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Profile: El Reno Federal Corrections Center
El Reno Federal Corrections Center was a participant or observer in the following events:
Suspected Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), currently being held without bond in the El Reno Federal Corrections Center (see April 21, 1995), has his 1977 Mercury Marquis trucked to the FBI warehouse from where he was forced to leave it on the highway (see April 13, 1995 and 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995) and thoroughly searched. A handwritten sign, apparently left under the windshield, is in the car; it reads: “Not abandoned. Please do not tow. Will move by April 23. Needs battery and cable.” The battery and cables are in working order; FBI investigators believe the sign was placed under a windshield wiper when McVeigh left the car in an alley near the Murrah Building to serve as his getaway vehicle (see April 16-17, 1995). They also find a thick manila envelope stuffed with anti-government documents on the front seat. Supervisory Special Agent Steven Burmeister and Agent William Eppright photograph the envelope, then, wearing protective gear, open it. Inside are two stacks of papers folded into thirds and a single note written in McVeigh’s handwriting that reads, “Obey the Constitution of the United States and we won’t shoot you.” Eppright and Burmeister put the envelope in a plastic container and continue processing the car. They then examine the documents in the envelope. They include excerpts from The Turner Diaries (see 1978), with some passages highlighted; a recounting of the Battle of Lexington and Concord from the Revolutionary War that was originally misdated April 29, 1775, and corrected by McVeigh to read April 19, 1775; documents railing against taxation and overzealous government agents; documents urging the weakening of the federal government in favor of states’ rights; and one article claiming the government has “initiate[d] open warfare against the American people.” Many of the articles are about the Branch Davidian siege and its tragic ending (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After), including an article from Soldier of Fortune magazine that claims the government committed “acts of treason, murder, and conspiracy” during the siege. The smallest clipping contains a quote from Revolutionary War leader Samuel Adams, printed in big letters: “When The Government Fears the People, THERE IS LIBERTY. When The People Fear the Government, THERE IS TYRANNY.” Under these words, McVeigh has written, “Maybe now there will be liberty!” Eppright dates and initials the clipping, and replaces the envelope and all its contents in its container. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 217-220]
El Reno Federal Corrections Center. [Source: Federal Bureau of Prisons]White supremacist Timothy McVeigh, held by federal officials on suspicion of being the Oklahoma City bomber (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995), is arraigned in a makeshift federal courtroom at Tinker Air Force Base near Midwest City, Oklahoma. He is arraigned before a federal magistrate on charges of maliciously damaging federal property. Merrick Garland, the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division in Washington, arrives in time to handle the hearing for the FBI. Garland is displeased by the lack of openness in the hearing, and arranges to have a dozen reporters in the “courtroom.” McVeigh, dressed in an orange jumpsuit and socks with no shoes, is led into the room and given a copy of the criminal complaint, or affidavit, against him. The affidavit is signed by an FBI agent, and in 14 paragraphs lays out the government’s case for holding McVeigh on suspicion of carrying out the bombing. The affidavit includes evidence given by Carl Lebron, McVeigh’s former fellow security guard (see April 20-21, 1995), though Lebron is not identified in the document. According to Lebron, McVeigh was “known to hold extreme right-wing views” and had been “particularly agitated” about the Branch Davidian debacle two years earlier (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). The affidavit says McVeigh visited the site of the Davidian compound in Waco during the standoff (see March 1993), and later expressed “extreme anger at the federal government” and said the government “should never have done what it did.” Reporter Nolan Clay for the Daily Oklahoman later recalls: “He seemed like such a kid. I’ve covered courts for years, and I’ve seen hundreds of killers and usually they have an aura around them of being a killer. That look in their eyes. You can tell in their eyes they’re killers, and they are scary. But he looked like the kid next door. It’s true, that image about him. I was very surprised by that.” McVeigh enters no plea at the arraignment.
