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Context of 'August 29, 1996: Prosecutors Seek to Bar McVeigh from Giving Press Interviews'

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Prosecutors in the Oklahoma City bombing trial (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) ask Judge Richard P. Matsch to prevent defendant Timothy McVeigh from giving a series of television and newspaper interviews. McVeigh’s lawyer has scheduled an interview with a documentary crew from the BBC in October, and says his client wants to do an interview with any of a number of leading television news anchors and newspaper reporters. Jones has repeatedly attempted to “soften” his client’s image as presented in the media. Prosecutor Joseph Hartzler calls the requests “an extraordinary attempt to manipulate the news media to produce a favorable impact on the potential jury pool.” Matsch has ordered all parties involved in the case to “limit” their public comments. Jones argues that McVeigh has been “demonized” in the press, and deserves an opportunity to give a different view of himself to the world. “Mr. McVeigh, at the minimum, is entitled to be seen as a human being and to the extent that any interview or meeting halts the rush to judgment in advance of trial, the interests of justice are served,” Jones argues. As things stand, he continues, “the abuse, distortion, calumny heaped upon our client from the very front steps of the courthouse will ultimately influence the reporting and the jury unless there is some modicum of balance.” [New York Times, 8/30/1996] Matsch will refuse to allow the television interviews, calling them “an inappropriate pretrial dissemination of evidence.” He says he will allow telephone interviews, but according to Jones, he and McVeigh want only face-to-face, filmed interviews that will present McVeigh’s face, voice, and personality on television broadcasts. [New York Times, 10/5/1996]

Entity Tags: Richard P. Matsch, British Broadcasting Corporation, Joseph H. Hartzler, Timothy James McVeigh, Stephen Jones

