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Alan Berg, a Jewish, progressive talk show host for Denver’s KOA 850 AM Radio, is gunned down in his driveway as he is stepping out of his car. The murder is carried out by members of the violent white-supremacist group The Order (see Late September 1983), a splinter group of the Aryan Nations white nationalist movement. Berg, who was described as often harsh and abrasive, regularly confronted right-wing and militia members on his show. Federal investigators learn that The Order’s “hit list” includes Berg, television producer Norman Lear, a Kansas federal judge, and Morris Dees, a civil rights lawyer and co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Radio producer Anath White later says that some of Berg’s last shows were particularly rancorous, involving confrontational exchanges with anti-Semitic members of the Christian Identity movement (see 1960s and After). “That got him on the list and got him moved up the list to be assassinated,” White will say. (McClary 12/6/2006; Flynn 5/1/2007; Denver Post 6/18/2009)
Preparing for the Murder - Order leader Robert Jay Mathews had already sent a colleague to Denver to determine if Berg was a viable target (see May 17, 1984). The four members of the assassination team—Mathews, Bruce Pierce, David Lane, and Richard Scutari—assemble at a local Motel 6 to review their plans. Pierce, the assassin, has brought a .45 caliber Ingram MAC-10 submachine gun for the job. All four men begin to surveill Berg’s townhouse.
Gunned Down - At 9:21 p.m., Berg drives his Volkswagen Beetle into his driveway. Lane, the driver, pulls up behind him. Mathews leaps out of the car and opens the rear door for Pierce, who jumps out and runs up the driveway. Berg exits his vehicle with a bag of groceries. Pierce immediately opens fire with his submachine gun, pumping either 12 or 13 bullets into Berg’s face and body before the gun jams. (Sources claim both figures of bullet wounds in Berg as accurate.) Pierce and Mathews get back into their car, rush back to the Motel 6, gather their belongings, and leave town. Three of the four members of the “hit squad” will soon be apprehended, charged, and convicted. Pierce is sentenced to 252 years in prison, including time for non-related robberies, and will die in prison in 2010; Lane is given 150 years, and will die in prison in 2007. Neither man is prosecuted for murder, as the evidence will be determined to be inconclusive; rather, they will be charged with violating Berg’s civil rights. Scutari, accused of serving as a lookout for Pierce, and Jean Craig, accused of collecting information on Berg for the murder, will both be acquitted of culpability in the case, but will be convicted of other unrelated crimes. Mathews will not be charged due to lack of evidence of his participation; months later, he will die in a confrontation with law enforcement officials (see December 8, 1984). (Flynn 5/1/2007; Denver Post 6/18/2009; Pankratz 8/17/2010) In sentencing Pierce to prison, Judge Richard Matsch will say of the murder, “The man [Berg] was killed for who he was, what he believed in, and what he said and did, and that crime strikes at the very core of the Constitution.” (Pankratz 8/17/2010)
Re-Enacting a Fictional Murder? - Some will come to believe that the assassins may have attempted to re-enact the fictional murder of a Jewish talk-show host depicted in The Turner Diaries (see 1978). (Flynn 5/1/2007; Estes 11/30/2007)
'Opening Shot ... of a Truly Revolutionary Radical Right' - Mark Potok of the SPLC will characterize Berg’s murder as an early event leading to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). “In a sense, it was one of the opening shots of a truly revolutionary radical right,” Potok will say, “perfectly willing to countenance the mass murder of American civilians for their cause.” (Denver Post 6/18/2009) Berg’s ex-wife, Judith Berg, will travel around the country in the years after her ex-husband’s murder, speaking about what she calls the “disease and anatomy of hate,” a sickness that can infect people so strongly that they commit horrible crimes. In 2007, she will tell a reporter that Berg’s murder was a watershed event that inspired more hate-movement violence. “What happened to Alan in the grown-up world has reached into the youth culture,” she will say. “It opened the door to an acceptance of violence as a means of acting on hate.… While our backs are turned toward overseas, hate groups are having a heyday. People are very unhappy; they’re out of work and jobs are scarce. They’re ripe for joining extremist groups. We need to understand what happened to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” (Flynn 5/1/2007) White later says of Pierce, Lane, and their fellows: “It’s left me to wonder what makes somebody like this. I think these people didn’t have much opportunity in their lives and scapegoat. They blame others for not making it.” (Pankratz 8/17/2010)
The Tenth Circuit of Appeals removes Oklahoma District Judge Wayne E. Alley from the Oklahoma City bombing case (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995), and assigns US District Judge Richard P. Matsch of Denver to preside over the trial. (Thomas 12/5/1995; Douglas O. Linder 2001) “We conclude that a reasonable person could not help but harbor doubts about the impartiality of Judge Alley,” the court rules. (Stickney 1996, pp. 261) Alley’s offices were damaged in the blast, as was the entire courthouse, which stands less than 1,000 feet from the Murrah Building. Alley had a staff member injured in the bombings, and at least 33 of the victims conducted business regularly in the courthouse. Some judges helped in the rescue efforts; some judges attended as many as seven funerals. An employee in the court clerk’s office lost her child in the blast, and many court employees were injured either in the blast itself or in the aftermath. Fundraising drives for the victims and their families were held in the courthouse, and a popular T-shirt being sold features a law enforcement badge and the inscription, “In Memory, April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City.” The appeals court feels Alley risks having his impartiality questioned, and notes that both prosecuting and defense attorneys have requested his removal. (Serrano 1998, pp. 