Transferred to Federal Prison - After the arraignment, McVeigh is transferred to the El Reno Federal Corrections Center, just west of Oklahoma City. [New York Times, 4/22/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 196-198] He is represented by two local lawyers, public defender Susan Otto and private attorney John Coyle, who has specialized in death penalty cases. [New York Times, 4/22/1995] At El Reno, McVeigh is held in a cell with thick glass walls eight feet high; Coyle has to shout through the glass so that McVeigh can hear him. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 223] According to law professor Douglas O. Linder, McVeigh tells Otto and Coyle, “Yes, I did the bombing.” Any such admission would be privileged and not divulged to law enforcement officials. [Douglas O. Linder, 2006]
Conditions of Incarceration - McVeigh refuses to provide any more information than his name, Army rank, and serial number, and allegedly tells investigators that he considers himself a prisoner of war. According to reporter Michelle Green, “The implication was clear: He saw himself as a revolutionary in the hands of the government he allegedly hoped to destroy.” [People, 5/8/1995] He will later deny reports that he considers himself a prisoner of war, and refused to give any information besides name, rank, and serial number (see June 26, 1995 and June 26, 1995). McVeigh is given the same privileges as most prisoners at El Reno, a medium-security federal facility: he is allowed to send and receive mail, read newspapers, receive visitors, and listen to the radio, though he has no television access. Reportedly during his time at El Reno he will receive at least four marriage proposals from women writing to him in prison. He will meet with his lawyers on a near-daily basis and will receive two visits from his father. He reads the Dallas Morning News and a number of right-wing publications, from the mainstream newspaper, the Washington Times, to the more extremist Spotlight, the John Birch Society’s New American, and a number of newsletters from militia leaders James “Bo” Gritz and Jack McLamb. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 194]
Entity Tags: Carl Edward Lebron Jr, John Coyle, Douglas O. Linder, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Tinker Air Force Base, El Reno Federal Corrections Center, Terry Lynn Nichols, Merrick Garland, Timothy James McVeigh, Michelle Green, Susan Otto, Nolan Clay
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
US magistrate Ronald L. Howland orders Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995) held without bail. Howland rules there is “an indelible trail of evidence” linking McVeigh to the bombing, and orders him detained. FBI agent John Hersley testifies that at least three witnesses place McVeigh near the Murrah Federal Building minutes before the blast that almost destroyed the building and killed over a hundred people. Hersley also testifies that McVeigh’s clothing bore chemical residue that matched the explosives used in the blast. The hearing is held in the El Reno Federal Corrections Center instead of the usual courtroom setting because of security concerns, in a prison cafeteria converted for the purpose. Only lawyers, FBI agents, and a small number of journalists are present, along with McVeigh, who is heavily cuffed and shackled. Hersley testifies that one witness, a meter maid, saw someone she believes to be McVeigh driving a Ryder Rental truck similar to the one that detonated in front of the Murrah Building. A second witness, Hersley says, saw someone who he believes to be McVeigh walking away from the Ryder truck after parking it in front of the building. A third witness saw what he believes to be two men (see April 20, 1995) driving away from the scene of the blast in a yellow Mercury (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995). Hersley says that other witnesses saw McVeigh bring a Ryder truck to the Dreamland Motel in Junction City (see April 13, 1995), and saw him again in the truck a day before the bombing (see 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). The other person to testify is trooper Charles Hanger, who arrested McVeigh on unrelated gun charges (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995). McVeigh’s lawyer John Coyle tells the judge that his client chooses to “stand mute” during the hearing, and later points out that none of the witnesses cited by Hersley actually saw McVeigh detonate the bomb. At the beginning of the hearing, both of McVeigh’s lawyers, Coyle and Susan Otto, again ask to be removed from the case (see April 24, 1995) because of their personal experiences with the bombing. “We heard it,” Otto tells Howland. “We smelled it. We lived there in it.” Otto lists the names of 10 people she and Coyle knew who were killed in the bombing. They both repeat their request that McVeigh’s trial be moved from Oklahoma City (see April 22, 1995). [New York Times, 4/27/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 223-224; Douglas O. Linder, 2001] Coyle will later tell reporters, “The reasons I accepted the appointment in the first place is that I’ve never seen anyone who needed a lawyer more than that boy did.” Now, however, “[t]his is a case where I know too many people. In a sense, I feel like a victim. Everyone in Oklahoma City feels like a victim. [McVeigh] deserves a lawyer who would have no hesitation in his defense.