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

April 24, 1997: McVeigh Trial Opens

Opening statements are presented 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).
Heavy Security - Security in and around the Byron Rogers Federal Building and Courthouse in Denver, where the trial is being held, is tight. Roads and sidewalks approaching the building are blocked off. Special credentials are needed to walk around certain areas inside the courthouse. Pedestrian traffic in and out of the federal office next door is constrained with a heavy police presence. Federal officers look under the hoods of cars and check beneath vehicles with mirrors on the streets surrounding the building. Concrete barriers prevent vehicles from getting too close to the building. Even the nearby manhole covers are sealed shut. [CNN, 4/17/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 274]
Jury Makeup - The jury (see March 31, 1997 and After) is composed of seven men and five women; their identities and personal information have been shielded so they can avoid being sequestered. Six alternate jurors—three men and three women—are also available. The jurors include a retired teacher, a registered nurse, an auto mechanic, a real estate manager, and a store manager who served in the Air Force. Several are military veterans. One said during jury selection that he hopes the trial will not turn McVeigh into another victim: “I believe there have been enough victims. We don’t need another one.” James Osgood, the jury foreman and store manager, believes in mandatory gun ownership. (Like the other members of the jury, Osgood’s identity will not be revealed until after the trial is concluded.) Several expressed their doubts and worry about being able to impose the death penalty if McVeigh is convicted. Some 100 potential jurors were screened to create this jury of 12 members and six alternates. As the trial commences, McVeigh greets the jury by saying, “Good morning.” He will not speak to them again during the trial. Judge Richard P. Matsch begins by saying: “We start the trial, as we are today, with no evidence against Timothy McVeigh. The presumption of innocence applies.” [Washington Post, 4/23/1997; New York Times, 4/23/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 275; Douglas O. Linder, 2001]
Prosecution: McVeigh a Cold, Calculating Terrorist - Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler begins with an emotional evocation of the bombing and the story of one of the victims, Tevin Garrett, a 16-month-old child who cried when his mother Helena Garrett left him at the Murrah Building’s day care center. The mothers could wave at their children through the day care’s glass windows, Hartzler says. “It was almost as if you could reach up and touch the children. None of those parents ever touched their children again while they were alive.” He says of Tevin Garrett’s mother, “She remembers this morning [the morning of the bombing] because it was the last morning of [Tevin’s] life” (see 9:02 a.m. - 10:35 a.m. April 19, 1995). Hartzler wastes little time in slamming McVeigh as a “twisted,” calculating terrorist who murdered 168 people in the hope of starting a mass uprising against the US government. McVeigh, Hartzler says, “chose to take their innocent lives to serve his own twisted purposes.… In plain and simple terms, it was an act of terror and violence, intended to serve a selfish political purpose. The man who committed this act is sitting in this courtroom behind me. He is the one who committed those murders.” Hartzler says that McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City to avenge the federal assault on the Branch Davidian religious compound outside Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993, April 19, 1993 and After, and April 24, 1995). “Across the street, the Ryder truck was there to resolve a grievance,” Hartzler says. “The truck was there to impose the will of Timothy McVeigh on the rest of America and to do so by premeditated violence and terror, by murdering innocent men, women, and children, in hopes of seeing blood flow in the streets of America.” He notes that McVeigh carried an excerpt from the violently racist novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978) that depicts the bombing of FBI headquarters in Washington. Hartzler reads the following line from the excerpt: “The real value of our attack lies in the psychological impact, not in the immediate casualties.” Hartzler also notes the T-shirt McVeigh wore when he was arrested, a shirt that Hartzler says “broadcast his intentions.” On the front was a likeness of Abraham Lincoln and on the back a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Drops of scarlet blood dripped from a picture of a tree. Investigators found traces of residue on McVeigh’s shirt, in his pants pockets, and on a set of earplugs found in his pocket (see Early May 1995 and After). Hartzler reads from a document McVeigh had written on a computer belonging to his sister, Jennifer (see November 1994). In a letter addressed to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, McVeigh wrote: “All you tyrannical [expletive], you’ll swing in the wind one day for your treasonous attacks against the Constitution of the United States.… Die, you spineless, cowardice [sic] b_stards” (see May 5-6, 1997). Hartzler says the trial has nothing to do with McVeigh’s beliefs or his freedoms of expression: “We aren’t prosecuting him because we don’t like his thoughts. We’re prosecuting him because his hatred boiled into violence.” Of the innocent victims, Hartzler tells the jury that McVeigh “compared them to the storm troopers in [the popular science fiction movie] Star Wars (see October 21 or 22, 1994). Even if they are innocent, they work for an evil system and have to be killed.” Hartzler moves to preempt expected defense attacks on the prosecution’s star witness, Michael Fortier (see After May 6, 1995, May 19, 1995 and August 8, 1995), on reports that evidence was mishandled by an FBI crime lab (see January 27, 1997), and the failure to identify or apprehend the now-infamous “John Doe No. 2” (see June 14, 1995). Hartzler concludes: “Timothy McVeigh liked to consider himself a patriot, as someone who could start a second American revolution. Ladies and gentlemen, statements from our forefathers can never be twisted to justify warfare against women and children. Our forefathers didn’t fight British women and children. They fought other soldiers, they fought them face to face, hand to hand. They didn’t plant bombs and then run away wearing earplugs” (see Early May 1995 and After) Hartzler returns to the prosecutors’ table; Matsch calls a brief recess.
Defense: McVeigh Innocent, Framed by Lies - McVeigh’s attorney, Stephen Jones, tells the jury that McVeigh is innocent, and says that McVeigh’s views fall within the “political and social mainstream.” Like Hartzler, he begins with the story of a mother who lost one of her two children in the bombing, saying that the mother saw someone other than McVeigh outside the Murrah Building before the bomb went off. “I have waited two years for this moment,” Jones says, and says he will prove that other people, not McVeigh, committed the bombing. Jones sketches McVeigh’s biography, focusing on his exemplary military service and the bitter disappointment he suffered in not being accepted in the Army’s Special Forces (see January - March 1991 and After). It was after he left the Army, Jones says, that McVeigh began to steep himself in political ideology. But far from being an extremist, Jones says, McVeigh began to study the Constitution. The shirt he wore when he was arrested bore the motto “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” but that is not merely a revolutionary slogan, Jones notes: it is the motto of the State of Virginia. McVeigh was “extremely upset” over what he viewed as government abuses of individual liberty, Jones admits, but says it was no different from how “millions of people fear and distrust the government.” McVeigh’s statement that “something big was going to happen” (see Mid-December 1994, March 25, 1995 and After, and April 15, 1995) had nothing to do with the bombing, Jones says, but was merely a reflection of the increasing anxiety and concern he was seeing among his friends and fellow political activists, all of whom believed “that the federal government was about to initiate another Waco raid, except this time on a different scale” (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). “[B]eing outraged is no more an excuse for blowing up a federal building than being against the government means that you did it.” Jones spends much of his time attacking Fortier’s credibility as well as the consistency of other prosecution witnesses, saying that they will give “tailored testimony” crafted by the government to bolster its case, and focuses on the reports of crime lab mishandling of key evidence (see April 16, 1997): “The individuals responsible for the evidence… contaminated it… manipulated it, and then they engaged in forensic prostitution,” he says. After the case is done, Jones says, the jury will see that the evidence shows, “not just reasonable doubt, but that my client is innocent.” He closes by reminding the jury, “Every pancake has two sides.” [Washington Post, 4/25/1997; New York Times, 4/25/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 275-280; Douglas O. Linder, 2006]

Entity Tags: Byron Rodgers Federal Building and Courthouse, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Osgood, Joseph H. Hartzler, Helena Garrett, Richard P. Matsch, Stephen Jones, Timothy James McVeigh, Michael Joseph Fortier, Tevin Garrett

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Federal Judge Richard P. Matsch refuses to grant convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s request for a new trial (see July 7-25, 1997). Matsch says McVeigh’s trial was fair and impartial. McVeigh’s lawyer, Stephen Jones, says he will appeal Matsch’s ruling. [New York Times, 8/12/1997]

Entity Tags: Richard P. Matsch, Timothy James McVeigh, Stephen Jones

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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