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Context of 'June 11, 2001: FBI Lab Employees Send Urgent Letter to Attorney General Accusing Prosecution Witness of Lying in McVeigh Trial'

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Oklahoma Highway Patrolman Charles Hanger.Oklahoma Highway Patrolman Charles Hanger. [Source: The Oklahoman]Timothy McVeigh, who has just detonated a massive fertilizer bomb that has devasted the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), gets into his Mercury Marquis getaway car (see April 13, 1995) and flees north out of the city (see 9:02 a.m. and After, April 19, 1995). At 10:17 a.m., while driving north on I-35 outside of Billings, Oklahoma, about 60 miles north of Oklahoma City, McVeigh is stopped for having no license plates on his vehicle by Oklahoma Highway Patrolman Charles Hanger, a trooper nicknamed “The Hangman” for his zeal in pursuing violators. According to later testimony, there is a radio blackout in force because of the bombing, allowing police to keep the airwaves clear. Hanger had been ordered to go to Oklahoma City, but then had those orders countermanded and was told to resume his duties.
Roadside Stop - Hanger stops McVeigh’s car and calls his office on a cellphone to check the car, but forgets to activate his dashboard camera, so no video record of the arrest is made. Hanger later says he was apprehensive because another trooper had been shot on the same highway two weeks earlier. McVeigh, cooperating with Hanger’s directions, exits the vehicle and begins walking towards Hanger, hands empty. “I stopped you because you weren’t displaying a tag,” Hanger says. McVeigh looks at the rear of his car, clearly unaware that he lacks a license plate. He says he has not had the car long and that is why he lacks a plate. Hanger asks to see a bill of sale, and McVeigh tells him the paperwork is still being drawn up. Hanger does not believe this statement, and asks to see McVeigh’s driver’s license. McVeigh reaches into his back pocket and takes out a camouflage-colored billfold. As he does so, Hanger notices a bulge under McVeigh’s windbreaker. Hanger asks McVeigh to pull open his windbreaker. McVeigh says calmly, “I have a gun.” Hanger orders, “Get your hands up and turn around.” McVeigh complies. Hanger puts the muzzle of his gun to the back of McVeigh’s head. He orders McVeigh to walk to the back of his car. “My weapon is loaded,” McVeigh says. “So is mine,” Hanger replies. He then tells McVeigh to place his hands flat on the trunk of the Mercury and spread his legs. McVeigh complies. Hanger removes the pistol from McVeigh’s shoulder holster and tosses it onto the shoulder of the road, well out of McVeigh’s reach. McVeigh tells Hanger he has another ammunition clip on his belt, and Hanger removes this as well. “I also have a knife,” McVeigh says. Hanger removes the blade from a brown leather sheath and throws it to the roadway. “Why the loaded firearm?” Hanger asks. “I have a right to carry it for protection,” McVeigh replies. Hanger handcuffs McVeigh, walks him to his squad car, and puts him in the front passenger seat, belting him in. He then goes back to pick up the gun, the ammunition clip, and the knife. McVeigh, at Hanger’s request, recites the serial number of the Glock. Hanger comments, “Most wouldn’t know the serial number on their weapon,” and McVeigh replies, “I do.”
Arrest and Booking - The dispatcher reports over the radio that Timothy James McVeigh has no outstanding warrants, and there is nothing in the system on the Mercury or on McVeigh’s pistol. Hanger arrests McVeigh for having no vehicle registration, no license plates, and carrying a concealed weapon—a loaded 9mm Glock semiautomatic pistol (see August 16, 1991). According to prosecutors and Hanger’s own recollections, McVeigh is very polite and cooperative with Hanger, answering questions, “yes sir,” and “no sir,” and saying he has served in the military and as a security guard. “No, sir, I did not intend to break your laws,” he tells Hanger. “I just carry the gun for protection.” Hanger later says he interviews McVeigh in the car, but will say: “I didn’t take any notes. It was just friendly chit-chat.” McVeigh tells Hanger that he just bought the car from a Firestone dealership in Junction City. Hanger has his dispatcher call for information on the car. Hanger searches the Mercury, finding nothing of immediate interest, but when he walks back to his car, he notices McVeigh fidgeting in his seat (see April 21, 1995). Hanger asks if McVeigh wants his car towed into town (at his own expense) or left on the road; McVeigh tells him to leave it where it is. Hanger locks the car and drives McVeigh to Perry, Oklahoma. During the trip, McVeigh asks Hanger again and again when he can get his gun back. Sometime around 11:00 a.m., McVeigh is booked and lodged in the county jail in the Noble County Courthouse in Perry. He is given prisoner number 95-057, photographed, and fingerprinted. Except for one brief demand to know when he will go to court, courthouse officials remember McVeigh as polite and soft-spoken. Hanger has no idea who he