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Context of 'May 30, 1997: Prosecutors, Defense Present Closing Arguments in Oklahoma City Bombing Case'

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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).

Four FBI workers who evaluated evidence surrounding the Oklahoma City bombings (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) are transferred after a Justice Department report criticizes the FBI’s crime lab procedures. One of those suspended is forensic scientist Frederic Whitehurst, whose long-standing complaints triggered the Justice Department investigation. That investigation found that evidence in about two dozen cases had been mishandled. Whitehurst is placed on administrative leave with pay just days after the report is received by FBI HQ. The Justice Department report does not allege that evidence had been manipulated to benefit prosecutors. Some evidence was possibly contaminated, and in some instances, the FBI laboratory exercised lax control over evidence. Three of the 23 units in the laboratory were found to have substandard procedures. [Washington Post, 1/28/1997; Indianapolis Star, 2003] According to a technician (not Whitehurst), the black denim jeans that accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) wore on the day of the bombing were shipped to the forensics lab in a brown paper bag, and not a sealed plastic evidence bag as procedure dictates. A gun and a knife purportedly taken from McVeigh during his arrest (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995) were sent to the lab in a manila envelope. According to an FBI summary of interviews conducted with lab technicians, an employee in the explosives unit, LaToya Gadson, told investigators that “the evidence was a ‘mess’ when it came in because it had not been collected in an ‘orderly fashion.’ Additionally, most of the debris was not properly bagged, some was not bagged at all, and many of the bags were not closed tightly, allowing debris to fall out.” Travel cases potentially contaminated with explosive residue from the bomb were placed in an area where bomb debris had been stored awaiting testing, rendering the cases impossible to accurately test. And a technician obtained a false reading of cocaine in McVeigh’s car, possibly from using improperly cleaned equipment. The sample was discarded, a worker says. Three technicians who examined evidence from the bombing case were reassigned: David Williams, who supervised evidence collection; Roger Martz, head of the laboratory’s chemistry unit; and James T. Thurman, chief of the laboratory’s explosives unit. Lab workers say Williams changed his dictated reports in violation of laboratory policy. Martz examined explosive evidence even though he lacked the proper training to do so. [New York Times, 1/31/1997]

Entity Tags: James T. Thurman, David R. Williams (FBI), Frederic Whitehurst, Timothy James McVeigh, Roger Martz, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, LaToya Gadson

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

One of the prosecution’s star witnesses 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) testifies. Lori Fortier, the wife of McVeigh’s friend and fellow conspirator Michael Fortier, tells the jury that one night in October 1994, McVeigh sat in her Kingman, Arizona, living room and told her and her husband he was going to blow up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. “He drew a diagram, just a box,” she says, “and he filled the box with [soup cans] representing barrels” (see (February 1994)). The box represented the truck he would park in front of the building, and the barrels would be filled with ammonium hydrate and anhydrous hydrazine, a chemical used in rocket fuel. She says she remembers the names of the chemicals because McVeigh borrowed her dictionary the next day to look them up. McVeigh, she says, chose the Murrah Building because it was, in his estimation, “an easy target.” Lori Fortier testifies after being given a grant of immunity (see August 8, 1995); her husband Michael, also cooperating with the investigation and slated to testify, received a plea agreement in return for his cooperation (see May 19, 1995). She also says McVeigh was furious with the federal government over the Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993, April 19, 1993 and After, and April 24, 1995), and thought the Murrah Building was the workplace of some of the law enforcement agents involved in the Davidian standoff. She says that McVeigh’s fellow conspirator, Terry Nichols, helped McVeigh in several robberies that the two used to buy the bomb materials (see November 5, 1994), but at the last minute, McVeigh told her and her husband that “Terry wanted out and Terry did not want to mix the bomb” (see March 1995). Her husband also refused to help McVeigh in his getaway after the bombing. She recalls her husband joining McVeigh in building and exploding pipe bombs in the mountains, and remembers a September 1994 letter to her husband from McVeigh in which McVeigh “said he wanted to take action against the government” (see September 13, 1994). Weeks later, McVeigh told the Fortiers that he wanted to blow up a government building. “I think Michael told him he was crazy,” she testifies. She also remembers laminating a fake driver’s license for McVeigh with the name “Robert D. Kling,” an alias McVeigh used to rent the Ryder truck used to deliver the bomb (see Mid-March, 1995, April 15, 1995, 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995, and February 19, 1997). Asked if she feels any responsibility for the bombing, she admits, “I could have stopped it.” She says she didn’t believe McVeigh was capable of actually executing such an action. “I wish I could have stopped it now. If I could do it all over again, I would have.” Fortier holds up under four hours of harsh cross-examination by McVeigh’s lawyer Stephen Jones, who paints her as an unreliable drug addict who had hoped to profit from her and her husband’s knowledge of the bombing and continues to hammer at her over her admission that she could have called authorities and stopped the bombing. Fortier admits to using drugs, and to lying about McVeigh shortly after the attack, explaining that she did so for fear that she and her husband would be implicated. “I never had any interest in selling my story,” she says. [University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 4/29/1997; New York Times, 4/30/1997; New York Times, 5/1/1997; New York Times, 5/8/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 284-286]