… If ever anyone needed a lawyer, it is this young man. And it should not be me.” [New York Times, 4/28/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 225]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charles Hanger, El Reno Federal Corrections Center, Timothy James McVeigh, Ronald L. Howland, Dreamland Motel (Junction City, Kansas), Susan Otto, John Hersley, John Coyle, Murrah Federal Building
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Federal prosecutors charge Terry Nichols, a suspected co-conspirator in the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and May 9, 1995), with conspiring to carry out the bombing along with accused bomber Timothy McVeigh (see April 21, 1995). If convicted, Nichols could face the death penalty under federal anti-terrorism laws. Nichols is escorted under heavy guard into the Wichita, Kansas, federal courthouse; a woman in the crowd screams at him, “Baby killer!” Nichols is charged with being a direct participant in the “malicious damage and destruction” of a federal building, and charged with aiding and abetting the attack. Prosecutors have not yet revealed the evidence they have against him. The charges faced by McVeigh and Nichols are likely to be augmented or replaced entirely by a broader conspiracy indictment, federal officials say. Nichols’s public defender, Steven Gradert, refuses to speculate on whether the prosecutors are attempting to pressure Nichols into cooperating with their prosecution of McVeigh. “I don’t know,” Gradert says, and adds that he believes “the government is not quite sure what the theory of this case is.” Nichols is being transported to Oklahoma, where he will be incarcerated at the El Reno Federal Corrections Center, the same facility that currently houses McVeigh. Nichols’s ex-wife Lana Padilla and their son Joshua Nichols are in Oklahoma City to testify before a grand jury empaneled to hear evidence about the bombing. The FBI is also pressuring another friend of McVeigh’s and Nichols’s, Michael Fortier, to give more information (see April 23 - May 6, 1995, May 1, 1995 and May 8, 1995). Nichols has been held in the Sedgwick County, Oklahoma, jail since April 22 as a material witness to the bombing. He is accompanied by his two public defenders, Gradert and David Phillips. Gradert calls his client “scared… upset, and… nervous.” [New York Times, 5/10/1995]
An FBI affidavit filed today in Oklahoma suggests that planning for the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) began as early as September 1994, when accused bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995 and April 24, 1995) began buying thousands of pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and rented the first of several storage sheds in small towns in Kansas (see October 17, 1994). Nichols is accused of accumulating two tons of ammonium nitrate and, just before the bombing, purchasing an unspecified quantity of diesel fuel, another essential ingredient for the bomb. The affidavit, unsealed at a hearing for Nichols at the El Reno Federal Corrections Center outside Oklahoma City and intended to show a judge that sufficient grounds exist to charge Nichols with the bombing, provides the first look at the government’s case against Nichols and accused bomber Timothy McVeigh (see April 21, 1995). The affidavit provides a chronological timeline of events that together portray Nichols and McVeigh as Army buddies turned amateur terrorists, and suggests that Nichols may have actually led the bomb-making effort, though he did not participate in the bombing itself. Nichols’s brother James Nichols has also been indicted on charges of building bombs (see May 11, 1995). However, the indictment shows no direct involvement by James Nichols or anyone else in the bombing conspiracy. The indictment specifically offers no evidence that the as-yet unidentified “John Doe No. 2” (see April 20, 1995), suspected of accompanying McVeigh when he rented the Ryder truck used to deliver the bomb (see April 15-16, 1995, 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995), is involved in the bombing, though authorities continue to search for him, believing him to be either a co-conspirator or a valuable witness. The affidavit states that “an explosive device of the magnitude” that wrecked the Murrah Federal Building “would have been constructed over a period of time utilizing a large quantity of bomb paraphernalia and materials.” Building such a bomb, the document says, “would necessarily