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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. (Pressley 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. (Bernstein 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. (Pressley 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. (Eddy et al. 6/3/1997; Thomas 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. (Pressley 4/20/1995; Walsh 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). (Pressley 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; Thomas 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).
The day after the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), Governor Frank Keating (R-OK) calls the perpetrator “an animal.” Keating says: “Obviously, no amateur did this. Whoever did this was an animal.” (Pressley 4/20/1995) “If terrorists can strike in the safe and place heart of America,” Keating adds, “then it is an awful statement about the evil that lurks in the world.” President Clinton says the bombing is nothing less than “an attack on the United States and our way of life.” Political scientist Douglas Simon says: “If any statement was made, it’s that any place can be targeted. After all, this wasn’t New York or Los Angeles. It was the heartland of America.” (Schmemann 4/24/1995)
Attorney Stephen Jones is named by the court as the lead defender of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995). He agrees to work for a taxpayer-funded rate of $125 an hour, considerably less than his usual fee. Jones, who primarily represents large oil and insurance firms, is a Republican activist who failed to unseat Senator David Boren (D-OK) in 1990 and has represented a number of unpopular clients. He is joined by another prominent defense attorney, Robert Nigh Jr., a lawyer recommended to the case by Jones before he himself was chosen to represent McVeigh. Jones discussed the request from Judge David L. Russell with, among others, Governor Frank Keating (R-OK); Jones has done legal work for Keating in the past, and wished to ensure that his representation of McVeigh would not damage Keating’s reputation. Jones eventually accepted Russell’s request; when he accepted, Russell quipped, “I hope I haven’t signed your death warrant.” Jones replied, “That makes two of us.” To the media, Jones says: “My role is as old as the Constitution. Whether I perform professionally will be determined by how I conduct myself and whether my client is satisfied.… I did not seek or request the appointment or even encourage it in any way. I have been drafted. However, I will do my duty.… I will seek, for my part, to avoid the circus atmosphere that has prevailed in certain other well-known jurisdictional proceedings, which have included the self-promotion and self-aggrandizement of some individuals. I am a small-town county-seat lawyer.… I want to set a contrast to the O. J. Simpson [a former athlete and Hollywood celebrity recently acquitted of murdering his wife and another man in a sensational court proceeding] trial, which represents much of what is wrong with the legal process,” he says, referring to what he sees as “a lot of self-aggrandizement by all the parties: the witnesses, the jury, the judge, the lawyers.” He concludes with a warning to the press: “There is a well-recognized tension between the need for a free press and a fair trial, so I hope the ladies and gentlemen of the press will understand that I will defend this case in the courts of law.” Jones is working with McVeigh’s current lawyers, John Coyle and Susan Otto, who are preparing to leave the case (see April 24, 1995 and April 27, 1995). (When the media announces Jones’s naming to the case, one of Coyle’s staffers shouts: “You watch. He will make it all about himself.”) Jones is preparing McVeigh for a grand jury, which is being seated to hear evidence against him. McVeigh turned down the offered services of two lawyers (see May 3, 1995), but is willing to accept Jones’s services. (Levy 5/8/1995; Kilborn 6/15/1995; Stickney 1996, pp. 231; Serrano 1998, pp. 248-249; Douglas O. Linder 2006; Ottley 2/2009) “There’s no doubt in my mind that Stephen Jones views this to be a horrible crime,” Tony Graham, a former federal prosecutor who has often opposed Jones in court, will comment. “That he can go ahead and represent a person accused of that is the mark of a very professional lawyer.” Enid lawyer and former mayor Norman L. Grey will say: “With Stephen, you know you have a battle on your hands. I don’t think there’s a better legal mind in the area of criminal proceedings, state or federal.” (Kilborn 6/15/1995)