Entity Tags: Michael Joseph Fortier, Timothy James McVeigh, Lori Fortier, Stephen Jones, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

One of the star witnesses for the prosecution in the trial of Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, August 10, 1995, and April 24, 1997), McVeigh’s close friend Michael Fortier (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990), testifies. Fortier’s wife Lori has testified previously (see April 29-30, 1997). She received a grant of immunity, and Fortier himself pled guilty to reduced charges in return for his cooperation (see May 19, 1995). Far from being boisterous and disrespectful during the trial as he once claimed he would be (see April 23 - May 6, 1995), Fortier is somber and repentant. Fortier testifies that he and McVeigh “cased” the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City several months before McVeigh bombed it (see December 16, 1994 and After), and says that McVeigh bombed the building “to cause a general uprising in America.” McVeigh originally planned to bomb the building around 11 a.m. because, Fortier testifies, “everybody would be getting ready for lunch.” Fortier says he expressed his concern that the bombing would kill many people, and McVeigh replied that he “considered all those people to be as if they were storm troopers in the movie Star Wars. They may be individually innocent, but because they are part of the evil empire they were guilty by association.” Fortier says that he sent off for a mail-order identification kit that McVeigh used to make a false driver’s license for himself. Fortier admits that he knew for months of McVeigh’s plans (see September 13, 1994 and After and September 13, 1994), and that he could have prevented the bombing with a single telephone call to law enforcement authorities: “I live with that knowledge every day,” he says. Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler asks Fortier why he did not make the call. Fortier replies that he has no excuse except his friendship with McVeigh, saying: “I’d known Tim for quite a while. If you don’t consider what happened in Oklahoma, Tim is a good person.” Fortier recalls going with McVeigh to Oklahoma City, where they examined the Murrah Building, and McVeigh considered a number of alternatives for delivering the bomb (see December 16, 1994 and After). Fortier testifies as to the location of the alley that McVeigh said he would use to stash his getaway car; investigators found the key to McVeigh’s rented Ryder truck (see April 15, 1995) in that alley. The trip also involved going to Junction City, Kansas, where McVeigh sold a number of stolen weapons (see November 5, 1994) in what prosecutors say was an effort to finance the bombing. Fortier testifies, “He told me they picked that building because that was where the orders for the attack on Waco came from,” referring to the Branch Davidian debacle (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). “He told me—he also told me that he was wanting to blow up a building to cause a general uprising in America hopefully that would knock some people off the fence into—and urge them into taking action against the federal government.” At one point, testifying about his involvement in the case driving his father into having a nervous breakdown, Fortier weeps on the stand. McVeigh lived with the Fortiers several times in the years leading up to the bombing (see May-September 1993 and February - July 1994), he testifies. He recalls receiving a letter from McVeigh (see September 13, 1994) in which, he says: “Tim told me that him and Terry Nichols had decided to take some type of positive offensive action. He wanted to know if I wanted to partake of it.” A week later, McVeigh came back to Kingman and, Fortier recalls, “we had a conversation near my fence in my front yard. Tim was telling me what he meant by taking action. He told me that he—him and Terry were thinking of blowing up a building. He asked me to help them. I turned him down.” Later in 1994, Fortier testifies, McVeigh asked him to rent a storage locker for him somewhere outside Kingman, but Fortier told McVeigh he could not find one. A few days after that, Fortier testifies, McVeigh and Nichols came to Kingman and rented a storage locker themselves (see October 4 - Late October, 1994). Soon after, McVeigh and Nichols showed Fortier the contents of the locker—about a dozen boxes of explosives that McVeigh said they had stolen from a quarry in Kansas (see October 3, 1994). Just before October 31, 1994, Fortier testifies, “Tim said that him and Terry had chosen a federal building in Oklahoma City” and showed him how he could “make a truck into a bomb.” Under cross-examination, McVeigh’s lead lawyer, Stephen Jones, lambasts Fortier as a liar, a thief, a drug addict, and an opportunist who had initially tried to profit from his knowledge of the bombing, playing the audiotapes of Fortier’s bluster and bragging as captured on government wiretaps (see After May 6, 1995). Fortier admits to lying to the FBI in his initial interviews. Jones does not shake Fortier from his statements about McVeigh, though he does elicit a statement from Fortier that Nichols had withdrawn from the bomb plot in the final days of preparation (see March 1995). [New York Times, 5/13/1997; New York Times, 5/14/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 286-287]