254; Douglas O. Linder 2001) In his request for Alley’s removal, defense lawyer Stephen Jones told reporters: “Judge Alley has a distinguished military, professional, and judicial career. Anyone who appears before him has the highest respect for him personally and professionally. However, our belief is that a victim of a traumatic incident cannot sit as a judge in a trial where the person accused of creating the incident is on trial. No one of us would want to be judged by such an individual.” (New York Times 8/23/1995) US Attorney Patrick M. Ryan also asked that Alley step aside. In court papers, Ryan noted that there was no legal requirement that he do so, but stated that “[i]t is of paramount importance that the nation have complete confidence in the integrity of the verdict ultimately reached in this case, and that partisan detractors not be permitted—however wrongly—to raise questions about judicial fairness. There is too much at stake here to risk even an erroneous reversal, with all its attendant costs to the people of the United States, and most importantly, to the victims of this terrible crime. Failure to recuse could cause delay, uncertainty, and unwarranted focus on a matter that is collateral to the overriding issue of these defendants’ guilt or innocence.” (Labaton 9/9/1995) Alley, who unsuccessfully fought to keep the case, wrote in a court filing regarding his removal, “The judge who succeeds to this case will have to bear a dreadful burden, and I wish him or her well.” Matsch has experience in similar trials; in 1987, he presided over the civil rights trial of four members of the white supremacist group The Order, who murdered progressive radio talk show host Alan Berg (see June 18, 1984 and After). He is known as a stickler for punctuality and order in his courtroom, brooking little nonsense from lawyers on either side of the case. Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which monitors white supremacist and military groups, calls Matsch’s selection “poetic justice.” Defense lawyers for both Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols say they are comfortable with Matsch presiding over the trials of their clients. (Thomas 12/5/1995; Serrano 1998, pp. 255)
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)
Stephen Jones, the lead defense lawyer for indicted 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), asks the court to provide him with classified documents from the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, and National Security Agency. The documents concern terrorist groups in Iraq, Iran, the Sudan, Great Britain, and Germany. In a sealed document not given to the prosecution, Jones tells Judge Richard P. Matsch that he has evidence from several confidential sources that the bombing was financed and carried out by a foreign terrorist group, and he wants the documents to prove that allegation. Prosecution member Beth Wilkinson calls the defense request “speculative and over-broad.” Federal officials say they do not believe the files will help the defense exonerate either McVeigh or his co-conspirator Terry Nichols, Wilkinson says, and adds that after April 21, 1995, when McVeigh was arrested (see April 21, 1995), the intelligence agencies had no role in the criminal investigation. “It is the government’s position that the bomb cost the defendants less than $1,000 to put together,” Wilkinson says. “They didn’t need a foreign government to finance the bombing.” Wilkinson says that the prosecution has already given Jones and Nichols’s lawyers an enormous amount of documents, including videotapes, photographs, laboratory reports, telephone and hotel records, and witness statements. Wilkinson says Jones’s attempts to get classified information are “effort[s] to investigate where the government stopped its investigation” of a possible overseas connection to the bombing. If the government were to allow Jones to review all its unrelated files, she says, “we would be here for years.” Matsch says he will read the request, but gives no indication as to how he will rule. Jones has also asked for documentation of accusations made by FBI forensic specialist Frederic Whitehurst, who has said that FBI scientists have not always handled evidence properly (see January 27, 1997). A Justice Department memo indicates that one of the FBI explosive experts who handled evidence in the Oklahoma City bombing case has been criticized by Whitehurst. Wilkinson says the government will turn over all pertinent information about Whitehurst’s complaints to the defense. (Thomas 4/10/1996) Matsch will rule against the request. (Reuters 4/30/1996)
District Court Judge Richard Matsch rejects accused Oklahoma City bomb conspirator (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) Terry Nichols’s civil challenge to the death penalty being applied to his case (see May 2, 1996). (Fox News 4/13/2005)
Lawyers for accused Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, July 11-13, 1995, and August 10, 1995) ask the court to throw out evidence garnered against their client. Their reason: his wife, Marife Nichols, now claims she did not understand her legal rights at the time she let federal agents search her family’s home and car in Herington, Kansas. Investigators found a receipt for 2,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate, the fertilizer used in the bomb, bearing the fingerprints of Nichols’s co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh (see May 1, 1995), guns stolen in a robbery investigators believed was carried out to finance the bombing (see Before July 3, 1995), and other evidence. Nichols’s lawyer Michael Tigar says, “All consents obtained from Mrs. Nichols were tainted by oppression, coercion, intimidation, and duress.” Marife Nichols now says she spoke with FBI agents for about six hours once she and her husband went to the police station. She says she tried to cooperate with the agents because she wanted to end the questioning and go home. One of the agents, Eugene N. Thomeczek, “told me I had to tell the truth,” she says, and the other told her that if she answered, “Mr. Thomeczek will not ask questions again and again.” She says she could not go home, in part because her house was being searched, and later because she feared being harassed by reporters. She says she also wanted