Conspiracy Theories, 'Necessity' Defense - Later, Jones will recall watching news footage of the bombing at his law office in Enid, Oklahoma, and remember his old elementary school being firebombed. “I recognized it as a bombing right away,” he will say. “And the minute I heard about the day care, I thought, ‘That’s it.’ Because I remembered the babies at Waco (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). And later that night I heard about old man Snell [executed white supremacist Richard Wayne Snell—see 9:00 p.m. April 19, 1995] and I thought, ‘Yes, that’s relevant too.’” Author Richard A. Serrano will later write, “Even on that first evening, Jones was thinking conspiracy theories.” (Serrano 1998, pp. 249) Though Jones is not forthcoming about the defense strategy he and McVeigh intend to deploy, legal observers speculate that they will base their defense on attempts to discredit government witnesses that the prosecution will use to build their case against McVeigh. Court observers say McVeigh is working actively with Jones on their defense. In the following days, Jones will begin interviewing people in Kansas, Oklahoma, and elsewhere, trying to undermine the credibility of the witnesses the prosecution is expected to bring into court. Jones is also expected to try to prove that the prosecutors’ evidence against McVeigh is largely circumstantial and therefore open to reasonable doubt. Observers doubt that Jones will try to use an insanity defense, because McVeigh is clearly competent to stand trial. They also doubt that Jones will try to allege that McVeigh was motivated by political opposition to the government, since innocent people, including children, were killed in the blast. No one feels that the prosecution will offer McVeigh any sort of plea deal. (Belluck 5/11/1995) Researchers later learn that McVeigh wants Jones to present what some call a “necessity defense”—admitting to the bombing and justifying it by detailing what he considers the “crimes” of the federal government that his bombing was designed to prevent. McVeigh believes that if the jury hears about the government’s actions at Ruby Ridge, Idaho (see August 31, 1992 and August 21-31, 1992), and at the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After), at least some of the jurors will be sympathetic. More importantly, such a politicized trial would give McVeigh the opportunity to make his case against an overreaching federal government in the larger court of public opinion. Jones will resist presenting such a defense, in part because he believes that McVeigh has no chance of establishing, as he would be required to do to raise the defense, that the federal government put him in “imminent danger.” (Douglas O. Linder 2006)
Third Lawyer to Join Jones, Nigh - Two weeks later, Russell will name Houston lawyer Richard Burr to join Jones and Nigh for the defense. Burr has extensive experience working with death penalty cases, and formerly directed the Capital Punishment Project of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Any capital case, but particularly one of this magnitude, calls for our system of justice to perform as reliably, as fairly, and as humanely as it can,” Burr will say. “I feel honored to become a part of the defense team in Mr. McVeigh’s case.” (New York Times 5/23/1995)
In a letter to US Attorney Patrick Ryan, Attorney General Janet Reno authorizes prosecutors to seek the death penalty against indicted Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, 4:00 p.m., April 19, 1995, July 11-13, 1995, and August 10, 1995). The prosecutors promptly inform the federal court in Oklahoma City that they will do just that. Reno overrides protests from defense lawyers asking her to disqualify herself from the proceedings; McVeigh’s lawyer, Stephen Jones, told reporters that Reno and President Clinton both said “they would seek the death penalty before they even knew who the defendants were. We will mount our attack on the obvious prejudgment of the case.” Ryan says the prosecution will seek the death penalty on four of the counts lodged against McVeigh and Nichols: first-degree murder, conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction with death resulting, using an explosive to destroy government property with death resulting, and using a weapon of mass destruction with death resulting. He says “aggravating factors” include the maiming, disfigurement, and other injuries inflicted on many individuals and the involvement of both defendants in “acts of burglary, robbery, and theft to finance and otherwise facilitate” the bombing. Governor Frank Keating (R-OK) approves of the decision, and recently said in an interview that it was not at all unusual “to see the president and the attorney general express their outrage” when they did. “This was an enormous national tragedy of titanic proportions,” Keating said. “The question is, are these [McVeigh and Nichols] the people who did it? If not, we need to find those who did.… But we want whoever did this to be prosecuted, convicted, and executed.” (New York Times 8/21/1995; Lardner 10/21/1995; Douglas O. Linder 2001) Jones refused to take part in the panel discussions over the use of the death penalty, calling them a fraud and a sham, and saying that the process should not have been conducted by the Justice Department. (Stickney 1996, pp. 253)
