!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Merrick Garland
Merrick Garland was a participant or observer in the following events:
Merrick Garland, the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division in Washington, receives an “Urgent” report on his computer from Oklahoma City. The report concerns the bomb that has just ripped through the Murrah Federal Building (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Some of the report is speculation and some of it is incorrect. It was hastily compiled and sent out from the administrative office of the US Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma. The report reads in part: “An explosion was heard. Black smoke billowed from a few blocks north.… The explosion rocked the private leased space which houses the US Attorney’s office three blocks north from the federal courthouse.” The report gives details about the federal safety officials sent to investigate: “Along the three-block walk, they found massive glass in the streets from several of the high-rise buildings. Along the way, walking wounded were everywhere, along with emergency rescue vehicles. It appears, and has been speculated, that a massive bomb exploded in the area of ATF, DEA, or Secret Service offices in the Murrah Federal Building. Employees from HUD indicated there were a few suspected deaths, and a couple of critically injured.… Damage to the Murrah building included the front of the building being blown off, several floors seem to be missing, and you can see right through the building in the area of the 7th, 8th, and 9th floors.” Safety officials have inspected the nearby federal courthouse and found extensive damage there as well. “It appeared some small explosions were continuing, perhaps gas lines.” Garland enters the office of Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, who calls Attorney General Janet Reno with the news. Reno asks for further information as it comes in. Garland looks for television news reports but sees nothing yet. Another “Urgent” report comes over his computer, again from the US Attorney’s office for the Western District in Oklahoma, and again mixing factual details with errors. “Information was received by the district that it was a bomb,” it reads. “Information was received by the district that there was a second bomb and it was NOT detonated. The northeast side of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was blown out. The 9th floor of the building is gone. All grand jurors have been evacuated. One WDOK (Western District of Oklahoma) employee has a child in the day care center in the Federal Building. Unconfirmed reports from the district were six children in the day care center killed, although CNN is reporting that all of the children are safe. The district reported that there was a bomb threat at a church located north of Oklahoma City. In reviewing cases, the US Attorney’s office initially reported that a defendant in a methamphetamine case had apparently made threats against the government.” Garland now sees pictures from the scene on television news reports, and realizes immediately that the devastation had to have been caused by a bomb and not a gas main break or any other accidental occurrance. By this time, Garland’s office is filling with prosecutors and staffers, stunned at the scenes they are witnessing on TV. Garland meets again with Gorelick, and both meet with Reno. Their first priority is to take control of the situation, and Reno alerts the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). A third “Urgent” report comes in; Garland reads: “A Channel 4 [local Oklahoma City television station] reporter reported the Nation of Islam has claimed responsibility for the bombing.… (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After) Dahlia Lehman, the victim witness coordinator in the Western District of Oklahoma, has a daughter employed at the DEA office in the Alfred Murrah Federal Building.” Garland leaves the Justice Department and runs across the street to the FBI building. Stepping into the Strategic Information Operations Center (SIOC), he is amazed at the number of tips already pouring in about the bombing. He stays in the SIOC office for much of the day, coordinating leads and details as information arrives. FBI Director Louis Freeh is in an adjacent room; like Garland, he is collating and processing information. Reports of bomb threats swamp the offices throughout the day (see 9:22 a.m. April 19, 1995 and 10:00 a.m. and After, April 19, 1995). [Serrano, 1998, pp. 182-187]
The rear axle of the Ryder truck from the bombing (foreground), used by the FBI to identify the truck and discover the identity of the bomber. The axle was blown 575 feet and crushed the Ford Festiva depicted in the photo. [Source: Associated Press]The White House announces that the FBI will be the lead investigative agency for the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Some in federal law enforcement feel that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) is the better choice to conduct the investigation, considering that agency’s expertise with explosives, but the White House wants to avoid the infighting and turf wars that ensued after the Branch Davidian raid (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) and culminated in the tragedy that claimed 78 lives (see April 19, 1993). The FBI has also been training intensively since the Davidian tragedy on handling major events such as this one. The BATF will be involved, and some internal bickering will take place. FBI supervisor Weldon Kennedy, who runs the Phoenix FBI office, is named lead agent. Kennedy supplants Robert “Bob” Ricks, the FBI’s special agent in charge of Oklahoma City. Ricks had worked on the Branch Davidian siege. FBI Director Louis Freeh names Kennedy, not Ricks, to lead the investigation because of new FBI procedures, implemented after the Davidian tragedy, that call for increased group responses to major crisis situations. Kennedy has been training other agents in the new system and has experience working with a recent series of prison riots in Atlanta. Moreover, Kennedy has no connection to Oklahoma City and therefore does not know any of the victims or the law enforcement officials involved. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 184, 191-192] Some 350 agents and specialists, many of whom have friends and co-workers in the Murrah Building, are assigned to the investigative task force. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 33] In the following days, the FBI will perform intensive searches of the site of the bombing and of the surrounding area, marking off the areas in small grids and questioning everyone available. Gas stations and truck stops on highways leading in and out of Oklahoma City will be searched, and their employees questioned. A hundred and twenty-nine dump truck loads of debris will be carted to a sifting site at the county sheriff’s gun range 10 miles away, and the debris examined and sorted. In all, 1,035 tons of debris will be examined, much of it by hand. Telephone leads are followed up. The Justice Department’s Merrick Garland will spend the next three months leading the investigation until a group of US Attorneys named by Attorney General Janet Reno takes over. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 221]
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
Joseph H. Hartzler. [Source: Associated Press]The US Justice Department names Joseph H. Hartzler, an Assistant US Attorney in Springfield, Illinois, to lead its prosecution of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, April 21, 1995, and May 16, 1995). Attorney General Janet Reno has moved Merrick Garland, who oversaw the initial phase of the bombing investigation, back to Washington to head the Justice Department’s criminal division. She creates what becomes known as the OKBOMB task force, a trial team focusing on continued investigation and the prosecution of McVeigh and his alleged accomplice, Terry Nichols. Reno selects Hartzler from dozens of resumes submitted by government lawyers from around the country. In the 1980s, Hartzler, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and is wheelchair-bound, helped convict four Puerto Rican nationalists accused in a bombing plot, and helped prosecute a federal judge in Chicago, in what became known as the “Greylord investigation.” He has worked as the chief of both the criminal and civil divisions in Chicago, one of the country’s largest US Attorney’s offices. Arlene Joplin, an Oklahoma City prosecutor, will remain on Hartzler’s prosecution team. Justice officials say that Hartzler was chosen because of several factors, including his background in complex criminal cases, terrorist prosecutions, and his ability to work with other government lawyers already on the case. Hartzler is asked by a criminal defense attorney not involved in the case what he thinks about it. Hartzler responds: “Whoever did this should spend some time in hell. I just want to accelerate the process.” Hartzler vows to have no press conferences, and will in fact have very few, though his team does have a few media “favorites,” most notably Jeffrey Toobin, a writer for the New Yorker and a legal analyst for ABC News who once worked with two of the OKBOMB staffers and is considered a supporter of the prosecution. [New York Times, 5/22/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 249-250] Missouri criminal defense lawyer Michael B. Metnick will later say of Hartzler: “His integrity is beyond reproach. He’s a prosecutor I can turn my back on.” Hartzler will tell a reporter that he asked for the McVeigh prosecution because “I thought I could make a difference.” [New York Times, 6/2/1997]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.