to retrieve $5,000 in currency, and nine gold and three silver coins she had hidden in the box springs of her mattress. All were kept in evidence and later returned to her. She and her daughter Nicole were taken to a hotel, and over the next 37 days they were moved from one hotel to another. During that time, she learned she was pregnant with her son Christian. “I felt confused,” she says. “I didn’t know what to do.” She says she did not realize that wives do not have to testify against their husbands and that she had the right to a lawyer. The lawyers also want to throw out Terry Nichols’s statements he made to the FBI during nine hours of questioning after he took his wife and young daughter to the Herington Public Safety Building (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995). Nichols was not adequately appraised of his rights, Tigar argues, and says that the information gleaned from Nichols during the interview was obtained through illegal coercion. All information obtained from Terry Nichols, Tigar argues, is “fruit of a poisoned tree” and must be thrown out. Nichols had agreed from the outset to speak to FBI agents without a lawyer present. (Thomas 6/29/1996; Serrano 1998, pp. 256-257) Judge Richard P. Matsch will not throw out the evidence (see August 14, 1996), saying that defense allegations of “coercion” and duplicity are false. (Thomas 8/15/1996)
Judge Richard Matsch, presiding over the upcoming trials of accused Oklahoma City bombing suspects Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995), rules that a law establishing the closed-circuit telecast of the trial is constitutional, overruling objections from defense lawyers. He later orders the telecast to be shown in a government auditorium near the Oklahoma City airport. However, in January 1997, Matsch will ban the media from covering the closed-circuit telecast. (New York Times 7/16/1996; Fox News 4/13/2005)
Judge Richard P. Matsch, presiding over the trials of the accused Oklahoma City bombers (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995), rules that statements made by Terry Nichols against co-defendant Timothy McVeigh cannot be used against McVeigh at trial. Matsch also refuses defense requests to suppress a wide array of evidence against both Nichols and McVeigh (see June 28, 1996). Prosecutor Joseph Hartzler says Matsch’s decision to retain the evidence “affirms that the federal government conducted its investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing with great care, as well as speed and skill.… The court ruled today that the government did not violate anyone’s constitutional rights, and it rejected all of the defense motions to surpress evidence. In short, every piece of evidence will be admissible.” Hartzler is not entirely accurate in his statement; Nichols’s statements against McVeigh given during Nichols’s nine-hour interrogation by FBI agents (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995) are not admissible, and the agents who interrogated Nichols cannot testify about what Nichols told them. That evidence includes Nichols’s assertion that met McVeigh in Oklahoma City on April 16, 1995, three days before the bombing, and drove McVeigh back to Kansas (see April 16-17, 1995). Nor will a jury learn that Nichols told agents he lent McVeigh his pickup truck on April 18, the day prosecutors say the two assembled the bomb (see 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). (Thomas 8/15/1996)
Prosecutors in the Oklahoma City bombing trial (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) ask Judge Richard P. Matsch to prevent defendant Timothy McVeigh from giving a series of television and newspaper interviews. McVeigh’s lawyer has scheduled an interview with a documentary crew from the BBC in October, and says his client wants to do an interview with any of a number of leading television news anchors and newspaper reporters. Jones has repeatedly attempted to “soften” his client’s image as presented in the media. Prosecutor Joseph Hartzler calls the requests “an extraordinary attempt to manipulate the news media to produce a favorable impact on the potential jury pool.” Matsch has ordered all parties involved in the case to “limit” their public comments. Jones argues that McVeigh has been “demonized” in the press, and deserves an opportunity to give a different view of himself to the world. “Mr. McVeigh, at the minimum, is entitled to be seen as a human being and to the extent that any interview or meeting halts the rush to judgment in advance of trial, the interests of justice are served,” Jones argues. As things stand, he continues, “the abuse, distortion, calumny heaped upon our client from the very front steps of the courthouse will ultimately influence the reporting and the jury unless there is some modicum of balance.” (Thomas 8/30/1996) Matsch will refuse to allow the television interviews, calling them “an inappropriate pretrial dissemination of evidence.” He says he will allow telephone interviews, but according to Jones, he and McVeigh want only face-to-face, filmed interviews that will present McVeigh’s face, voice, and personality on television broadcasts. (Thomas 10/5/1996)
Judge Richard P. Matsch, presiding over the upcoming trials of accused Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995), upholds the charges against the two men. Defense lawyers had asked that the indictments against their clients be set aside because, they argued, federal laws making it a crime to use a weapon like a truck bomb to kill people and damage US property are unconstitutional. Such laws exceed Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce, they argued, using as precedent a 1995 Supreme Court decision that invalidated the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1990, a law that would have made it a federal crime to possess a gun within 1,000 feet of of a school’s grounds. The Court found that the gun law, based on the concept of regulating interstate commerce, infringed on state and local control of schools. Matsch refuses to apply this reasoning to the Oklahoma City case; the charges McVeigh and Nichols face center on the deaths of eight federal workers in the blast. (They will face some 160 counts of murder and related charges from Oklahoma after their federal trials conclude.) Matsch rules that “the impact on interstate commerce is both obvious and substantial” if the evidence in the indictment is proved at trial. “The use of a truck bomb of sufficient explosive power to destroy an office building, killing and injuring hundreds of its occupants, has a substantial effect on interstate commerce. That effect is even more apparent and substantial when the building is owned by the national Government and houses the employees of many of its agencies. An attack on such a building and the people in it by placement of a bomb in a truck in front of it produces consequences ranging far beyond state or local interests.” It is up to the prosecution to prove a willful participation in an agreement to use a bomb in a truck as a weapon to attack the federal building and the people in it. (Thomas 9/10/1996)