The defense in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, July 11-13, 1995, and August 10, 1995) presents evidence in one of the hearings conducted to consider a change of venue in the trial (see November 21, 1995). The hearing takes place at the Oklahoma City courthouse; McVeigh has been brought from his cell at the El Reno federal detention facility to take part, though he says nothing during the proceedings. The defense plays clips from television news broadcasts, some of which contain erroneous information; footage of tearful calls for McVeigh and his accomplice Terry Nichols to be executed; coverage of memorial services for the victims of the bombing; and promises by President Clinton, Attorney General Janet Reno, and Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating that the death penalty would be sought. In the back of the courtroom, victims’ family members begin weeping. An Associated Press report by Paul Queary notes that McVeigh “smiled” as the films were shown; Los Angeles Times reporter Richard A. Serrano will write that McVeigh “appeared relaxed and at ease in court.” The reports anger McVeigh’s sister Jennifer, who has driven from Pendleton, New York, to be with her brother in court. She later says: “He wasn’t smiling in reference to anything. He was smiling at me. And you know that if he wasn’t smiling, they’d criticize him and if he was smiling, they’d criticize him. You know what happened the last time when he wasn’t smiling.” She is referring to the iconic image of a grim-looking McVeigh squinting as he is “perp walked” on the day of his arrest (see April 21, 1995). Jennifer tells reporters after the hearing: “No matter what, he’s still my brother and I’m still going to be there for him. He’s just a normal person. He’s not this evil thing they’ve painted him.” She visits him at the city jail before returning to her hotel room and calling her father in Pendleton. She will begin the long drive back to Pendleton a few days later. (Stickney 1996, pp. 268-270)
Judge Richard Matsch (see December 1, 1995), citing the defendants’ right to an impartial jury in the Oklahoma City bombing trial (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, August 10, 1995, and November 21, 1995), moves the trial from Oklahoma City to Denver, Colorado. Matsch is the Chief Judge of the Federal District Court in Colorado, and is essentially moving the case to his “home” courtroom. Matsch rules that because of intensive negative media coverage of the bombing, neither Timothy McVeigh nor Terry Nichols can receive fair trials in Oklahoma City. “This court… concludes that there is so great a prejudice against these two defendants in the State of Oklahoma that they cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial at any place… in that state,” Matsch writes. McVeigh and Nichols have been “demonized” in the press, he continues. “The intensity of the humanization of the victims in the public mind is in sharp contrast with the prevalent portrayals of the defendants.… [T]he interests of the victims in being able to attend this trial in Oklahoma are outweighed by the court’s obligation to assure that the trial be conducted with fundamental fairness and with due regard for all constitutional requirements.” McVeigh’s attorney, Stephen Jones, says, “The judge examined all the evidence and saw that Oklahoma sees itself as the victims and that makes it difficult to get a fair trial here.” Prosecutors agreed that Oklahoma City was not the proper venue for the trial, but had asked that the trial be moved to Tulsa, only two hours from Oklahoma City; US Attorney Patrick Ryan, newly appointed by President Clinton to represent the Oklahoma City district, argued that moving the trial would present an undue hardship on the families of the victims who want to observe the trial. Attorney General Janet Reno says the government “does not have the right” to appeal Matsch’s decision and therefore is ready to move to trial “expeditiously.” Reno says the Justice Department would “pursue every means available to provide survivors and loved ones with an opportunity to observe and follow events in the courtroom.” Kathleen Treanor, who lost her daughter and her in-laws in the bombing, is angry with the decision, saying she had intended to go to the trials: “It stinks. Judge Matsch will not have to give up his bed or leave his home. He is inconvenienced in no way. I lost my only daughter and I won’t be able to afford to go.” But Toby Thompson, who lost his brother in the bombing, says: “It is very important that the trial be squeaky clean. If moving it to Nova Scotia would ensure that I wouldn’t have to go through it twice, that would be fine with me.” Legal experts say Matsch made the decision in order to obviate any possibility that the defense would use the venue of the trial as the basis for a possible appeal. Governor Frank Keating (R-OK) criticizes the decision, saying Matsch moved the trial to Denver “for his personal comfort.