has caught; he takes his wife to lunch before turning in the gun and ammunition he confiscated from McVeigh. [Washington Post, 4/22/1995; New York Times, 4/22/1995; New York Times, 4/22/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; New York Times, 4/29/1997; New York Times, 6/3/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 176-180; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Indianapolis Star, 2003; Fox News, 4/13/2005; University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 2006] McVeigh has a permit to carry the gun, but is in violation of the law because he is carrying it concealed, and because he has another weapon, the knife, also on his person. [New York Times, 4/23/1995] Later, Assistant District Attorney Mark Gibson says that Hanger, suspicious by nature anyway, had trouble with McVeigh’s story. “Particularly with his story that he was always on the road, he just didn’t believe,” Gibson will say. “And when he grabbed his gun and there was no reaction, no shock, that didn’t seem right, either. Neither did his story. Charlie said, ‘If you were in the military, when were you a security guard?’ and he said when he was on vacation. So things didn’t really jibe.” [New York Times, 4/23/1995] McVeigh’s gun is later found to be loaded with at least one Black Talon “cop-killer” bullet capable of penetrating body armor. [New York Times, 4/22/1995; New York Times, 4/22/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 177] Pat Livingston, a pawn shop owner in Ogden, Kansas, will recall selling McVeigh’s friend Terry Nichols two Glock semiautomatic pistols in February 1995. He also recalls selling McVeigh a similar Glock in 1991, and a Tec-9 assault pistol in 1993 (see February - July 1994). Livingston later says he remembers McVeigh well: “I knew that name as soon as I saw it on TV. That guy McVeigh, he wrote me a hot check for the Tec-9 in 1993.” [New York Times, 4/23/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996] Author Richard A. Serrano will later report that the pistol McVeigh is carrying is a .45-caliber Glock military assault pistol, Model 2.1. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 177] Left in McVeigh’s car are a blue baseball cap and a legal-sized envelope, sealed and stuffed with documents and clippings. Some of the documents include an excerpt from the racially inflammatory novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978), quotes from Revolutionary War figures, and newspaer clippings. [New York Times, 4/29/1997]
False Driver's License Leads to Clues - Though he presents a false driver’s license, in the name of “Robert Kling” (see Mid-March, 1995 and April 15, 1995), McVeigh gives his home address as 3616 Van Dyke Street, Decker, Michigan. The address is the farm of James Nichols, the brother of Terry Nichols (see December 22 or 23, 1988). This information leads federal agents to both the Nichols brothers (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995) and later to McVeigh himself as a suspect in the bombing. [Washington Post, 4/22/1995; New York Times, 6/3/1997] McVeigh lists James Nichols as his “next of kin.” [New York Times, 4/23/1995] Some versions of events have McVeigh destroying the Kling driver’s license (see 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. April 17, 1995), giving Hanger his real license, and citing the Decker, Michigan, address as an emergency contact. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 178-180] McVeigh empties his pockets at the jail: the contents include $650, four rounds of ammunition, his billfold, keys, yellow coins, a roll of antacids, and a set of earplugs, which will later be tested for explosive residue. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 191; Serrano, 1998, pp. 181]
Oddities - Later, the FBI speculates that the Arizona license plate, bearing the number LZC646, the Mercury once bore fell off sometime between the time McVeigh bought the car and the time Hanger pulled him over. It is also possible, the FBI will say, that McVeigh or his accomplice moved the license plate to another car after the bombing (see April 29, 1995). The license plate was originally registered on February 1, 1995 to a 1983 Pontiac station wagon owned by McVeigh (see January 1 - January 8, 1995), who then gave a mail drop in Kingman, Arizona (see February - July 1994), as his address. Press reports later claim that McVeigh traded the Pontiac and $250 in cash for the Mercury, and put the Pontiac’s license plate on the Mercury (a later press report states that McVeigh may have forgotten to transfer the Pontiac’s license plate to the Mercury—see May 16, 1995). A statement by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) says the Kingman mail drop address was used by a “T. Tuttle” (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994 and December 1993) in 1993 to advertise a “LAW launcher replica,” which the advertisement said fired “37 mm flares,” for sale in The Spotlight, a publication of the anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby. A LAW is a “light anti-tank weapon.” [New York Times, 4/27/1995]