Judge Richard P. Matsch, presiding over the upcoming trials of accused Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995), refuses to allow prosecutors to use the results of a bomb test using a device similar to the one McVeigh is accused of using to destroy the Murrah Federal Building and kill 168 people. Prosecutors signed a written agreement with the defense in September 1995 assuring defense counsel that they would receive written notice of tests of explosive devices containing ammonium nitrate. In June 1996, the British government conducted a test explosion of a 5,000-pound ammonium nitrate bomb in Soccoro, New Mexico. FBI agents had free access to the site, but experts for the defense were kept more than a mile away, “so far it took eight seconds for the sound of the blast to get there,” according to a complaint from Nichols’s legal team. “That is not meaningful observation.” Prosecutors say the test bombing was not intended to be a replica of the Oklahoma City blast, and that lawyers for the defense had been provided with photographs, videotapes, and all data from the tests, in which the impact of the bomb on vehicles, street signs, and other items was tested. However, Matsch says that is not enough. “I’m going to enforce the agreement,” he rules. The defense was not given equal access, so prosecution experts cannot use the test results at trial. (Thomas 10/5/1996)
Judge Richard Matsch orders separate trials for accused Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995), in a ruling considered a victory for the defense. McVeigh will be tried first. Both defendants’ lawyers argued that to try the two men together would irreparably harm their right to receive fair trials. McVeigh’s lawyers, Stephen Jones and Robert Nigh Jr., wrote in a filing, “The government envisions a trial in which the actions and statements of Terry Nichols become indistinguishable from the actions of Timothy McVeigh.” And Nichols’s lead lawyer Michael Tigar argued that Nichols “stands in serious risk of being found guilty by ‘mass application’ if he was tried jointly with Mr. McVeigh.” Matsch rules that McVeigh could be harmed by introduction of statements made by Nichols implicating him in the bombing, and the defense’s inability to cross-examine Nichols if Nichols were to exercise his right to avoid self-incrimination. “The court cannot save a joint trial by sacrificing the interests of one defendant to protect the other,” Matsch rules. “Timothy McVeigh will be profoundly prejudiced by a joint trial in this case. His lawyers cannot question Terry Nichols or cross-examine the FBI agents on what they say Terry Nichols said. In short, Timothy McVeigh may be caught in cross-fire.” Tigar says after the ruling, “A separate trial will force the government to prove its case against Mr. Nichols, rather than merely rely on guilt by association and spillover prejudice from the case against Mr. McVeigh.” (Thomas 9/8/1996; Thomas 10/26/1996; Douglas O. Linder 2001) Prosecutor Sean Connelly, presenting the government’s desire for a single joint trial, has told Matsch: “The proof will be unified: McVeigh and Nichols, Nichols and McVeigh, every step of the way.” (Thomas 10/4/1996) Joseph Hartzler leads the team of attorneys prosecuting McVeigh (see May 22, 1995). (Ottley 2/2009)
Defense lawyers in the Oklahoma City bombing case (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) accuse prosecutors of misconduct in their handling of witness Thomas Manning, a Firestone tire store manager in Junction City, Kansas, who sold a car to accused bomber Timothy McVeigh days before the bombing (see April 13, 1995). Newly unsealed court documents reveal that Manning’s testimony has been a point of contention since November 1996. Manning has heart problems that might preclude his journeying to Denver to testify in McVeigh’s trial. A deposition was videotaped in Topeka on November 7. Manning had been interviewed eight times by government investigators and three times by defense investigators. His story remained essentially consistent regarding McVeigh’s arrival at his store at 9 a.m. with white smoke billowing from his Pontiac station wagon (see January 1 - January 8, 1995) and $300 in his pocket. But in the deposition, Manning added a detail: McVeigh left the store for 10 to 15 minutes and then returned. This absence could have given him time to make telephone calls that could connect him to the bombing, which killed 168 people. McVeigh’s lawyers say in a filing unsealed today: “If Timothy McVeigh had stayed at the Firestone dealership, as each of Mr. Manning’s previous statements suggest, he could not have placed the telephone calls that the government alleges were in furtherance of the conspiracy. This indicates that someone else placed the calls and that someone else committed the overt acts alleged in the indictment.” The defense is referring to calls found on McVeigh’s telephone credit card, issued under an alias, Darryl (or Daryl or Darrell) Bridges (see August 1994). The credit card record shows that someone made a 54-second call from the J & K Bus Depot, a block from the Firestone tire dealership, to co-conspirator Terry Nichols’s Herington, Kansas, home at 9:51 a.m. Two minutes later, a caller using the same credit card from the same telephone called the Ryder rental office in Junction City and talked for 7 minutes and 36 seconds. Prosecutors believe that during the second telephone call, McVeigh rented the Ryder truck used to deliver the bomb (see April 15, 1995). Defense lawyers now say that prosecutors concocted the detail about McVeigh leaving the Firestone store and returning. Michael Tigar, the lawyer for Nichols, says: “The government has a room at the Marriott Hotel in which witnesses are transmogrified. I wish I had a room where I could do that to people.” Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler says Manning never mentioned McVeigh’s departure to defense lawyers because they had never asked him about it. In papers filed by the prosecution, the defense is accused of not asking Manning about McVeigh’s departure because it was hoping Manning would not mention it. The defense’s decision to avoid the question, the prosecutors say, does not require government lawyers to disclose that they had asked the question in at least one of their interviews and had received an answer that tended to incriminate McVeigh. Other papers unsealed today reveal that defense lawyers have accused prosecutors of obstructing the defense’s investigation, and of destroying exculpatory evidence surrounding the still-unidentified “John Doe No. 2,” a person some suspect of being McVeigh’s accomplice on the day of the bombing (see April 20, 1995). Prosecutors have said they doubt “John Doe No. 2” has any connection to the bombing. The prosecution interviewed David Shafer, an Indiana seed company salesman, about Nichols and his brother James (see May 22, 1995), and decided not to use his testimony. Defense lawyers say Shafer “has been directed by the FBI to destroy notes concerning his recollection of these events.” (Thomas 1/4/1997) Judge Richard P. Matsch refuses to bar the testimony of any witnesses challenged by the defense, and says there is no evidence that the FBI destroyed information or attempted to influence anyone’s recollections or testimonies. (Thomas 2/21/1997)
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). (Thomas 1/13/1997) Judge Richard P. Matsch refuses to bar the witnesses’ testimonies. (Thomas 2/21/1997)
According to reports by the Dallas Morning News, indicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) has confessed to planning the bombing and detonating a bomb in front of the Murrah Federal Building. (Douglas O. Linder 2001; Indianapolis Star 2003) Reporter Pete Slover cites as his source “summaries of several 1995 interviews with a defense team member” (Brooke 3/1/1997) , though he later admits in a court filing that he could not be sure the story was true before filing it. (Serrano 1998, pp. 271) Researchers will later learn that McVeigh suspects his lead attorney Stephen Jones of leaking his purported confession to the press. The leak is later shown to be from a member of Jones’s staff, who gave a computer disk containing FBI reports to Slover, apparently unaware that the McVeigh “confession” was also on the disk. (Douglas O. Linder 2006) However, this reported speculation is countered by an opinion advanced in 1998 by author Richard A. Serrano, who will write that the defense’s work to humanize McVeigh and “soften” his image (see June 26, 1995) “was blown apart” by the leaked information. (Serrano 1998, pp. 271) The Morning News prints the article on its Web site seven hours before its next print edition can be published, and later cites a desire to match the immediacy of television and to ensure its exclusive isn’t “scooped” by a competitor. Editors worried before publication that McVeigh’s lawyers might leak the story in one fashion or another to another media outlet. (Myerson 3/3/1997)
Details of Bombing Plot, Involvement by Co-Conspirator Nichols, Denials of Wider Conspiracy - According to documents obtained by the Morning News, McVeigh’s defense lawyers wrote that McVeigh told one of them that his bombing of the Murrah Federal Building during working hours would leave a “body count” that would make a statement to the federal government. McVeigh also named his friend, alleged co-conspirator Terry Nichols, as being intimately involved with the bomb plot (see August 10, 1995), but insisted he alone drove the Ryder truck containing the bomb that destroyed the Murrah Building. McVeigh also denied any involvement by Terry Nichols’s brother James Nichols (see December 22 or 23, 1988, May 11, 1995, and April 25, 1995). The Morning News describes the source of its reporting as summaries of several 1995 interviews with a member of the defense team’s staff, conducted between July and December 1995 at the El Reno Federal Corrections Center in Oklahoma, where McVeigh was held before his transfer to the Denver area in March 1996. The summaries, the Morning News says, validate much of the prosecution’s contention that McVeigh and Nichols committed robberies and burglary in the course of assembling money and materials for the bombing, even as it acknowledges that they could not be used by prosecutors in either man’s trial. One summary of a July 1995 interview has a staffer asking McVeigh if it would have been better to bomb the building at night when relatively few people would have been present. According to the staffer: “Mr. McVeigh looked directly into my eyes and told me: ‘That would not have gotten the point across to the government. We needed a body count to make our point.’” According to the documents, McVeigh and Nichols used significantly more ammonium nitrate than federal investigators have estimated—some 5,400 pounds as compared to federal estimates of 4,800 pounds—and about $3,000 worth of high-powered racing fuel to make a lethal explosive combination. “Mr. McVeigh states that 108 50-pound bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizer were mixed with the nitro fuel purchased by Terry Nichols,” one summary reads. The summaries also have McVeigh admitting to his involvement in a 1994 robbery carried out by Nichols and himself to fund the bombing plot (see November 5, 1994 and Before July 3, 1995). “Mr. McVeigh stated that he laid out the plan and that Terry Nichols alone broke into [gun dealer Roger] Moore’s house and stole the weapons,” one summary reads. The summary tallies closely with recent statements by McVeigh’s friend Michael Fortier, who pled guilty to helping transport the stolen weapons and is now helping the prosecution (see May 19, 1995 and August 8, 1995). Fortier has testified that he and McVeigh sold the weapons stolen from Moore in Arizona. McVeigh also detailed a burglary