… It is easier for him to go home and sleep in his own bed. That’s what his decision says to the hundreds and thousands of people impacted in this bombing. Its wrong on the facts and it’s wrong on the law.” Keating says he will coordinate with Governor Roy Romer (D-CO) and Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, as well as the federal government, to fund transport and housing for relatives and friends of the victims who wish to attend the trials. (Romano 2/21/1996; Thomas 2/21/1996; Serrano 1998, pp. 256; Douglas O. Linder 2001) Chicago jury consultant Joe Guaftaferro says of the venue change: “Colorado, from a jury perspective, could be risky. There’s a lot of white supremacists in those hills.” Public affairs law professor Rita Simon, an expert on the effects of publicity on a jury, says she agrees with Matsch’s decision, and adds, “With proper instruction, jurors could put aside any pretrial prejudice they may have picked up as a result of publicity about the case.” (Thomas 2/22/1996)
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.” (Romano and Kenworthy 1/8/1997; Thomas 12/30/1997; Thomas 1/2/1998; Gorov 1/8/1998; Thomas 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.” (Thomas 1/8/1998)
Several Republican spokesmen tell television news audiences that they believe Democratic presidential contender Al Gore should stop fighting for manual recounts in Florida (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000 and After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000). Former Governor John Sununu (R-NH) says: “There is a measure of character on how this is handled.… Everybody running around trying undermine confidence, by making allegations on the random chance that there might be some validity out there is unbelievable.… To be running around the way they are is exactly opposite of the statesmanlike character that Nixon showed in 1960” (see November 10, 2000). Republican political strategist Ed Rollins says, “The bottom line I think that by tomorrow, you are going to have a legitimate vote that gets approved by the board, or we are going to have a long tedious process that is going to damage the political process even more than it is today.” And Governor Frank Keating (R-NE) says: “There should be a recount, and once the count is over, the winner should be declared, and we should move on.… You haul in 50 lawyers per side and in about a year we’ll figure out where we are going. The reality is, the Democrats have played dirty tricks, I’m sure the Republicans, on occasion, have played dirty tricks.… We have to move on and resolve the election so the country can be stable.” (National Journal 11/9/2000)
A dozen leading politicians, scholars, journalists, and security experts meet at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland for an exercise simulating the consequences of a biological terrorist attack, in this case the release of smallpox by terrorists. The participants include: Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), who plays the president of the United States; former presidential adviser David Gergen as the national security advisor; Governor Frank Keating (R-OK), who plays himself; James Woolsey playing the CIA director; and Jerome Hauer as the FEMA director. The exercise, named “Dark Winter,” starts with three states suddenly confronted with an outbreak of smallpox. Americans are no longer vaccinated against this virus because it was eradicated decades ago. Thousands quickly fall ill. The medical system is overwhelmed. Masses start to flee from the infected areas, but are stopped at the borders of neighboring states. Faced with chaos, the exercise ends with the president declaring martial law. Reviewing the exercise, participants and observers agree that the nation is vulnerable to biological terrorism and unprepared for an actual attack. (Lemonick 9/24/2001; Mientka 12/2001; Center for Biosecurity 2002; O'Toole, Mair, and Inglesby 4/1/2002) In the days following 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney will watch a video report on the exercise, and, at his urging, the National Security Council will receive a “harrowing” and “gruesome” briefing on September 20, on the possibility of a biological attack. (Mayer 2008, pp. 3-4) At about the same time as Dark Winter is taking place, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) returns smallpox to the list of reportable diseases. Smallpox had been removed from the list decades ago after worldwide eradication. The agency says it is increasing its surveillance efforts of infectious pathogens that could be used in a biological terrorist attack. (Grossman 5/31/2001) After the 9/11 attacks, public health officials will deny that the re-listing of smallpox was the result of any specific intelligence warnings. (Grossman 10/22/2001)
