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Profile: G. Thomas Van Bebber
G. Thomas Van Bebber was a participant or observer in the following events:
Michael Fortier, a co-conspirator in the Oklahoma City bombing (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990, March 1993, May-September 1993, February - July 1994, October 21 or 22, 1994, and December 16, 1994 and After) who cooperated with authorities in testifying against bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (see May 19, 1995, August 8, 1995, April 29-30, 1997, May 12-13, 1997, and November 12-13, 1997), is sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in the bomb plot, fined $200,000, and ordered to pay $4,300 in restitution. Judge G. Thomas Van Bebber’s decision seeks a middle ground between the relatives of bombing victims, who have demanded a harsh sentence for Fortier, and federal prosecutors, who recommend leniency for Fortier’s cooperation. Fortier’s lawyer Michael McGuire tells Van Bebber: “Michael Fortier did not believe Timothy McVeigh was going to carry out the bombing. For his negligence, he will always be the unforgiven man.” Fortier also receives credit for the 34 months he has already served in detention. In the sentencing hearing, Fortier apologizes to the victims for not turning in McVeigh and Nichols ahead of the bombing. “I deeply regret not taking the information I had to the police,” he says through tears. “I sometimes daydream that I did do this and became a hero, but [the] reality is that I am not.… I have paid close attention to the testimony given by the bombing survivors. The stories are so horrifying, so heartbreaking, and so full of human suffering that I cannot bear them. I am too weak to contemplate them for long. I feel as if my mind will break and I’ll cry and cry and never stop. Dear people, please, I offer my apology and I ask you to forgive me.… Please, please don’t let thoughts of me continue to hurt you.” Many survivors and victims’ relatives testify at the sentencing, telling of the grief and despair they and their families have suffered. Constance Favorite, who lost a daughter in the bombing, tells the judge: “All he needed to do was take responsibility and call. One phone call would have done it.” Marsha Kight, who also lost a daughter in the bombing, says Fortier’s sentence is too light. “Life in prison is what I would have considered enough,” she says. “I think he conspired. I think he helped buy components for the bomb. What do you call that?” Prosecutors call the sentence “appropriate” and say they are unmoved by Fortier’s declarations of remorse. “I think everyone in the courtroom had to think that it’s a little too late and a little too little,” says US Attorney Patrick M. Ryan. Van Bebber, chief judge of the US District Court for Kansas, was appointed to handle the sentencing because an appeals court ruled in 1995 that Oklahoma City federal judges had a potential conflict of interest in the case. The Oklahoma City federal courthouse sits across the street from where the Murrah building once stood, and itself was damaged by the bombing. [Washington Post, 5/28/1998; New York Times, 5/28/1998; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; The Oklahoman, 4/2009] Van Bebber rejected pleas for leniency from Fortier’s lawyers, who asked that Fortier be sentenced to serve the 33 months he has already been incarcerated—essentially setting him free immediately. He followed prosecutors’ recommendations that Fortier serve between 11 and 14 years, after saying that he was considering sentencing Fortier to over 17 years in prison. [New York Times, 5/13/1998] Fortier’s lawyers say they will appeal the sentence, and accuse prosecutors of misrepresenting the amount of jail time they would seek if Fortier cooperated with the investigation and testified in the McVeigh and Nichols trials. [Indianapolis Star, 2003] Fortier will win an appeal of his sentencing; the appellate court will find that Van Bebber used sentencing guidelines that were too strict. Fortier’s jail sentence will remain the same, but his fine will be reduced to $75,000. [The Oklahoman, 4/2009] He serves his sentence in the “supermax” federal facility in Florence, Colorado, that houses Theodore Kaczysnki, the “Unabomber” (see April 3, 1996), and convicted World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef (see February 26, 1993 and February 7, 1995). He will be released in January 2006, after serving 10 years and six months of his sentence. [Douglas O. Linder, 2001]
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