.… But you know, it didn’t work out that way. There was no anarchy. There was no reign of terror.… What occurred was that a community became even more united, and I think perhaps the country as well. We proceeded with the orderly processes of recovery and of restoration.… What he did was participate with others in a conspiracy that would seek to destroy all of the things that the Constitution protects. My obligation as a judge is to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Terry Nichols has proven to be an enemy of the Constitution, and accordingly the sentence I am going to impose will be for the duration of his life. Anyone, no matter who that person might be or what his background might be, who participates in a crime of this magnitude has forfeited the freedoms that this government is designed to protect.” Prosecutors say they are pleased with the sentence, while Nichols’s defense lawyers continue to assert that Nichols did not intend to kill anyone in the bombing. Nichols’s lead attorney, Michael Tigar, files papers calling for a new trial; Matsch says he will schedule a hearing. Marsha Kight, whose daughter Frankie Ann Merrell was killed in the bombing, says: “I’m proud of what happened in the judicial system. I felt like singing ‘God Bless America.’ He got what he deserved.” [Chicago Tribune, 6/5/1998; Washington Post, 6/5/1998; New York Times, 6/5/1998; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Indianapolis Star, 2003; Fox News, 4/13/2005] Nichols will serve his term in the “supermax” federal facility in Florence, Colorado, that houses Theodore Kaczysnki, the “Unabomber” (see April 3, 1996), and convicted World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef (see February 26, 1993 and February 7, 1995). [Douglas O. Linder, 2006] Nichols refused an offer of leniency in return for his cooperation in further investigation of the bombing (see April 21, 1998).

Entity Tags: Frankie Ann Merrell, General Services Administration, Michael E. Tigar, Marsha Kight, Ramzi Yousef, Richard P. Matsch, Theodore J. (“Ted”) Kaczynski, Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Michael Fortier, a friend of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) who cooperated with the prosecution of McVeigh and fellow conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998) in order to escape prosecution for his own participation in the bomb plot, says through his attorneys that federal prosecutors lied in order to get a harsher sentence for him. Fortier was given 12 years in prison for his actions (see May 27, 1998). During his sentencing hearing, prosecutors argued that Fortier’s sentence should exceed standard guidelines because of the magnitude of the crime. They argued that Fortier knew profits from the sale of stolen guns would be used to help finance the bombing because he was present when his wife, Lori, and McVeigh discussed it (see April 3-4, 1995). Recently, prosecutor Sean Connelly conceded there was no evidence Fortier was present during the conversation between his wife and McVeigh or was told by either one of them what had been said. [Mayhem (.net), 4/2009]

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Lori Fortier, Michael Joseph Fortier, Terry Lynn Nichols, Sean Connelly

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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