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Context of 'September 5, 2001: Oklahoma Will Continue Prosecuting Convicted Oklahoma City Bombing Conspirator'

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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).

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

Convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, December 23, 1997, and June 4, 1998) is charged with 160 counts of murder at the state level in Oklahoma. Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty. Nichols is serving a life sentence as a conspirator in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, which killed 168 people. The 160 counts of murder represent the civilians, as opposed to federal agents, killed in the blast. Oklahoma District Attorney Robert Macy says of Nichols’s previous convictions: “I’m not satisfied with the outcome of the Nichols trial. I feel like he needs to be tried before an Oklahoma jury.” Nichols escaped murder convictions in the previous trial. Along with the 160 counts of murder, Nichols faces one count of first-degree manslaughter for the death of a fetus, one count of conspiracy to commit murder, and one count of aiding and counseling in the placing of a substance or bomb near a public building. Macy says he intends to try Nichols’s convicted co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) at a later date. [New York Times, 5/30/1999; The Oklahoman, 4/2009]

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

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Stephen Jones, who represented convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997), says in an op-ed for the Daily Oklahoman he is willing to testify under oath that McVeigh did not act alone in the bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). During McVeigh’s trial, Jones insisted that there was evidence of a larger conspiracy, perhaps involving domestic far-right militia groups and perhaps Islamist radicals. Jones says he is willing to testify on behalf of Terry Nichols, McVeigh’s accomplice (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998), who is facing 160 counts of murder in an Oklahoma state court (see September 5, 2001). Jones refuses to say whether either McVeigh or Nichols were actually involved in the conspiracy, stating: “At this point, it’s not appropriate for me to name names or to go into detail in the media. There are pending proceedings.” However, he tells a reporter for The Oklahoman, “If McVeigh is saying he acted alone, that is inconsistent with what he told me.” Any such claim of sole responsibility, Jones says, would be inconsistent with his understanding of the case “and certainly contrary to many statements Tim McVeigh made to me while I was his attorney.” Such a claim, he says, “would be nothing more than an effort to obstruct justice in pending judicial proceedings.… If I remain silent, my silence could be taken… as condoning what he has said and I can’t do that.” Jones says his possible testimony would not violate attorney-client privilege, as he no longer represents McVeigh; moreover, Jones says, McVeigh gave up attorney-client privilege when he attacked Jones in a lawsuit last year (see August 14-27, 1997). [Reuters, 3/26/2001]

Entity Tags: Stephen Jones, Timothy James McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols

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

Twenty minutes after the 9/11 attacks in New York (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001) and Washington (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), a bomb truck is stationed in downtown Oklahoma City, in preparation for any potential bombing related to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Additionally, an Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department command post is activated where convicted bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see September 5, 2001) is being held. [The Oklahoman, 4/2009]

Entity Tags: Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US Domestic Terrorism

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