Entity Tags: Mark Gibson, James Nichols, Charles Hanger, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Timothy James McVeigh, Richard A. Serrano, Pat Livingston, Noble County Courthouse (Perry, Oklahoma), Anti-Defamation League, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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

FBI forensic expert Steven G. Burmeister and chemist Ronald L. Kelly testify 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) that the FBI crime lab found residues of explosives on McVeigh’s shirt and jeans, clothing that McVeigh was wearing when he was arrested less than 90 minutes after allegedly detonating a bomb in front of an Oklahoma City federal building (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995). However, Burmeister says his experts found no such residues in the car McVeigh was driving when he was arrested. Nor did they find any such residues in a Kansas storage locker that prosecutors say McVeigh and co-conspirator Terry Nichols used to store bomb supplies (see September 22, 1994, October 4 - Late October, 1994, October 17, 1994, and November 7, 1994). Prosecutors use Burmeister’s testimony to establish the exact composition of the bomb. Lab experts found residue of three substances on earplugs McVeigh was carrying when he was arrested (see Early May 1995 and After): nitroglycerine; PETN, a crystalline substance found in detonation cord; and EGDN, which is added to dynamite. PETN was also found on the white T-shirt and long-sleeved undershirt McVeigh was wearing when he was stopped by a state trooper, and PETN and nitroglycerine were found in the right pocket of McVeigh’s jeans. McVeigh’s lawyers cross-examine the two about a search they performed in the aftermath of the bombing; the two experts found and bagged items, including two fragments of the Ryder rental truck that prosecutors say carried the bomb (see April 15, 1995). One was a red-and-yellow piece of the truck body, which Burmeister later determined contained crystals of the explosive ammonium nitrate. Prosecutors say the bomb was composed of ammonium nitrate, a substance often used as fertilizer but which can become a powerful explosive when mixed with fuel oil or racing fuel. Burmeister testifies that such a bomb would require a detonator and an explosive such as dynamite to boost the explosion. Kelly admits to picking up and bagging several items, including a truck part, before an FBI photographer could take pictures of them; Kelly says he replaced the items, let the photographer take pictures, and rebagged them. Defense lawyer Christopher L. Tritico indirectly accuses Kelly of planting evidence. “You didn’t find it in the parking lot, yourself, isn’t that right?” Tritico asks, to which Kelly replies, “That is absolutely incorrect.” Defense lawyers hammer away at the two over reports that the FBI crime lab had been criticized by a Justice Department report on its use of substandard procedures (see April 16, 1997), but Burmeister emphasizes that he, Kelly, and the other technicians were extremely careful about their evidence retrieval and testing. McVeigh’s lawyers elicit an admission from Burmeister that no PETN or EGDN was found at the scene of the bombing. Burmeister also admits that the crime lab’s handling of the bombing evidence could have been better, citing the practice of using paper bags to transport McVeigh’s clothing from the Perry jail to the FBI lab. Judge Richard P. Matsch limits the scope of the defense’s attack on the lab’s evidence handling, and repeatedly refuses to allow the jury to hear criticisms of the crime lab’s procedures issued by former lab employee Frederic Whitehurst (see January 27, 1997); nor does he allow the defense to introduce the Justice Department report. The last witness of the day, Linda Jones of the British Ministry of Defense’s Forensic Explosives Laboratory, testifies that “it would be fairly simple” for one person to build such a bomb as was used in Oklahoma City, challenging the defense’s theory that only a large number of conspirators and bomb experts could have built the bomb. [New York Times, 5/20/1997; New York Times, 5/21/1997]

