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Profile: Christopher L. Tritico

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Christopher L. Tritico was a participant or observer in the following events:

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

The defense in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) rests after having presented 25 witnesses over less than four days of testimony. [Douglas O. Linder, 2001] McVeigh does not testify in his own defense. [Washington Post, 6/14/1997] Defense lawyers, led by Stephen Jones, found it difficult to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case (see May 21, 1997). Their story was that McVeigh was the unwitting victim of an overzealous federal investigation and the treachery of his friends. Today, they try to cast doubt on some of the witness testimony, with little apparent success, focusing on critical testimony by two friends of McVeigh’s, Michael and Lori Fortier (see May 19, 1995, August 8, 1995, April 29-30, 1997, After May 6, 1995, and May 12-13, 1997), calling them drug addicts who were lying in order to profit from their story and to avoid jail time. The last witness, Deborah Brown, who employed Lori Fortier at her tanning salon in Kingman, Arizona, testifies that she had bought amphetamines from the Fortiers, and tells the jury the Fortiers were so poor that “their baby was on some kind of state assistance to get formula and diapers.” Jones plays an audiotape for the jury of Michael Fortier’s telephone conversations that were wiretapped by federal agents in the weeks after the bombing, when Fortier was considered a suspect. In those recordings, Fortier boasted to his brother John that he could mislead federal agents and make a million dollars through book rights from his connection to McVeigh, saying: “I can tell a fable, I can tell stories all day long. The less I say now, the bigger the price will be later.” On another audiotape, Fortier, his voice slurred from apparent drug use, is heard telling a friend: “The less I say right now, the bigger the price later—there will be books, book rights. I’m the key, the head honcho, General Crank. I hold the key to it all.… I could pick my nose and wipe it on the judge’s desk.” Jones also plays excerpts from an interview Fortier gave CNN, where he said: “My friend Tim McVeigh is not the face of terror that is reported on the cover of Time magazine. I do not believe that Tim blew up any building in Oklahoma.” Fortier has already admitted that he lied to the press and the FBI during the early phases of the investigation. However, the defense has no alibi for McVeigh, nor does it offer an alternative theory to the prosecution’s version of events.
Prosecution's Case Not Challenged, Analysts Say - Legal analysts say Jones did little to challenge the prosecution, and note that Judge Richard Matsch prohibited Jones from presenting his theory of a foreign terrorist conspiracy behind the bombing (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After). Neither did Matsch allow Jones to put FBI laboratory technicians on the stand to explain their alleged mishandling of evidence in the case (see January 27, 1997), though Jones did present FBI lab technician Frederic Whitehurst, whose whistleblowing led to a Justice Department investigation that revealed the mishandlings (see May 27, 1997). Jones also suffered a setback when his star witness, Daina Bradley, abruptly changed the story she had told for almost two years. Bradley, a victim of the bombing who lost her two children and her mother along with her right leg, had said that she saw a “swarthy” man get out of the Ryder truck that carried the fertilizer bomb. On the witness stand, Bradley added a new detail: a second, light-complexioned man also in the truck. She was also forced to admit that she had been treated for mental illness and had a poor memory (see May 23, 1997). Legal analyst Andrew Cohen says that the jury is most likely to focus on Jones’s inability to prove McVeigh’s innocence. “The message you get as a juror,” Cohen says, “is [that] this is the worst mass murder in American history. There’s 168 dead, and you can only come up with four days of testimony? What about the alibi? If you’re going to call a guy innocent, you’d better make your case.” [Washington Post, 5/29/1997; New York Times, 5/29/1997; Denver Post, 6/3/1997; Denver Post, 6/14/1997; Associated Press, 1/11/1998] After the final presentation, law professor Mimi Wesson, a former assistant US attorney and death penalty expert, says she is “puzzled” by the defense’s “truncated” presentation. “The main thing they tried to suggest was that McVeigh was not alone. They elicited that through witnesses who testified they saw McVeigh with someone else, or that they saw someone else at places connected to the bombing. But I must say that rather puzzled me, since it is no defense for McVeigh that he acted with a confederate even if that confederate cannot be identified and has not been apprehended and cannot be prosecuted.” Wesson believes that the defense may be conceding guilt, and may be attempting to build a case for “mitigating circumstances” that would spare McVeigh the death penalty. Wesson says that the testimony of Bradley was very damaging for the defense’s case, and doubly so because Bradley was a defense witness. The lawyer who handled the defense’s attack on the forensic evidence (see May 27, 1997), Christopher Tritico, did a “skilled” job in going after the forensics, but Wesson is not convinced Tritico’s assault swayed many jurors. She calls Whitehurst a “prig, a person who has his own fastidious, rather fussy idea about how things ought to be done, who is extremely inflexible and intolerant about things being done any other way” who did not make a good impression on the jury. Jones’s final attack on the Fortiers (see April 29-30, 1997 and May 12-13, 1997) was “predictable,” Wesson says, and nothing the jury had not already heard: “The thing about the Fortiers is not so much that we believe them because they’re truthful—we know they were liars about many things—but in the end I think you believe them because their testimony about McVeigh is corroborated at almost every point by other testimony.” The “parade of victims” put on by the government was tremendously effective, Wesson says: “They did such a tremendously effective case of arousing people’s emotions during the main part of the case.” [Salon, 5/29/1997]
Defense Had 'All but Impossible' Task - In 2006, law professor Douglas O. Linder will write: “The task of the defense team was all but impossible. They could not come up with a single alibi witness. They faced the reality that McVeigh had told dozens of people of his hatred of the government, and had told a friend that he planned to take violent action on April 19. Rental agreements and a drawing of downtown Oklahoma City linked him to the blast. He carried earplugs in his car driving north from Oklahoma City 40 minutes after the explosion. How could it all be explained away?” [Douglas O. Linder, 2001]