Entity Tags: Lori Fortier, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joseph H. Hartzler, Michael Joseph Fortier, Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The prosecution in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, August 10, 1995, and April 24, 1997) rests its case on an emotional note after having presented 137 witnesses. [Douglas O. Linder, 2001] The government presented what many legal analysts call a masterful case, moving far more quickly than anticipated and using witnesses to establish a string of facts that paint a strong picture of McVeigh’s guilt. The prosecution ends on a powerfully emotional note, presenting a number of first responders and survivors. Florence Rogers, a credit union employee who worked in the Murrah Federal Building, tells the jury of the moment when she lost seven of her co-workers in the bomb blast. She recalls the bomb going off with a “torrnado-like rush.” She was thrown to the floor, she recalls, and, she says, “everything else was gone.” Mike Shannon, chief of special operations for the Oklahoma City Fire Department, uses a diagram to show the jury how the bomb took an enormous “bite” from the north face of the building, and to show where rescuers finally freed the last survivor, 15-year-old Brandy Ligons, over 12 hours after the bombing. “To climb into” the area where Ligons was trapped, Shannon testifies, “it took people lying on their stomach, taking debris, pushing it down under their belly down between their legs. The second person would lay his head on the first person’s bottom and take that debris and pass it between his legs, and they would work their way into the pile. It was just big enough for just one person to wiggle through.” Dangling over Ligons and the rescuers was a 40,000-pound slab of concrete, ready to fall and crush everyone involved. Shannon testifies as to the difficulties of rescuing victims and removing the dead from a building whose front had pancaked into a heap of rubble. The effect was “like squeezing grapes,” he says. “Body fluids were dripping through, and it would just drip onto your gear as you were crawling through, onto your helmet.” Responder Alan Prokop tells jurors of the hand that rose from the rubble of the devastated building and grasped his, a hand belonging to a woman trapped under a huge slab of concrete. Prokop held her hand and felt her slowly die while rescuers tried vainly to free her. He recalls hearing the sound of what he thought was running water, and tells of a fellow rescuer saying, “It isn’t water, Alan, it’s blood.” Dr. Frederick B. Jordan, the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner, presents the jury with 163 death certificates for those who died in the bombing. He tells the jury how some of the victims were identified using the mangled remains of their bodies: a fingerprint from a resident alien card, a print taken from a box of Clairol hair coloring agent from a victim’s home, a scar on a little girl’s arm. The prosecution never mentions a contention by a federal grand jury that McVeigh and his co-conspirator Terry Nichols built the truck bomb at Geary Lake State Park in Kansas (see 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995); indeed, the prosecution does not attempt to prove how or where the bomb was built. The prosecution does not introduce a letter written by Nichols on November 21, 1994 that advised McVeigh to clean out two storage lockers (see November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995). After the prosecution rests, defense lawyer Stephen Jones moves for a summary acquittal, a motion rejected by Judge Richard P. Matsch. However, the judge says he may delete some portions of the indictment before giving the jury its final instructions. Those portions include references to the purchase of bomb components, the rental of some storage units, the construction of the truck bomb at the Kansas lake, and the robbery of an Arkansas gun dealer used to finance the bombing, another instance not cited by the prosecution (see November 5, 1994). “I had in mind some redaction of the indictment, or perhaps even more substantial changes, before submitting it to the jury,” Matsch says after the jury is excused for the day. “I think we’ll deal with it at the instructions conference as the most appropriate time.” [New York Times, 5/22/1997; Washington Post, 5/22/1997; Denver Post, 6/3/1997; Denver Post, 6/14/1997; Associated Press, 1/11/1998] Legal analyst Andrew Cohen will say that the prosecutors did not “bore” the jury with a morass of technical details, instead moving swiftly through technical testimony and pacing their witnesses so that each day ended with the emotional testimony of a victim or family member. Law professor Christopher Mueller says after the prosecution rests: “[T]his is a trial the way a trial ought to look.… I think the prosecution has presented a very strong, almost compelling case. The biggest payoff is in the abandonment of much of the scientific proof that would have been enormously distracting” to the jury. [Washington Post, 5/22/1997; Denver Post, 6/14/1997]