have involved the efforts of more than one person,” although it does not say how many. The affidavit also reveals that five months before the bombing, Nichols left a letter that instructed McVeigh to clean out two of the storage sheds if Nichols were to unexpectedly die, told McVeigh he would be “on his own,” and said he should “go for it!” (see November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995). It shows that a search of Nichols’s home found numerous materials appearing to be related to the bomb, including explosive and other materials used in the bomb itself. And Nichols has admitted to having the knowledge required to make an ANFO (ammonium nitrate and fuel oil) bomb such as the one used in Oklahoma City. He said he disposed of ammonium nitrate by spreading it on his yard on April 21 after reading press accounts that the substance was one of the ingredients used in the bomb, and told investigators that the materials they found at his home were “household items.” After the 13-minute hearing, US Magistrate Ronald L. Howland orders Nichols held without bail pending a preliminary hearing scheduled for May 18. Patrick M. Ryan, the interim US Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, reads the charges against Nichols, and says the government will seek the death penalty. Nichols is currently represented by two federal public defenders, David Phillips and Steven Gradert, but the judge is expected to appoint another lawyer to represent Nichols on the bombing charges. [New York Times, 5/12/1995]
The New York Times reports that Timothy McVeigh, accused of executing the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995), has claimed responsibility for the bombing. The Times’s sources are two people who have spoken with McVeigh during his continuing incarceration at the Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma; they spoke to Times reporter Pam Belluck in return for anonymity. McVeigh, the sources claim, told them he chose the Murrah Federal Building as a target because it housed so many government offices, and because it was more architecturally vulnerable than other federal buildings. The sources say McVeigh said he knew nothing of the day care center in the building, and was surprised to learn that children had died in the bombing. McVeigh told the sources that he was not “directly involved” with armed civilian paramilitary groups (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994, September 12, 1994 and After, November 1994, December 1994, January 1995, and April 5, 1995), though he admitted to having “relationships and acquaintances with a few people who have similar views,” primarily people he met at gun shows, the sources say. They say McVeigh acknowledges responsibility for the bombing, but does not believe he committed a crime. They say that McVeigh told them the planning for the bombing began at least nine months ago (see September 13, 1994, October 21 or 22, 1994, November 5, 1994, November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995, March 1995, March 31 - April 12, 1995, April 13, 1995, April 15, 1995, and 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995), and he had considered targets throughout the Midwest, from Denver to Kansas City to Texas and South Dakota. They say that McVeigh told them he had gone to the bomb site at least once (see October 20, 1994 and April 16-17, 1995) but had not gone inside the building. Federal officials say the Murrah Building was extremely vulnerable to explosive damage because of its large glass windows, its nine floors which could collapse upon one another, and because of the absence of any courtyard or plaza separating the building from the street, where a truck carrying a bomb could be parked. McVeigh’s alleged statements to the two sources suggest that those factors greatly influenced his choice of the building. The sources say that McVeigh was motivated to carry out the bombing in part because of the 1992 killing of white supremacist Randy Weaver’s wife and son during a standoff with federal agents in Ruby Ridge, Idaho (see August 31, 1992), and because of his fury over the Branch Davidian debacle outside Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). McVeigh was also driven, they say, by a more general hatred of the government, which may be fueled in part by his failure to land a well-paying job when he left the Army (see November 1991 - Summer 1992). The sources say McVeigh did not single out any one experience that triggered his desire to plan and execute the bombing. McVeigh also noted, they say, that he did not specifically target the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), some of whose agents in Oklahoma City participated in the Davidian siege. Rather, they say, McVeigh wanted to target as many government agencies as possible in one strike. McVeigh talked about the significance of the date of the bombing, April 19; not only was it the date of the Davidian