committed by himself and Nichols at a Kansas rock quarry (see October 3, 1994). He also gave information about a third burglary carried out by himself and Fortier of a National Guard armory (see February - July 1994), where they attempted to steal welding tools but only made off with hand tools. According to the summaries, McVeigh denied being part of a larger conspiracy, and said the bomb plot was conceived and executed by himself and Nichols. He called a witness who claimed knowledge of a Middle Eastern or Islamist connection (see February - July 1994) a “bullsh_t artist.” He also said that another conspiracy theory centered around right-wing activist Andreas Strassmeir is groundless (see January 23, 1993 - Early 1994 and April 20, 1995). (Slover 3/1/1997; Kenworthy 3/1/1997) Initially, McVeigh’s lead defense attorney Stephen Jones calls the documents “a hoax” and denies that McVeigh made any of those statements. The Dallas Morning News is trying to garner attention and subscriptions, Jones says, and implies that the Morning News’s source is “setting up” the paper: “They just bought the Brooklyn Bridge,” he says. The Morning News has informed Jones of the identity of the source that provided it with the documents. (Kenworthy 3/1/1997) “This is about the most irresponsible form of journalism,” Jones says. He says that after McVeigh learned of the story, his client said, “There’s a practical joker every week.” (Brooke 3/1/1997)
Defense Alleges Press Stole Documents - The Morning News denies a subsequent defense allegation that Slover stole thousands of computerized documents belonging to McVeigh’s defense lawyers, documents Jones says were used in the Morning News’s reporting. Jones says the documents acknowledge McVeigh’s responsibility for the bombing, but do not constitute a confession. The Morning News, Jones says, got the documents “by fraud, deception, misrepresentation, and theft” involving the defense’s computer files. Attorney Paul Watler, speaking for the Morning News, “categorically denies it committed any crime,” and says the documents were obtained through “routine news-gathering techniques.” The Morning News “did not hack into Mr. Jones’ computer system, and it did not assist anyone else in doing so,” Watler says. Jones says the documents are not, as some reports say, notes of a defense staffer’s conversations with McVeigh; defense lawyers have previously alleged that they produced a “fake confession” designed to persuade a witness to talk to defense investigators. Jones says any such false confessions, if they exist, would not be used during McVeigh’s trial. Jones says he may ask Judge Richard Matsch to delay the trial for 90 days to allow for a “cooling-off period” and allow “people to move on.” Watler says Jones is using the allegations to cloud the trial proceedings. (Hillman 3/4/1997; New York Times 3/4/1997) Freelance journalist J.D. Cash, who writes for a far-right publication called The Jubilee and a small Oklahoma newspaper, the McCurtain Daily Gazette, denies reports that he is the source of the article. Cash says he is not “the intermediary who set up The Dallas Morning News,” but says he is familiar with the documents described in the newspaper’s accounts. The confession, Cash says, is “a mixture of fact and fantasy.”
Possible Negative Impact on Jury - Observers worry that the story may prejudice a potential jury. “It’s a worst-case scenario,” says legal studies professor Jeffrey Abramson. “At the witching hour, but before people have been isolated from pretrial publicity, you get explosive evidence, exactly the kind of thing that makes it very difficult for a defendant to think he hasn’t already been tried in the press.” Law professor Rita J. Simon says the article could make a fair trial very difficult. “The jurors will know there was some report about a confession,” she says. “I can’t imagine, no matter where you hold the trial, that the jurors will not hear about it. As soon as the trial gets under way, the story will come out afresh.” (Thomas 3/2/1997)
Second Purported Confession - Days later, a second confession from McVeigh is reported, this time published by Playboy magazine. The article containing the purported confession is written by freelance reporter Ben Fenwick, and is apparently based on an internal summary of the case compiled by the McVeigh defense team (see Early 2005). Fenwick had obtained the document in 1996, he later says, and had kept it under wraps in the hopes of eventually writing a book about the case. He quickly wrote an article based on the document and sold it to Playboy after Slover’s article hit the press. According to Fenwick’s article, McVeigh says he detonated the bomb when he was a block away from the Murrah Building, and admitted to the bombing during a lie detector test administered by his lawyers. Other details in the article contradict physical evidence already presented in open court. Jones says: “These escalating reports of alleged statements by Mr. McVeigh are corrupting the heart of the jury system. The American ideals of justice are being held hostage to sensationalism.” Fenwick is soon hired by ABC News as a legal consultant, an arrangement that allows ABC to quote extensively from the article in a special broadcast aired shortly before the trial begins. Fenwick will later admit that he did not authenticate the document before using it. The document and the article will lead the FBI to discover McVeigh’s purchase of racing fuel from an Ennis, Texas, dealer (see October 21 or 22, 1994). (New York Times 3/14/1997; Thomas 3/18/1997; Serrano 1998, pp. 271)
Stephen Jones, the lead lawyer for accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995), demands that the charges against his client be dismissed “with prejudice,” citing what Jones calls “paralyzing pretrial publicity.” Jones is specifically referring to news articles that report McVeigh has confessed to the bombing (see February 28 - March 4, 1997). As an alternative, Jones asks Judge Richard P. Matsch to delay the trial for a year and change the venue to either Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont, Puerto Rico, or the Virgin Islands. Jones says the purported confessions are fabrications, but also says that the confessions used materials whose publication breaches the attorney-client privilege. Prosecutors object to Jones’s requests, and say that a delay would offer “no guarantee that equally bizarre events would not recur as a new trial date approached.” (Thomas 3/15/1997) Matsch rejects the motion to dismiss the charges, and the motions to delay and change the venue of the trial. (Thomas 3/18/1997)