Entity Tags: Florence Rogers, Andrew Cohen, Alan Prokop, Christopher Mueller, Brandy Ligons, Timothy James McVeigh, Stephen Jones, Richard P. Matsch, Mike Shannon, Frederick B. Jordan, Terry Lynn Nichols, Geary State Fishing Lake And Wildlife Area

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Security camera footage of the Ryder truck used by Timothy McVeigh to deliver the bomb as it is parked in front of the Murrah Federal Building just minutes before detonation. The truck is barely visible in the upper left of the frame.Security camera footage of the Ryder truck used by Timothy McVeigh to deliver the bomb as it is parked in front of the Murrah Federal Building just minutes before detonation. The truck is barely visible in the upper left of the frame. [Source: Associated Press]The defense in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, August 10, 1995, and April 24, 1997) suffers a setback when a witness brought on to show that someone else could have bombed the Murrah Federal Building admits that one of the men she saw fleeing the scene might have been McVeigh. Daina Bradley, visiting the building on April 19 to get a Social Security number for her four-year-old son, lost her leg in the blast, and the family members accompanying her, including her mother, her son and her three-year-old daughter, died; her sister was also injured. Her rescuers had to amputate her leg to free her from the rubble. She has said in previous statements that she saw a dark-complexioned man not resembling the tall, pale McVeigh leave the passenger side of the Ryder truck and walk quickly away in the moments before the blast; some suspect Bradley is referring to the infamous, never-identified “John Doe No. 2” (see April 15, 1995, April 18, 1995, April 20, 1995, April 21, 1995, April 29, 1995, and June 14, 1995). “It was a olive-complexion man with short hair, curly, clean-cut,” she testifies. “He had on a blue Starter jacket, blue jeans, and tennis shoes and a white [baseball cap] with purple flames.” But she now remembers a second man getting out of the driver’s seat of the truck, and says the man she saw resembled McVeigh. Prosecutors elicit the fact that Bradley suffers from serious memory problems and has been treated for mental illness. Her previous testimony had been taken in May 1995 by federal investigators who spoke with her while she was in the hospital recovering from her wounds. She says she has not told anyone about the second man she saw exit the truck until last week, when she spoke with prosecuting attorney Cheryl A. Ramsey. She then told US Attorney Patrick M. Ryan, another prosecutor, of her memory of the second man. On the stand, Ryan asks her: “You told me that there was nothing that you saw about the man that ran across the street that was different than what you could see when you looked at Mr. McVeigh. There weren’t any differences that you could see.” She agrees. She also admits that she cannot remember the size of the truck or its orientation to the Murrah Building. [New York Times, 5/24/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 288-290]