Entity Tags: Richard P. Matsch, Christopher L. Tritico, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Linda Jones, Ronald L. Kelly, Timothy James McVeigh, Frederic Whitehurst, Steven G. Burmeister, Terry Lynn Nichols

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

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

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

Convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998) demands a new trial, saying that the recent cache of documents “unearthed” by the FBI relating to the bombing investigation (see May 10-11, 2001) supported his defense. Many of the documents concern the FBI’s investigation into a suspect known as “John Doe No. 2” (see April 15, 1995, 9:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, 3:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, April 18, 1995, April 20, 1995, April 21, 1995, April 29, 1995, and June 14, 1995), which the agency now terms a “dead-end” investigation. [New York Times, 5/27/2001; Mayhem (.net), 4/2009] Lawyers for both Nichols and convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) will receive the documents. [New York Times, 5/27/2001]

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols, Federal Bureau of Investigation

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

June 1-7, 2001: McVeigh Execution Delay Denied

Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, awaiting execution (see January 16, 2001), changes his mind about his appeals, and allows his attorneys to file a motion to delay his execution. Six days later, an appeals court refuses to delay the execution and McVeigh announces he is ready to die. [Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Fox News, 4/13/2005] McVeigh’s attorneys write in their motion that the government continues to withhold evidence (see May 10-11, 2001): “The overt acts alleged against Mr. McVeigh, together with the circumstantial evidence and absence of proof concerning the making of the bomb, created the impressions that Mr. McVeigh was the primary actor bearing full responsibility for the bombing. In this context, any credible evidence that other specific individuals played a major role in the bombing, for example construction of the bomb, would have cast doubt on the overt acts committed by Mr. McVeigh. If Mr. McVeigh’s execution is stayed and he is given access to the tools of civil discovery, there is reason to believe that a nexus between some of these individuals and Mr. McVeigh will be established.” Judge Richard P. Matsch, who presided over the McVeigh trial, has called the prosecution’s failure to turn over the evidence “shocking.” [Mayhem (.net), 4/2009]