Oklahoma City mayor Kirk Humphreys visits the site of the World Trade Center, destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, and tells reporters that he cannot help but compare the scene to the damage done almost seven years ago in the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), which resulted in the destruction of a federal building and cost the lives of 168 people. Humphreys is on a personal visit with his wife and teenaged daughter. They journey down into the bottom of the pit that once housed the World Trade Center. Humphreys gives some advice for New Yorkers coping with the trauma of the attacks, noting that while the two events have profound differences, the suffering and trauma of the survivors, and of the families and friends of those lost in the attacks, are similar. “The area of Ground Zero, 12 blocks or so, is about the size of our entire downtown,” Humphreys tells reporters. “I tell people that what happened on 9/11 would have wiped out something the size of downtown. But the World Trade Center was an attack on America, and so was Oklahoma City.… Ours was tough, but ours was a piece of cake compared to this one.” In many ways, he says, dealing with the emotional trauma suffered by Oklahoma citizens was the most difficult: “The physical is the easiest part, and right when you think it is over, you realize that you need to address those other needs.… On the morning of April 19, 1995, there were some people who woke up with their lives spinning out of control—and then the bomb went off. You are going to have many people struggling for a long time. More substance abuse. More divorce. More emotional burnout. More suicides.” Oklahoma City plans on opening an exhibit, “Shared Experience,” on April 19, the seven-year anniversary of the bombing. The exhibit will include tributes to the seven New York firefighters and two police officers who died on 9/11 and who helped in the 1995 rescue efforts. Deputy Chief Ray Downey, the leader of the special operations command who died while leading a team of firefighters into the South Tower, is credited with saving dozens of lives in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. When Downey died, he was wearing a Catholic rosary that had been given to him by Governor Frank Keating (R-OK). The others who rendered assistance in the 1995 blast, and who died on 9/11, are: New York Battalion Chief John J. Fanning; Captain Terence S. Hatton; Lieutenants Kevin C. Dowdell, Michael A. Esposito, and Peter C. Martin; Firefighter William D. Lake; Police Sergeant Michael S. Curtin; and Officer Thomas Langone. Humphreys says of the nine: “They were good men. They helped us in our time of need.” Humphreys was not mayor at the time of the bombing, but is credited with leading the rebuilding effort in Oklahoma City as well as reinvigorating the tourist trade. (Blair 3/25/2002)
A press investigation reveals that corporate interests are behind a supposedly grassroots effort to block Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) from ascending to the high court. Raw Story reporters Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane have learned that the Committee for Justice (CFJ), an organization they call “an astroturf group established by big business in July 2002 to create an appearance of popular support for President Bush’s judicial nominees,” is taking the lead in the effort to oppose the Sotomayor nomination. The head of the CFJ, Curt Levey, lambasted Sotomayor as an “intellectual lightweight” the day of her nomination (see May 26, 2009), and has made regular media appearances since then attacking her as racist and biased. CFJ was created in 2002 by Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), who recruited Washington lawyer C. Boyden Gray to “create a fake grassroots organization” to support conservative, pro-business jurists such as Charles Pickering and Chief Justice John Roberts. Gray, a former White House counsel, received the support of former President George H. W. Bush, Republican political adviser Karl Rove, and former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour. Gray has a strong history of creating “astroturf” organizations, which are lobbying and activist groups supposedly founded and led by ordinary citizens but that in fact are created and funded by large political and corporate interests. CFJ is one of the most successful of these creations, and has often been successful in placing pro-business judges on the bench. CFJ and other astroturf organizations founded or assisted by Gray have been funded by, among other firms, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, insurance giant AIG, and the Ameriquest Capital Corporation, receiving over $100 million since 1998. CFJ’s board includes Stan Anderson, the legal advisor to the Chamber of Commerce; John Engler, the president of the National Association of Manufacturers; former Republican governor Frank Keating, now president of the American Council of Life Insurers; and former Republican Senator Connie Mack. (Alexandrovna and Kane 6/5/2009)
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