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Cheryl A. Ramsey, Murrah Federal Building, Daina Bradley, Patrick M. Ryan

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The defense 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) rests after having presented 25 witnesses over less than four days of testimony. [Douglas O. Linder, 2001] McVeigh does not testify in his own defense. [Washington Post, 6/14/1997] Defense lawyers, led by Stephen Jones, found it difficult to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case (see May 21, 1997). Their story was that McVeigh was the unwitting victim of an overzealous federal investigation and the treachery of his friends. Today, they try to cast doubt on some of the witness testimony, with little apparent success, focusing on critical testimony by two friends of McVeigh’s, Michael and Lori Fortier (see May 19, 1995, August 8, 1995, April 29-30, 1997, After May 6, 1995, and May 12-13, 1997), calling them drug addicts who were lying in order to profit from their story and to avoid jail time. The last witness, Deborah Brown, who employed Lori Fortier at her tanning salon in Kingman, Arizona, testifies that she had bought amphetamines from the Fortiers, and tells the jury the Fortiers were so poor that “their baby was on some kind of state assistance to get formula and diapers.” Jones plays an audiotape for the jury of Michael Fortier’s telephone conversations that were wiretapped by federal agents in the weeks after the bombing, when Fortier was considered a suspect. In those recordings, Fortier boasted to his brother John that he could mislead federal agents and make a million dollars through book rights from his connection to McVeigh, saying: “I can tell a fable, I can tell stories all day long. The less I say now, the bigger the price will be later.” On another audiotape, Fortier, his voice slurred from apparent drug use, is heard telling a friend: “The less I say right now, the bigger the price later—there will be books, book rights. I’m the key, the head honcho, General Crank. I hold the key to it all.… I could pick my nose and wipe it on the judge’s desk.” Jones also plays excerpts from an interview Fortier gave CNN, where he said: “My friend Tim McVeigh is not the face of terror that is reported on the cover of Time magazine. I do not believe that Tim blew up any building in Oklahoma.” Fortier has already admitted that he lied to the press and the FBI during the early phases of the investigation. However, the defense has no alibi for McVeigh, nor does it offer an alternative theory to the prosecution’s version of events.
Prosecution's Case Not Challenged, Analysts Say - Legal analysts say Jones did little to challenge the prosecution, and note that Judge Richard Matsch prohibited Jones from presenting his theory of a foreign terrorist conspiracy behind the bombing (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After). Neither did Matsch allow Jones to put FBI laboratory technicians on the stand to explain their alleged mishandling of evidence in the case (see January 27, 1997), though Jones did present FBI lab technician Frederic Whitehurst, whose whistleblowing led to a Justice Department investigation that revealed the mishandlings (see May 27, 1997). Jones also suffered a setback when his star witness, Daina Bradley, abruptly changed the story she had told for almost two years. Bradley, a victim of the bombing who lost her two children and her mother along with her right leg, had said that she saw a “swarthy” man get out of the Ryder truck that carried the fertilizer bomb. On the witness stand, Bradley added a new detail: a second, light-complexioned man also in the truck. She was also forced to admit that she had been treated for mental illness and had a poor memory (see May 23, 1997). Legal analyst Andrew Cohen says that the jury is most likely to focus on Jones’s inability to prove McVeigh’s innocence. “The message you get as a juror,” Cohen says, “is [that] this is the worst mass murder in American history. There’s 168 dead, and you can only come up with four days of testimony? What about the alibi? If you’re going to call a guy innocent, you’d better make