tragedy, but it was the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord, where in 1775 the first shots of the American Revolution were fired. The sources provide few details of the bombing plot, and it is unclear if McVeigh divulged any such details. The sources say McVeigh did not speak much of his accused co-conspirator, Terry Nichols (see March 1995, April 16-17, 1995, 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995, 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995, and May 11, 1995), nor did he speak of others who might have been involved in the plot. They say that McVeigh did mention his acquaintance Steven Colbern (see May 12, 1995), and said that Colbern was not involved in the plotting. The sources say that while McVeigh carefully plotted the bombing itself, the escape he planned was less well thought out (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995). He forgot to transfer the license plate from a Pontiac he traded (see January 1 - January 8, 1995) onto his getaway car, a Mercury Marquis (see April 13, 1995); the failure to transfer the plate caused him to be pulled over by a highway patrol officer. McVeigh told the sources he had no money with him and no back-up person to help him if he was detained. “I don’t know how to explain that gap in his planning or his organization,” one of the sources says. “The primary objective was obviously the building itself.” One of the sources adds: “He’s very anxious, obviously, because of the position he’s in. He’s anxious to see what the next step is in the process and when this will be resolved.” [New York Times, 5/16/1995]
Stephen Jones, the lawyer for accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995), releases flattering photographs and videotapes of his client, along with McVeigh’s US Army records, saying that the public has a right to know McVeigh “as he really is.” McVeigh is a patriotic, happy young man, Jones says, and, quoting McVeigh’s military records, an “inspiration to young soldiers.” The photos and videotapes show McVeigh smiling and laughing with his lawyers. Jones has also allowed McVeigh to be interviewed by retired Colonel David Hackworth, a Newsweek columnist (see June 26, 1995, July 3, 1995) and June 26, 1995). “The public is entitled to know more about Mr. McVeigh than the government has released anonymously,” Jones says. Jones has already discussed the large amount of “supportive” mail McVeigh is receiving in prison (see June 9, 1995). Newsweek has released excerpts from Hackworth’s interview with McVeigh. Jones denies trying to influence potential jurors, saying: “If I were trying to influence potential jurors, I could say a lot more. The principal purpose behind it is to present our client to the public, to the families of the victims, to the victims who survived, as we believe he really is, to let them see something other than the 10 to 15 seconds of him walking out of the Noble County Courthouse. What I think you should draw from the record is that this is a young man who served his country honorably for four years.” Jones explains that he and McVeigh granted the interview with Hackworth because “Hack wrote him and said that he wanted to talk with my client, soldier-to-soldier.” [Associated Press, 6/26/1995; Chicago Sun-Times, 6/26/1995] The public-relations blitz is not entirely successful. Janet Walker, who lost her husband David in the blast, says: “They can’t make him innocent by putting a smile on his face, and they can’t make him guilty until they convict him. It’s nothing more than a ploy. I know that. He’ll get his in the end, if he’s guilty.” [Stickney, 1996, pp. 237-238] Jones tells reporters that McVeigh had been mistreated during his initial incarceration: telephone lines had been disconnected when he attempted to call a lawyer, and jailers had refused to give him a bulletproof vest during his “perp walk” transfer from the Noble County Courthouse (see April 21, 1995) because, Jones says, “It was like they were hoping Jack Ruby would come out.” Jones is referring to the man who shot accused Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald before Oswald could be arraigned. Noble County Undersheriff Raymond Jones strongly denies both of Jones’s claims. Jones also says that a camera set up to monitor McVeigh in his El Reno Federal Corrections Center cell, which is active 24 hours a day, is there to “engage in a kind of psychological warfare” that might “ultimately, perhaps… have an effect on [McVeigh’s] mental stability, which in turn might affect the trial.” The camera is later turned off for four hours a day, complying somewhat with Jones’s wishes. Jones also accuses prosecutors of “wiretapping” McVeigh’s conversations with his lawyers, and says that government wiretaps have been placed on his own phones, charges the prosecution denies. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 233-234, 239] Judge David L. Russell notes that Jones “slipped” Hackworth and photographer Peter Annin into the El Reno facility by pretending they were members of McVeigh’s legal team, and later asks McVeigh if he is comfortable with his lawyer conducting himself in such a manner. “Obviously, you don’t want somebody representing you that is not going to give you their all, would you agree with that?” Russell asks McVeigh. McVeigh says he is confident that Jones is representing him well, and assures Russell that he is “mentally competent” to make that determination. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 247-248]
