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Profile: Fred Skrdla
Fred Skrdla was a participant or observer in the following events:
A gas station attendant, Fred Skrdla, sees a large yellow Ryder truck drive into his station, the Cimarron Travel Plaza truck stop, outside of Billings, Oklahoma. Billings is about 80 miles north of Oklahoma City. Skrdla will later tell investigators that he sees a man, presumably Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see April 15, 1995), buy gasoline sometime between 1:00 and 3:00 a.m. The man pays in cash, Skrdla remembers. Skrdla will say he is busy at the time and does not recall if the man has a companion. When he later sees composite drawings of “John Doe No. 1” and “John Doe No. 2” (see April 20, 1995), he will recognize one of them as the man who bought the gasoline. When he later sees television coverage of McVeigh being “perp walked” out of the Noble County Courthouse in Perry, Oklahoma (see April 21, 1995), he is sure that the man he saw paying for the gasoline was McVeigh. [New York Times, 1/13/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 151]
Defense lawyers in the Oklahoma City bombing case (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) seek to suppress the testimony of nine prosecution witnesses. Some of these witnesses are publicly identified for the first time, disclosed in court papers filed by the lawyers for defendants Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. McVeigh’s trial is slated to begin in March. Some of the newly identified witnesses are:
Fred Skrdla, who worked at a gasoline station in Billings, Oklahoma, some 80 miles north of Oklahoma City, on the day of the bombing. Skrdla remembers a man driving a large Ryder truck (see April 15, 1995) buying gasoline between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m (see (1:00 a.m.) April 19, 1995). The man paid cash. Skrdla says he was busy and does not remember if the man was alone or had company. When he saw composite drawings of “John Doe No. 1” and “John Doe No. 2” (see April 20, 1995), he recognized one of them as the man who bought the gasoline. When he saw television coverage of McVeigh being “perp walked” out of the Noble County Courthouse in Perry, Oklahoma (see April 21, 1995), he became sure that the man he saw paying for the gasoline was McVeigh.
William Dunlap, who took his wife to work in Oklahoma City on the day of the bombing. Minutes before the bomb detonated in front of the Murrah Federal Building, Dunlap told FBI investigators, he drove past the building and noticed a Ryder truck parked in front of it. Dunlap said he saw a white man get out of the truck and walk to the rear of it. Dunlap said the man wore jeans, was in his mid- to late 20s, had “clean-cut” hair, a “medium” complexion, a slight build, and was between 5’8” and 5’9” tall. McVeigh is 6’2”. Dunlap told investigators he thought the man might have been McVeigh, but he was not certain.
Stephen Jones, McVeigh’s lead lawyer, says the “saturation” news coverage of the crime and the arrests has “tainted” the ability of Skrdla, Dunlap, and the other witnesses to make accurate identifications of the person or persons they believe they saw. Jones cites information given to the FBI by David Ferris, a Junction City, Kansas, taxi driver who talked about a passenger he had on April 17, two days before the bombing. In early interviews, Ferris did not say that any of the passengers he had looked like McVeigh, and denied taking any passengers to the McDonald’s restaurant on South Washington Boulevard that day, where the investigators are sure McVeigh went (see May 9, 1997). Interviewers’ notes show that Ferris became emotional during the questioning, and tearfully said he “never picked up McVeigh.” The next day, however, Ferris changed his story, saying he took a man resembling McVeigh to the McDonald’s in question between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m. on April 17. Ferris told agents that he had seen McVeigh’s picture on television and was “scared and panicked” after realizing who he was. Jones also contends that identifications of McVeigh by Eldon Elliott and Tom Kessinger, who rented the truck to McVeigh, were tainted by television news coverage of McVeigh; by the time Elliott and Kessinger made their identifications, Jones says, McVeigh’s face was so familiar “monks living on the mountainside in Tibet could have made the same identification.” Nichols’s lead lawyer, Michael Tigar, is attempting to suppress identification by an unnamed witness or witnesses who worked at the Mid-Kansas Cooperative in McPherson and, prosecutors say, sold fertilizer to McVeigh and Nichols (see September 23, 1994, September 30, 1994, and October 18, 1994). [New York Times, 1/13/1997] Judge Richard P. Matsch refuses to bar the witnesses’ testimonies. [New York Times, 2/21/1997]
Entity Tags: Fred Skrdla, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Ferris, William Dunlap, Tom Kessinger, Timothy James McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols, Richard P. Matsch, Stephen Jones, Michael E. Tigar, Eldon Elliott
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
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