your case.” [Washington Post, 5/29/1997; New York Times, 5/29/1997; Denver Post, 6/3/1997; Denver Post, 6/14/1997; Associated Press, 1/11/1998] After the final presentation, law professor Mimi Wesson, a former assistant US attorney and death penalty expert, says she is “puzzled” by the defense’s “truncated” presentation. “The main thing they tried to suggest was that McVeigh was not alone. They elicited that through witnesses who testified they saw McVeigh with someone else, or that they saw someone else at places connected to the bombing. But I must say that rather puzzled me, since it is no defense for McVeigh that he acted with a confederate even if that confederate cannot be identified and has not been apprehended and cannot be prosecuted.” Wesson believes that the defense may be conceding guilt, and may be attempting to build a case for “mitigating circumstances” that would spare McVeigh the death penalty. Wesson says that the testimony of Bradley was very damaging for the defense’s case, and doubly so because Bradley was a defense witness. The lawyer who handled the defense’s attack on the forensic evidence (see May 27, 1997), Christopher Tritico, did a “skilled” job in going after the forensics, but Wesson is not convinced Tritico’s assault swayed many jurors. She calls Whitehurst a “prig, a person who has his own fastidious, rather fussy idea about how things ought to be done, who is extremely inflexible and intolerant about things being done any other way” who did not make a good impression on the jury. Jones’s final attack on the Fortiers (see April 29-30, 1997 and May 12-13, 1997) was “predictable,” Wesson says, and nothing the jury had not already heard: “The thing about the Fortiers is not so much that we believe them because they’re truthful—we know they were liars about many things—but in the end I think you believe them because their testimony about McVeigh is corroborated at almost every point by other testimony.” The “parade of victims” put on by the government was tremendously effective, Wesson says: “They did such a tremendously effective case of arousing people’s emotions during the main part of the case.” [Salon, 5/29/1997]
Defense Had 'All but Impossible' Task - In 2006, law professor Douglas O. Linder will write: “The task of the defense team was all but impossible. They could not come up with a single alibi witness. They faced the reality that McVeigh had told dozens of people of his hatred of the government, and had told a friend that he planned to take violent action on April 19. Rental agreements and a drawing of downtown Oklahoma City linked him to the blast. He carried earplugs in his car driving north from Oklahoma City 40 minutes after the explosion. How could it all be explained away?” [Douglas O. Linder, 2001]

Entity Tags: Andrew Cohen, Christopher L. Tritico, Deborah Brown, Daina Bradley, Douglas O. Linder, Timothy James McVeigh, Lori Fortier, Michael Joseph Fortier, Mimi Wesson, Richard P. Matsch, Stephen Jones, Frederic Whitehurst

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

Larry Mackey.Larry Mackey. [Source: Washington Post]Lawyer Larry A. Mackey, the lead prosecutor in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995), is profiled by the New York Times. Mackey played what the Times calls “a major, though low-profile role in the first Oklahoma City bombing trial” of Nichols’s co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997), and delivered the closing argument in that trial (see May 30, 1997). Mackey had not planned on being involved in the Nichols trial, but honored a request from Attorney General Janet Reno to head the prosecution. McVeigh’s lead lawyer Stephen Jones calls Mackey “very professional,” and says: “He honors his word. If he tells you something, you can bank on it.” Former US Attorney Gerald D. Fines says of Mackey, “He is the most thorough and best-prepared lawyer I have seen in the government or private practice.” [New York Times, 11/1/1997]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Gerald D. Fines, Larry A. Mackey, Stephen Jones, Janet Reno, Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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