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Profile: Christopher Mueller

Christopher Mueller was a participant or observer in the following events:

The prosecution in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, August 10, 1995, and April 24, 1997) rests its case on an emotional note after having presented 137 witnesses. [Douglas O. Linder, 2001] The government presented what many legal analysts call a masterful case, moving far more quickly than anticipated and using witnesses to establish a string of facts that paint a strong picture of McVeigh’s guilt. The prosecution ends on a powerfully emotional note, presenting a number of first responders and survivors. Florence Rogers, a credit union employee who worked in the Murrah Federal Building, tells the jury of the moment when she lost seven of her co-workers in the bomb blast. She recalls the bomb going off with a “torrnado-like rush.” She was thrown to the floor, she recalls, and, she says, “everything else was gone.” Mike Shannon, chief of special operations for the Oklahoma City Fire Department, uses a diagram to show the jury how the bomb took an enormous “bite” from the north face of the building, and to show where rescuers finally freed the last survivor, 15-year-old Brandy Ligons, over 12 hours after the bombing. “To climb into” the area where Ligons was trapped, Shannon testifies, “it took people lying on their stomach, taking debris, pushing it down under their belly down between their legs. The second person would lay his head on the first person’s bottom and take that debris and pass it between his legs, and they would work their way into the pile. It was just big enough for just one person to wiggle through.” Dangling over Ligons and the rescuers was a 40,000-pound slab of concrete, ready to fall and crush everyone involved. Shannon testifies as to the difficulties of rescuing victims and removing the dead from a building whose front had pancaked into a heap of rubble. The effect was “like squeezing grapes,” he says. “Body fluids were dripping through, and it would just drip onto your gear as you were crawling through, onto your helmet.” Responder Alan Prokop tells jurors of the hand that rose from the rubble of the devastated building and grasped his, a hand belonging to a woman trapped under a huge slab of concrete. Prokop held her hand and felt her slowly die while rescuers tried vainly to free her. He recalls hearing the sound of what he thought was running water, and tells of a fellow rescuer saying, “It isn’t water, Alan, it’s blood.” Dr. Frederick B. Jordan, the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner, presents the jury with 163 death certificates for those who died in the bombing. He tells the jury how some of the victims were identified using the mangled remains of their bodies: a fingerprint from a resident alien card, a print taken from a box of Clairol hair coloring agent from a victim’s home, a scar on a little girl’s arm. The prosecution never mentions a contention by a federal grand jury that McVeigh and his co-conspirator Terry Nichols built the truck bomb at Geary Lake State Park in Kansas (see 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995); indeed, the prosecution does not attempt to prove how or where the bomb was built. The prosecution does not introduce a letter written by Nichols on November 21, 1994 that advised McVeigh to clean out two storage lockers (see November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995). After the prosecution rests, defense lawyer Stephen Jones moves for a summary acquittal, a motion rejected by Judge Richard P. Matsch. However, the judge says he may delete some portions of the indictment before giving the jury its final instructions. Those portions include references to the purchase of bomb components, the rental of some storage units, the construction of the truck bomb at the Kansas lake, and the robbery of an Arkansas gun dealer used to finance the bombing, another instance not cited by the prosecution (see November 5, 1994). “I had in mind some redaction of the indictment, or perhaps even more substantial changes, before submitting it to the jury,” Matsch says after the jury is excused for the day. “I think we’ll deal with it at the instructions conference as the most appropriate time.” [New York Times, 5/22/1997; Washington Post, 5/22/1997; Denver Post, 6/3/1997; Denver Post, 6/14/1997; Associated Press, 1/11/1998] Legal analyst Andrew Cohen will say that the prosecutors did not “bore” the jury with a morass of technical details, instead moving swiftly through technical testimony and pacing their witnesses so that each day ended with the emotional testimony of a victim or family member. Law professor Christopher Mueller says after the prosecution rests: “[T]his is a trial the way a trial ought to look.… I think the prosecution has presented a very strong, almost compelling case. The biggest payoff is in the abandonment of much of the scientific proof that would have been enormously distracting” to the jury. [Washington Post, 5/22/1997; Denver Post, 6/14/1997]

Entity Tags: Florence Rogers, Andrew Cohen, Alan Prokop, Christopher Mueller, Brandy Ligons, Timothy James McVeigh, Stephen Jones, Richard P. Matsch, Mike Shannon, Frederick B. Jordan, Terry Lynn Nichols, Geary State Fishing Lake And Wildlife Area

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The prosecution concludes its case against accused Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and November 3, 1997) with a gripping story by Marine Captain Matthew Cooper, telling of his attempts to rescue colleagues from the rubble of the devastated Murrah Federal Building (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Legal experts say the prosecution presented a convincing, but not necessarily overwhelming, case against Nichols, who is charged with eight counts of first-degree murder and four counts of conspiracy related to the bombing. Nichols’s co-conspirator, Timothy McVeigh, has already been sentenced to death for the crime (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997). Essentially, the prosecution used a mountain of circumstantial evidence to tie Nichols to the crime, even though he was not in Oklahoma City on the day of the bombing (see April 16-17, 1995). Law professor Christopher Mueller says, “There is a huge combination of circumstances that connect Nichols to McVeigh just as there was a huge combination of circumstances connecting McVeigh to the bombing.” Legal analyst Andrew Cohen says: “If the jurors followed the prosecution’s story, then Nichols is in big trouble. But the defense has already done a good job showing that there are inconsistencies and contradictions and those could be enough to hang a jury.” Analysts say the prosecutors were less successful in introducing emotion into the Nichols trial than the prosecutors in the McVeigh trial. And prosecution eyewitnesses such as Cooper and Michael Fortier (see November 12-13, 1997) were less effective in this trial than they were in testifying against McVeigh. Nichols’s defense lawyers have successfully challenged the prosecution’s attempts to have witnesses like Cooper tell graphic and emotionally wrenching stories; today, Cooper’s testimony is brief and matter-of-fact, whereas during his testimony in McVeigh’s trial, he was detailed and emotional, breaking into tears during his stint on the stand. Also, analysts say, the prosecution was not entirely successful in portraying Nichols’s motive for taking part in the bomb plot. [Washington Post, 12/3/1997]

