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Context of 'September 8, 1998: Appeals Court Upholds McVeigh Conviction'

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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).

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

Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997), facing execution for his crimes (see June 11-13, 1997), says his lead defense lawyer Stephen Jones “screwed up badly,” accuses Jones of lying to him repeatedly, and says he does not want Jones to continue representing him (see August 14, 1997). The Buffalo News has reported that McVeigh told a reporter: “It’s a cultural clash between us. Jones would be a politician, and I’d be a statesman.… The truth is this guy only succeeded in getting the death sentence and now he doesn’t want to let go.” An appeals court names Robert Nigh Jr., one of McVeigh’s trial lawyers, to be in charge of his appeal. [New York Times, 8/14/1997; New York Times, 8/28/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 319] In a statement given to the press after McVeigh’s sentencing, law professor and appellate lawyer Alan Dershowitz agreed with McVeigh. “When [McVeigh] gets to prison, he’s going to learn that his lawyer did a terrible job,” said Dershowitz. “This is going to be the grist of the eventual appeal. This was an awful, awful defense.… His lawyers seemed to be more interested in their own reputations.” [Washington Post, 6/14/1997] Four days later, Jones agrees to resign as McVeigh’s counsel. Jones denies lying to McVeigh, saying: “No one has lied to Mr. McVeigh on the defense team. Certainly I haven’t lied to him, and I can’t imagine that anybody else” on the defense team has. “I think it would be extremely difficult to represent him in view of these statements he has made that have no basis in fact. He doesn’t have any basis to seek my withdrawal, but I have a basis to seek it.” He refers to McVeigh as a “liar and an ingrate.” McVeigh has said he will leave it to “Congress, the bar, and the judiciary to investigate and discover” the alleged lies and misconduct of Jones. He also has said he bears no ill will towards the jurors who convicted him, stating, “I thought they ruled too much on emotion, but I wanted to convey no personal vendetta against them.” He said some of the prosecution’s evidence against him “was false or some could be reasonably explained by other phenomenon.” [New York Times, 8/19/1997; New York Times, 8/21/1997; Fox News, 4/13/2005] Shortly thereafter, Jones will announce that he has signed a contract to write a book about the trial. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 319] In 1998, the press will report that when McVeigh learned of Jones’s book deal, he considered it a betrayal, and wrote: “Mr. Jones did this without informing me and without my consent. I cannot believe that his account will not be based upon confidential communications. I consider this to be a betrayal.” Jones will respond that McVeigh knew of his book deal, and discussed whether Jones could help his sister Jennifer find an agent to represent her for her own book deal. Jones will write: “I intend to write a book not about Mr. McVeigh, but about my personal experiences of my role and what it was like for me. All the material for this book is either in the court records, the transcripts and exhibits, or in the press. None of it comes from Tim or any source confidential to him.” The writings from McVeigh and Jones will come from documents later unsealed by the court. [New York Times, 2/11/1998]

Entity Tags: Robert Nigh, Jr, Stephen Jones, Alan M. Dershowitz, Timothy James McVeigh, Buffalo News

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Lawyers for convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) ask the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, based in Denver, for a new trial for their client. They argue that McVeigh did not receive a fair trial. In a 225-page brief, McVeigh’s lawyers say that Judge Richard P. Matsch, the federal district judge who presided over McVeigh’s trial and sentencing, made a number of errors in his rulings, jurors had been exposed to prejudicial information in news reports that McVeigh had confessed to his defense team (see February 28 - March 4, 1997), Matsch ignored juror misconduct, and Matsch allowed “unfairly prejudicial, inflammatory” testimony from bombing survivors. [New York Times, 1/17/1998]

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Richard P. Matsch

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upholds the conviction of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and June 2, 1997). [Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, 9/8/1998; Douglas O. Linder, 2001] McVeigh appealed the conviction due to the allegedly poor performance of his lawyer (see August 14-27, 1997) and because of alleged errors by the presiding trial judge (see January 16, 1998). [CNN, 2001]

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998) asks a federal appeals court in Denver for a new trial, contending that Judge Richard P. Matsch, who presided over his trial, made a number of reversible errors in both the trial and sentencing. Nichols’s co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) has also asked for a new trial (see January 16, 1998), a request that was denied (see September 8, 1998). Nichols’s legal team, Michael Tigar, Susan L. Foreman, and Adam Thurschwell, argue that Matsch erred in the instructions he gave the jurors, in the testimony he permitted, and in his interpretation of federal sentencing guidelines. According to Nichols’s lawyers, Matsch erred when he told the jury that Nichols’s responsibility for the deaths of people killed as a result of the bombing conspiracy (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) did not depend on proof that Nichols intended to kill anyone. An intent to kill, Nichols’s lawyers contend, is a necessary element in the offense. The jurors who convicted Nichols of conspiracy acquitted him of blowing up the building and of first- or second-degree murder in the deaths of the officers. They also contend that Nichols should have been sentenced under federal guidelines for arson and property damage, not first-degree murder, and that the restitution order of $14.5 million is punitive. [New York Times, 11/22/1998]

Entity Tags: Richard P. Matsch, Adam Thurschwell, Susan L. Foreman, Michael E. Tigar, Timothy James McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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