Jury selection begins in the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995). Judge Richard Matsch has denied defense attempts to delay the trial after a brief controversy erupted over media reports using defense documents (see February 28 - March 4, 1997). “I have full confidence that a fair-minded jury can and will be impaneled and that those selected will return a just verdict based on the law and evidence presented to them,” Matsch wrote on March 17. Jurors’ identities are kept hidden from the press. One potential juror, asked by US Attorney Patrick Ryan, “Did you watch a lot of the coverage?” answers: “It was unavoidable. In Oklahoma, it was wall to wall and floor to ceiling.” Another potential juror says he worries about his safety in regards to what he will learn in the course of the trial: “It would seem this case goes further, wider, and deeper in many ways. A juror is going to be an insider on information he might just as soon not know.” (Kenworthy 3/18/1997; Thomas 4/1/1997; Douglas O. Linder 2001) The pressure of this being a death-penalty trial, and the prospect of potentially confusing forensic evidence countered by the raw emotions of the bombing itself and of the conspiracy theories surrounding the proceedings, raises oft-asked questions about the competence of 12 jurors to find the truth in such a complex situation. The difference between an open-minded juror and one who is ignorant or intellectually challenged is difficult for lawyers and observers to assess. New York Times reporter Laura Mansnerus reflects on the trial of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, charged with crimes relating to the Iran-Contra scandal (see July 7-10, 1987 and May-June, 1989), in which, she writes: “When the jury was selected for the 1989 trial of Oliver North, a search went out for 12 people who knew nothing about Oliver North, which produced, well, 12 people who knew nothing about Oliver North. One person who qualified for service said she had seen him on television, but added, ‘It was just like I was focusing on the Three Stooges or something.’” That ill-informed jury proved remarkably pliable to North’s theatrics, Mansnerus writes, and many believe McVeigh’s defense team hopes for a similar jury pool that may be willing to set aside scientific evidence in favor of conspiracy theories and emotional pleas. Jury expert Jeffrey Abramson of Brandeis University tells Mansnerus: “In a case that’s heavy on scientific, forensic evidence, the defense is going to favor people who are less sophisticated about scientific matters and who are prone to conspiracy theories. That’s the classic defense approach.” Philadelphia prosecutor Jack McMahon warned in a well-known 1986 instructional video of the pitfalls that can result in letting “smart people” on the jury, saying: “Smart people will analyze the hell out of your case. They have a higher standard. They take those words ‘reasonable doubt’ and they actually try to think about them. You don’t want those people.” Moreover, people with jobs requiring any real level of responsibility are routinely excused from jury service; this case is no exception, leaving a pool of jurors with little or no steady employment, spotty educational status, and somtimes limited intellectual capabilities to judge McVeigh’s innocence or guilt. (Mansnerus 4/6/1997)
Opening statements are presented in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995).
Heavy Security - Security in and around the Byron Rogers Federal Building and Courthouse in Denver, where the trial is being held, is tight. Roads and sidewalks approaching the building are blocked off. Special credentials are needed to walk around certain areas inside the courthouse. Pedestrian traffic in and out of the federal office next door is constrained with a heavy police presence. Federal officers look under the hoods of cars and check beneath vehicles with mirrors on the streets surrounding the building. Concrete barriers prevent vehicles from getting too close to the building. Even the nearby manhole covers are sealed shut. (CNN 4/17/1997; Serrano 1998, pp. 274)
Jury Makeup - The jury (see March 31, 1997 and After) is composed of seven men and five women; their identities and personal information have been shielded so they can avoid being sequestered. Six alternate jurors—three men and three women—are also available. The jurors include a retired teacher, a registered nurse, an auto mechanic, a real estate manager, and a store manager who served in the Air Force. Several are military veterans. One said during jury selection that he hopes the trial will not turn McVeigh into another victim: “I believe there have been enough victims. We don’t need another one.” James Osgood, the jury foreman and store manager, believes in mandatory gun ownership. (Like the other members of the jury, Osgood’s identity will not be revealed until after the trial is concluded.) Several expressed their doubts and worry about being able to impose the death penalty if McVeigh is convicted. Some 100 potential jurors were screened to create this jury of 12 members and six alternates. As the trial commences, McVeigh greets the jury by saying, “Good morning.” He will not speak to them again during the trial. Judge Richard P. Matsch begins by saying: “We start the trial, as we are today, with no evidence against Timothy McVeigh. The presumption of innocence applies.” (Washington Post 4/23/1997; Thomas 4/23/1997; Serrano 1998, pp. 275; Douglas O. Linder 2001)