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

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The lawyers present their closing arguments in the trial of Timothy McVeigh, the accused Oklahoma City bomber (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995).
McVeigh 'a Traitor' Who 'Deserves to Die' - Federal prosecutor Larry Mackey delivers a meticulous recap of the prosecution’s case (see May 21, 1997), portraying McVeigh as a “domestic terrorist” guilty of “a crime of ghastly proportions.… Timothy McVeigh is a domestic terrorist [who was] motivated by hatred of the government.… This is not a prosecution of Tim McVeigh for his political beliefs. This is a prosecution of Tim McVeigh because of what he did: He committed murder. This is a murder case.” Mackey asks the jurors: “Who could do such a thing? Who could do such a thing? Based on the evidence, the answer is clear: Timothy McVeigh did it.” Referring to McVeigh’s well-documented hatred of the government and McVeigh’s own writings, Mackey concludes: “The law enforcement officers who died were not treasonous officials… or ‘cowardice bastards.’ The credit union employees who disappeared were not tyrants whose blood had to be spilled. And certainly the 19 children who died were not the storm troopers McVeigh said must die because of their association with the evil empire. In fact, they were bosses and secretaries, they were blacks and whites, they were mothers, daughters, fathers and sons. They were a community. So who are the real patriots and who is the traitor?” Concluding the prosecution’s close, attorney Beth Wilkinson points at McVeigh and says to the jury: “Look into the eyes of a coward and tell him you will have courage. Tell him you will speak with one unified voice as the moral conscience of the community and tell him he is no patriot. He is a traitor and he deserves to die.” [University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 5/29/1997; Washington Post, 5/30/1997; New York Times, 5/30/1997; New York Times, 5/30/1997; Washington Post, 6/14/1997]
McVeigh 'Not a Demon, Though Surely His Act Was Demonic' - For the defense, attorneys Stephen Jones and Robert Nigh Jr. portray McVeigh as the innocent victim of an overzealous investigation and the treachery of his friends (see May 28, 1997). Jones and Nigh say that McVeigh was victimized by a rush to judgment led by a federal government desperate to solve the worst act of terrorism on US soil, and by a public overwhelmed by sympathy for the victims of the bombing. “The emotion is a twin emotion,” Jones says. “On one hand what has been evoked has been sympathy for the victims, and on the other hand repugnance” for McVeigh’s far-right political philosophy. “The evidence demonstrates tragically that what law enforcement did was terribly, terribly wrong,” Nigh adds. “Instead of an objective investigation of the case, the federal law enforcement officials involved decided the case and then jammed the evidence and witnesses to fit the decision.” Jones insists: “There’s no witness who saw Tim McVeigh in a Ryder truck (see May 23, 1997). There’s no witness that saw Tim McVeigh build a bomb. [The prosecution’s case is built of] speculation, inference piled on inference, trying to put an 11 and a half size foot in an eight and a half size shoe.” The defense also insists that evidence presented against their client was tainted by sloppy FBI lab technicians (see January 27, 1997), and that witness testimonies were unreliable and in some cases fabricated (see April 29-30, 1997 and May 12-13, 1997). Defense lawyer Christopher L. Tritico calls the FBI laboratory that handled the case “a ship without a rudder, without a sail, without a captain, adrift, making judgment calls that affect the rest of people’s lives.” In a statement that seemingly concedes McVeigh’s guilt, Jones says of McVeigh, “[H]e is not a demon though surely his act was demonic.” He asks that McVeigh be spared so that some day the full story might come out, and so that the political alienation he personifies would not be rekindled by his execution. [Washington Post, 5/30/1997; New York Times, 5/30/1997; New York Times, 5/30/1997; Washington Post, 6/14/1997]