Entity Tags: Christopher Mueller, Andrew Cohen, Matthew Cooper, Michael Joseph Fortier, Timothy James McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

After two days of deliberations and testimony, the jury in the trial of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997) deadlocks on whether Nichols should be sentenced to death (see October 20, 1995). The task of sentencing Nichols now falls to US District Judge Richard Matsch, who excuses the jury and begins considering the sentencing himself. Matsch has the option of sentencing Nichols to life in prison, or to a lesser term. Both Nichols and his partner, convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997), face murder charges in the state of Oklahoma. The prosecution put on witnesses who provided graphic, emotional testimony about the carnage and personal losses caused by the blast, while the defense painted Nichols as a loving family man who became caught up in a conspiracy he could not control. Prosecutors, already displeased by the jury’s failure to find Nichols guilty of first-degree murder, are further dismayed by the jury’s actions. Some relatives of the bombing victims, many of whom have attended every day of the trial, leave the courtroom in tears. Jury forewoman Niki Deutchman says: “I think he was building a life; he may also have been building a bomb. I don’t know.… The government wasn’t able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a whole lot of the evidence. The government didn’t do a good job of proving Terry Nichols was greatly involved in this.” She says some jurors did not believe that Nichols was an equal partner in the bombing with McVeigh, and some believe his role to be peripheral at best. The prosecution’s case, Deutchman says, had large holes which some jurors believe preclude a death sentence. “There were a lot of specific acts [alleged by the government] that I had doubts about,” she says. The FBI came across as “arrogant” and “sloppy” in its investigation, Deutchman says, and notes: “I think the government’s attitude… is part of where all this comes from in the first place. I think maybe it’s time the government be more respectful… and not with the attitude that we know and you don’t, we have the power and you don’t.” Other jurors cite the failure of FBI agents to tape-record their initial interrogation of Nichols (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995) as one of many troublesome acts carried out by law enforcement officials. Diane Leonard, who lost her husband in the bombing, expresses her horror at the failure to impose the death sentence, saying: “At the verdict, I felt like a knife was piercing my chest. In any civilized society, death is the only appropriate punishment for such an horrendous act.” Other relatives of the victims call the jury inept and unfair. Matsch praises the jury, saying: “You worked at it; there’s no question about it. The result here will be subject to comment by many. There will be some who will criticize it. There will be some who praise it. You know that you are answerable to no one for your decisions.” Nichols’s lead attorney, Michael Tigar, says, “The jury has spoken, and the judge in summarizing this proceeding has given everybody an invaluable object lesson on how the American justice system works.” Denver lawyer Scott Robinson, who has attended the trial as a media commentator, reminds onlookers: “You can make any calculation you want; Terry Nichols is not going home any time soon or ever. I call it a Methuselah sentence. Only Methuselah would live to see the light of day.… It’s not a crushing defeat for the prosecution. If people view it as that, shame on them.” [Washington Post, 1/8/1997; New York Times, 12/30/1997; New York Times, 1/2/1998; Boston Globe, 1/8/1998; New York Times, 1/8/1998; Douglas O. Linder, 2001]
Analysts, Oklahoma Governor Weigh In - Denver attorney Andrew Cohen, like Robinson and other legal analysts, says the outcome is understandable. “You had far less evidence against Nichols than you had against McVeigh and I think that’s the ultimate truth about this Nichols trial,” he says. “I think that justice was served in the first trial and, I think, that the result of this Nichols trial, when the judge sentences Nichols, will be about as close to justice as I can imagine.” Law professor Christopher Mueller notes that Nichols wasn’t in Oklahoma City when the bomb was detonated (see March 1995 and April 16-17, 1995), and defense lawyers were skillful in casting doubt on whether Nichols actually helped McVeigh assemble the bomb (see April 15-16, 1995, April 16-17, 1995, Late Evening, April 17, 1995, 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995)). “A verdict of death for Timothy McVeigh and a verdict of a long prison term for Terry Nichols is a just outcome,” he says. Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating is sharply critical of the failure to sentence Nichols to death. “This was the most monstrous act of terrorism ever in the history of the United States,” he says. “The people who did this deserve the death sentence and certainly life in prison—and that hasn’t happened here yet.” Vera Chubb, who served on McVeigh’s jury, is dismayed by the outcome. “They [McVeigh and Nichols] had two years to plan this. If I knew of a friend or anyone that I thought was going to do this horrendous crime, I would have said something,” she says. “I was completely dismayed by this jury.” [Associated Press, 1/11/1998] Keating adds that he is “disappointed with the jury. They were expected to make this decision. This is what juries are supposed to do, and they walked away from it. I’m cautiously optimistic that Judge Matsch, who is a tough, no-nonsense, fact-filled, moral judge will make a decision to impose a life sentence on Nichols. We do have a backup prosecution in Oklahoma which, of course, I support, and we’ll wait and watch and see what happens.” [New York Times, 1/8/1998]

Entity Tags: Frank Keating, Christopher Mueller, Andrew Cohen, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Diane Leonard, Vera Chubb, Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, Richard P. Matsch, Scott Robinson, Michael E. Tigar, Niki Deutchman

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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