Retired Colonel David Hackworth, a columnist for Newsweek, talks to PBS interviewer Charlie Rose about his recent interview with accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995). Hackworth’s interview will result in a brief column (see July 3, 1995) and a cover story (see June 26, 1995), both of which engender tremendous controversy; critics have said that Hackworth has played into McVeigh’s lawyers’ efforts to “soften his image” (see June 26, 1995). Hackworth says that while he “expected to find a monster,” he found a normal young man, “disarming… laid back,” and a “very cool” person. “He came across as the boy that lived next door.” Hackworth says he set up the interview after sending McVeigh a copy of his book About Face, which interested McVeigh enough to have him and attorney Stephen Jones agree to the interview, McVeigh’s first after being arrested. McVeigh is “nothing like I had read in the press.” Rose asks how much of McVeigh’s presentation was “spin” to affect the press, and Hackworth says, “One hundred percent.… He knew that Newsweek talks to 20 million people, he knew that if he could project this kind of ‘boy next door’ image, it would hit the, uh, it might present a new twist on where he is coming from.… He handled himself very well.… He’s so smart that he’s capable of masterminding the operation, which a lot of people in the press said” he was too unintelligent to have done on his own. People in the Pentagon have told him, Hackworth says, that McVeigh could have been a brilliantly successful officer had he stayed in the military. Hackworth says that McVeigh refused to answer direct questions about his carrying out the bombing, instead saying, “We’re going to trial… we’re pleading not guilty.” He calls the bombing a “precise… military operation” that “wasn’t something a militia type, frothing at the mouth, could have put together.” The bombing was handled well, he says, up until McVeigh’s “bug out,” or escape: “To jump in that old car… and get stopped (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995) was a minor charge.” Asked what that says about McVeigh, Hackworth replies, “It was almost one of those odd coincidences that we saw in the Lee Harvey Oswald case [the purported assassin of President John F. Kennedy], you know, it was perfect except he’s got the wrong ammunition or something.” Hackworth reiterates his characterization in Newsweek of McVeigh suffering from a “postwar hangover,” a depression that ensued after the war ended and he lost his battlefield comrades (see November 1991 - Summer 1992); his judgment became clouded and his thinking became skewed. Hackworth says that McVeigh denies any miltia ties whatsoever, and denies ever claiming he was being held as a “prisoner of war,” as news reports have alleged. Hackworth says that McVeigh told him he was treated well by his jailers, but says that McVeigh asked why he was not given a bulletproof vest on his short walk from the Noble County Courthouse to his transport to the El Reno federal facility. Hackworth says that the blank, grim look on McVeigh’s face that has characterized him in the news is actually the “thousand-yard stare” that soldiers get when they are expecting to be shot. Hackworth says he expected to “push a button” by asking McVeigh about the Branch Davidian standoff and ultimate tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After), but McVeigh was not rattled. He concludes that when he interviewed accused Iran-Contra conspirator Oliver North (see May-June, 1989), he caught North in “a hundred lies,” but he did not catch McVeigh in a single lie. Either McVeigh was telling the truth, Hackworth says, or he is a masterful liar. [PBS, 6/26/1995]
Accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, April 21, 1995 and April 24, 1995) gives an interview to Newsweek, saying he intends to plead not guilty to all charges; the interview quickly makes headlines around the country. In a cover story entitled “The Suspect Speaks,” McVeigh tells interviewer Colonel David Hackworth (see June 26, 1995) that the first he knew of the bombing was when a state trooper pulled him over driving north from Oklahoma City some 90 minutes after the blast (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995). McVeigh says he was “horrified” by the deaths of 19 children in the explosion, and adds: “And you know, that was the number one focal point of the media at the time, too, obviously—the deaths of the children. It’s a very tragic thing.” He refuses to directly confirm or deny any involvement in the bombing, saying, “The only way we can really answer that is that we are going to plead not guilty.” The interviewer tells him, “But you’ve got a chance right now to say, ‘Hell no!’” McVeigh replies, “We can’t do that.” McVeigh goes into some detail about his “average childhood” (see 1987-1988); his lawyer Stephen Jones (see May 8, 1995), present for the interview, tells the interviewer that McVeigh is “the boy next door, a boy wonder.” Newsweek records McVeigh’s appearance as “a little nervous, maybe, but good humored and self-aware. Normal.” The interview is held in a conference room at the El Reno Federal Corrections Center about 25 miles west of Oklahoma City. Jones has released pictures and an audio-less videotape of McVeigh laughing and smiling while talking to his lawyers, in an apparent attempt to soften his image. Of the video, Jones says, “We want to present our client to the public as we believe he really is.” The country is most familiar with the image of McVeigh being led away from an Oklahoma County Jail in handcuffs (see April 21, 1995). Jones also emphasizes McVeigh’s solid military record (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990 and January - March 1991 and After). Jones placed heavy restrictions on the interview with McVeigh, and thusly little new material is given. McVeigh will not discuss any evidence that prosecutors say shows his guilt, and Jones refuses to allow McVeigh to answer questions about whether he committed the bombing. Though in May the press reported that sources had said McVeigh confessed to the bombing in prison (see May 16, 1995), Jones says: “I’m not aware of anything he said in the interview that is inconsistent with what has been reported up to this point by the New York Times and every other newspaper in the country. If you’re trying to suggest that there may have been anything inconsistent, may I respectfully suggest that you may have not read the interview carefully.” Jones later disputes one quote attributed to him of McVeigh, where Jones supposedly told the interviewer, “He’s innocent.” Jones says, “I frankly don’t remember saying that he’s innocent and I do not think that is something I would have said.” McVeigh also denies any affiliation with militia groups or attending meetings of such groups (see 1992 - 1995, January 23, 1993 - Early 1994, October 12, 1993 - January 1994, April 1994, September 12, 1994 and After, November 1994, January 1995, and April 5, 1995), and denies reports that he had called himself a “prisoner of war” and refused to state anything but his name, rank, and serial number (see April 21, 1995). He acknowledges setting off small explosions on a farm in Michigan with his accused co-conspirator Terry Nichols (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994), but says they were little more than plastic Pepsi bottles “that burst because of air pressure,” adding, “It was like popping a paper bag.” He refuses to go into details about his political views, saying merely that he was “bothered” by the 1993 Branch Davidian debacle (see March 1993, April 19, 1993, and April 19, 1993 and After), and acknowledges visiting the site after the final raid by FBI agents. He admits to having “been through Oklahoma City,” but when asked if he and his friend Michael Fortier (see May 19, 1995) had “cased” the Murrah Federal building in the days before the attack, replies, “I think I’d rather not answer that.” He says that the government has “[m]ost definitely” made “mistakes,” but does not characterize himself as an anti-government person. [New York Times, 6/26/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 225]
Newsweek publishes a column by Colonel David Hackworth, who regularly writes on military matters for the magazine. Hackworth recently visited accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) in prison (see May 11, 1995). McVeigh and his lawyer Stephen Jones were featured in a recent issue of Newsweek as well (see June 26, 1995). Hackworth includes little of the actual words of the interview in this column, and spends most of his time giving his impression of McVeigh. He is ambivalent at best, lauding McVeigh’s military record and his ramrod-straight appearance, but speculative at best about McVeigh’s professed innocence. When he talked to McVeigh at the El Reno Federal Corrections Center, he writes, “I realized my gut feeling was right. He has what a lot of soldiers, good and bad, have: fire in the belly. When we talked about the military, a change came over him: McVeigh suddenly sat straight in his chair. The Army, he says, ‘teaches you to discover yourself. It teaches you who you are.’ I know what he means. To warriors, the military is like a religious order. It’s not a job. It’s a calling. Not too many people understand that calling or have what it takes.” Hackworth believes that after McVeigh returned from serving in Desert Storm (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990 and January - March 1991 and After), he “slipped into what’s known among vets as a postwar hangover[. I’ve] seen countless veterans, including myself, stumble home after the high-noon excitement of the killing fields, missing their battle buddies and the unique dangers and sense of purpose. Many lose themselves forever.” He notes that McVeigh voluntarily washed himself out of Special Forces training (see January - March 1991 and After), “but seemingly accepted his defeat stoically. Did his failure drive him over the edge? Maybe, but McVeigh says no: ‘It wasn’t the straw that broke anything.’ He planned to get in shape and come back. Still, something snapped.” Hackworth writes that McVeigh left the Army because of the postwar letdown and the Army’s “drawdown” of personnel (see November 1991 - Summer 1992), and was particularly troubled by his comrades leaving the service. He quotes McVeigh as saying, “You can literally love your battle buddies more than anyone else in the world.” Hackworth adds: “When they shipped out he was devastated, wondering if he’d made a mistake by staying in the military. Losing your war buddies is like losing an arm or a leg—or a loved one. McVeigh may have been crushed by the amputation.” From there, Hackworth writes, McVeigh “couldn’t adjust to civilian life,” and notes: “I’m no shrink, but I’ve seen this failure to adapt many times before. The rules change on you. You’re used to order—having a dear objective, knowing just how to get the job done. Then you’re on your own in a different world, with no structure and little exact sense of what you’re supposed to do.” None of this excuses or even explains the crimes McVeigh is accused of committing, he writes, and concludes: “The Timothy McVeigh I talked with didn’t seem like a baby killer. He was in high combat form, fully aware that his performance in the interview was almost a matter of life and death. If he’d been in combat, he’d have a medal for his coolness under fire. He might also be the most devious con man to ever come down the pike. At times McVeigh came across as the boy next door. But you might never want to let him into your house.” [Newsweek, 7/3/1995] Hackworth’s column contains much the same information he gave PBS’s Charlie Rose in a recent interview (see June 26, 1995). In a harsh critique of Hackworth’s military writing, Slate writers Charles Krohn and David Plotz will call his column on McVeigh “astonishingly sympathetic,” and will mock Hackworth’s “postwar hangover” explanation of McVeigh’s alleged bombing. [Slate, 11/28/1996] Although the interview is dated July 3, the issue of Newsweek containing it appears on June 26.
Oklahoma City bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, April 21, 1995, and April 24, 1995) refuses to give prosecutors a handwriting sample. He is transported from the El Reno Federal Corrections Center, about 25 miles west of Oklahoma City, to a courtroom in Oklahoma City, where he refuses to provide the sample. Prosecutors say the handwriting sample could be compared to a receipt for the rental of the Ryder truck used to plant the bomb (see 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). The courtroom, across the street from the targeted Murrah Federal Building, still has rough wooden plywood covers for many of its blown-out windows and is adorned with purple mourning ribbons. One man in the building wears a T-shirt that reads on the front, “In Memory, April 19, 1995.” The back reads, “A society that makes war against its police had better learn to make friends with its criminals.” McVeigh’s lawyer, Stephen Jones, argues that McVeigh should not have to provide a handwriting sample on the grounds that it may violate his rights against self-incrimination. Jones also says that McVeigh has written only in block letters since before joining the military in 1988 (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990), and that a handwriting sample in cursive letters would require more than a mechanical effort by his client. Prosecution assistant Sean Connelly reminds the court that the grand jury investigating the case has requested the sample, and calls it a “very routine” test. “We are not probing his mind or thought processes,” he says. “If he says he can’t spell ‘no,’ we’ll tell him N-O.” Judge David Russell finally rules that McVeigh will give the sample. “I’m going to order the defendant to comply with the subpoena of the grand jury,” he says. “I don’t see any reason to wait. The law is clear.” To McVeigh, he says, “Failure to comply could be used against you, not just in a contempt proceeding but as evidence in a trial.” When McVeigh again refuses to give the sample, Russell orders him charged with contempt of court and gives the defense five days to respond to the contempt charge. [New York Times, 7/19/1995]
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