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Richard P. Matsch

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Lawyers for FBI laboratory employees send an urgent letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft alleging that a key prosecution witness in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) may have lied during McVeigh’s trial. The accusations center around Steven Burmeister, now the FBI laboratory’s chief of scientific analysis, who testified that the FBI crime lab found residues of explosives on the clothing that McVeigh was wearing when he was arrested after the bomb exploded (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995). The letter reads in part, “Material evidence presented by the government in the OKBOMB prosecution through the testimony of Mr. Burmeister appears to be false, misleading, and potentially fabricated,” referring to testimony Burmeister had given in an unrelated civil case, which contradicted his testimony in the McVeigh case; Burmeister had talked about the restrictions on his work area and the requirement that laboratory employees wear protective clothing. The letter is sent to Ashcroft by fax and by courier with the notation “urgent matter for the immediate attention of the attorney general.” The letter will sit in Ashcroft’s clerical office for nearly two months before being turned over to the FBI. Justice Department spokesperson Barbara Comstock will say that neither Ashcroft nor other top department officials ever saw the letter, and it was never reviewed to determine if it should be given to McVeigh’s lawyers. Prosecutors used Burmeister’s testimony to determine the exact composition of the bomb McVeigh used to bring down the Murrah Federal Building and kill 168 people. The judge in the trial, Richard P. Matsch, refused to allow McVeigh’s lawyers to hear criticisms of the crime lab’s evidence handling (see January 27, 1997 and May 20, 1997). The accusations against Burmeister were never given to McVeigh’s lawyers, even as a judge was weighing the option to delay McVeigh’s execution because the government failed to turn over other evidence (see May 10-11, 2001, May 16, 2001, and June 1-7, 2001). The letter is later turned over to the lawyers of convicted bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997, June 4, 1998, and May 15, 2001), who will face 160 counts of murder in an upcoming trial by the State of Oklahoma (see September 5, 2001). [New York Times, 5/1/2003]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Barbara Comstock, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steven G. Burmeister, Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, Richard P. Matsch

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Oklahoma City District Attorney Wes Lane announces that Oklahoma will continue prosecuting convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see March 29, 1999) on 160 state charges of murder, in part because the state fears Nichols may win his federal appeals (see June 4, 1998). “I will not roll the dice on this issue. There is simply too much at stake,” Lane says. He says that the state will seek the death penalty against Nichols. Lane took over the case after District Attorney Robert Macy retired in June 2001; some have speculated that Oklahoma might drop the case due to the expenditure, the difficulty of finding an impartial jury, and the emotional toll on the victims of another trial. Nichols’s lead lawyer for the state case, Brian Hermanson, writes in a letter quoted by local newspapers that Nichols was willing to drop his appeals and accept a federal life sentence to avoid a state trial. The letter states: “Taking such a step ensures that he will spend the rest of his life in prison. It would enable Mr. Lane to drop the state prosecution, thereby sparing Oklahoma the trauma and expense of another trial.” Lane responds that “the interests of the people of the State of Oklahoma cannot be vindicated by the blind reliance on the federal government or Terry Lynn Nichols,” and says he will seek sanctions against Hermanson for what he calls a “glaring, blatant violation” of a state court order not to discuss the case. Shelly Thompson, who lost her mother in the blast (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), says: “You can’t just get away with a little bit of a crime. We’re going to go for the whole thing. I want to make sure he will stay in prison for his life. This is something I need to do for her. He was not found guilty in my mother’s death and 159 other deaths. They are more than numbers.” [New York Times, 9/6/2001; The Oklahoman, 4/2009; Mayhem (.net), 4/2009]

Entity Tags: Terry Lynn Nichols, Brian Hermanson, Robert (“Bob”) Macy, Wes Lane, Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Associated Press reveals that 10 days before the execution of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997, June 11-13, 1997, and 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001), lawyers for FBI laboratory employees sent an urgent letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft, saying that a prosecution witness in the McVeigh trial, forensic expert Steven Burmeister, may have lied on the stand (see June 11, 2001). The letter was never given to McVeigh’s lawyers. McVeigh’s former lawyer Stephen Jones says, “It is truly shocking and just the latest revelation of government conduct that bankrupts the prosecution, investigation, and verdict.” Justice Department spokesperson Barbara Comstock says she does not believe the allegations, even if true, would have affected the outcome of the trial, saying, “Court after court has found that the evidence of guilt against McVeigh was overwhelming.” FBI officials call the allegations against Burmeister specious. FBI laboratory director Dwight Adams says: “It didn’t happen. Steve Burmeister is one of the FBI’s finest experts. He is meticulous and honest.” [New York Times, 5/1/2003]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Associated Press, Barbara Comstock, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Stephen Jones, Timothy James McVeigh, Dwight Adams, Steven G. Burmeister

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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