Entity Tags: Christopher L. Tritico, Robert Nigh, Jr, Stephen Jones, Beth Wilkinson, Timothy James McVeigh, Larry A. Mackey

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997), facing execution for his crimes (see June 11-13, 1997), is officially sentenced to death by Judge Richard P. Matsch. The hearing is a formality, as a jury sentenced McVeigh to death the day before; the entire proceeding takes nine minutes. Before Matsch pronounces sentence, he allows McVeigh to speak on his own behalf. McVeigh does so—briefly and cryptically. McVeigh says: “If the court please, I wish to use the words of Justice Brandeis dissenting in Olmstead to speak for me. He wrote: ‘Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.’ That’s all I have.” McVeigh is referring to a dissent written by Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis in a 1928 decision, Olmstead v. United States, which upheld the use of wiretap evidence. Brandeis’s dissent said that the government may not commit crimes to enforce the law, and warned of “terrible retribution” if it did. Stephen Jones, McVeigh’s lead lawyer, refuses to speculate as to why McVeigh chose to use that quote, though Jones says it is a favorite of his client. McVeigh believes the government broke the law in the Branch Davidian siege (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). Jones’s defense partner, Christopher Tritico, tells reporters he is unfamiliar with the quote and will have to look it up. US Attorney Patrick M. Ryan, part of the prosecution team, later says that McVeigh’s remarks were so fleeting that “I didn’t catch it all.” Many families of the bombing victims find McVeigh’s quote cryptic and unclear. Roy Sells, who lost his wife in the bombing, says: “I don’t know if he was referring to the Waco deal or what. I wish he would’ve quoted something from his own heart instead of out of somebody else’s book. I wanted to hear what he had to say about it.” A survivor of the bombing, Paul Heath, says McVeigh’s statement makes it clear he remains unrepentant and still considers himself a revolutionary. During the proceeding, Matsch asks McVeigh for permission to release a letter McVeigh wrote to him on June 22, which asked that Jones be replaced by other lawyers from the defense team for his appeals: Richard Burr, Robert Nigh Jr., and Randall Coyne. The letter was not specific about McVeigh’s reason for requesting Jones’s removal, but cited “problems and difficulties I have had with my appointed counsel in the past.” McVeigh will publicly blame Jones for “screwing up” his trial, and has reportedly told a Buffalo News reporter that he believes Jones repeatedly lied to him about unnamed aspects of the trial (see August 14-27, 1997). Jones merely reminds reporters: “I did not seek this appointment. I am, as I said, a draftee” (see May 8, 1995). [New York Times, 8/14/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 320; University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 2006; University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 2006] McVeigh will later explain his choice of quote to Buffalo News reporter Lou Michel. “I want people to think about the statement,” McVeigh will say. “What [lead prosecutor Joseph] Hartzler is trying to do is not have people learn. He wants to have them put their heads in the sand.” The Brandeis quote, McVeigh will say, reflects on the death penalty: the government says it is wrong for McVeigh to have killed, and yet “now they’re going to kill me. They’re saying that’s an appropriate way to right a wrong?” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 321]

Entity Tags: Paul Heath, Lou Michel, Joseph H. Hartzler, Christopher L. Tritico, Patrick M. Ryan, Timothy James McVeigh, Roy Sells, Richard Burr, Richard P. Matsch, Stephen Jones, Robert Nigh, Jr, Randall Coyne, Louis Brandeis

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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