Prosecution: McVeigh a Cold, Calculating Terrorist - Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler begins with an emotional evocation of the bombing and the story of one of the victims, Tevin Garrett, a 16-month-old child who cried when his mother Helena Garrett left him at the Murrah Building’s day care center. The mothers could wave at their children through the day care’s glass windows, Hartzler says. “It was almost as if you could reach up and touch the children. None of those parents ever touched their children again while they were alive.” He says of Tevin Garrett’s mother, “She remembers this morning [the morning of the bombing] because it was the last morning of [Tevin’s] life” (see 9:02 a.m. - 10:35 a.m. April 19, 1995). Hartzler wastes little time in slamming McVeigh as a “twisted,” calculating terrorist who murdered 168 people in the hope of starting a mass uprising against the US government. McVeigh, Hartzler says, “chose to take their innocent lives to serve his own twisted purposes.… In plain and simple terms, it was an act of terror and violence, intended to serve a selfish political purpose. The man who committed this act is sitting in this courtroom behind me. He is the one who committed those murders.” Hartzler says that McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City to avenge the federal assault on the Branch Davidian religious compound outside Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993, April 19, 1993 and After, and April 24, 1995). “Across the street, the Ryder truck was there to resolve a grievance,” Hartzler says. “The truck was there to impose the will of Timothy McVeigh on the rest of America and to do so by premeditated violence and terror, by murdering innocent men, women, and children, in hopes of seeing blood flow in the streets of America.” He notes that McVeigh carried an excerpt from the violently racist novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978) that depicts the bombing of FBI headquarters in Washington. Hartzler reads the following line from the excerpt: “The real value of our attack lies in the psychological impact, not in the immediate casualties.” Hartzler also notes the T-shirt McVeigh wore when he was arrested, a shirt that Hartzler says “broadcast his intentions.” On the front was a likeness of Abraham Lincoln and on the back a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Drops of scarlet blood dripped from a picture of a tree. Investigators found traces of residue on McVeigh’s shirt, in his pants pockets, and on a set of earplugs found in his pocket (see Early May 1995 and After). Hartzler reads from a document McVeigh had written on a computer belonging to his sister, Jennifer (see November 1994). In a letter addressed to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, McVeigh wrote: “All you tyrannical [expletive], you’ll swing in the wind one day for your treasonous attacks against the Constitution of the United States.… Die, you spineless, cowardice [sic] b_stards” (see May 5-6, 1997). Hartzler says the trial has nothing to do with McVeigh’s beliefs or his freedoms of expression: “We aren’t prosecuting him because we don’t like his thoughts. We’re prosecuting him because his hatred boiled into violence.” Of the innocent victims, Hartzler tells the jury that McVeigh “compared them to the storm troopers in [the popular science fiction movie] Star Wars (see October 21 or 22, 1994). Even if they are innocent, they work for an evil system and have to be killed.” Hartzler moves to preempt expected defense attacks on the prosecution’s star witness, Michael Fortier (see After May 6, 1995, May 19, 1995 and August 8, 1995), on reports that evidence was mishandled by an FBI crime lab (see January 27, 1997), and the failure to identify or apprehend the now-infamous “John Doe No. 2” (see June 14, 1995). Hartzler concludes: “Timothy McVeigh liked to consider himself a patriot, as someone who could start a second American revolution. Ladies and gentlemen, statements from our forefathers can never be twisted to justify warfare against women and children. Our forefathers didn’t fight British women and children. They fought other soldiers, they fought them face to face, hand to hand. They didn’t plant bombs and then run away wearing earplugs” (see Early May 1995 and After) Hartzler returns to the prosecutors’ table; Matsch calls a brief recess.
Defense: McVeigh Innocent, Framed by Lies - McVeigh’s attorney, Stephen Jones, tells the jury that McVeigh is innocent, and says that McVeigh’s views fall within the “political and social mainstream.” Like Hartzler, he begins with the story of a mother who lost one of her two children in the bombing, saying that the mother saw someone other than McVeigh outside the Murrah Building before the bomb went off. “I have waited two years for this moment,” Jones says, and says he will prove that other people, not McVeigh, committed the bombing. Jones sketches McVeigh’s biography, focusing on his exemplary military service and the bitter disappointment he suffered in not being accepted in the Army’s Special Forces (see January - March 1991 and After). It was after he left the Army, Jones says, that McVeigh began to steep himself in political ideology. But far from being an extremist, Jones says, McVeigh began to study the Constitution. The shirt he wore when he was arrested bore the motto “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” but that is not merely a revolutionary slogan, Jones notes: it is the motto of the State of Virginia. McVeigh was “extremely upset” over what he viewed as government abuses of individual liberty, Jones admits, but says it was no different from how “millions of people fear and distrust the government.” McVeigh’s statement that “something big was going to happen” (see Mid-December 1994, March 25, 1995 and After, and April 15, 1995) had nothing to do with the bombing, Jones says, but was merely a reflection of the increasing anxiety and concern he was seeing among his friends and fellow political activists, all of whom believed “that the federal government was about to initiate another Waco raid, except this time on a different scale” (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). “[B]eing outraged is no more an excuse for blowing up a federal building than being against the government means that you did it.” Jones spends much of his time attacking Fortier’s credibility as well as the consistency of other prosecution witnesses, saying that they will give “tailored testimony” crafted by the government to bolster its case, and focuses on the reports of crime lab mishandling of key evidence (see April 16, 1997): “The individuals responsible for the evidence… contaminated it… manipulated it, and then they engaged in forensic prostitution,” he says. After the case is done, Jones says, the jury will see that the evidence shows, “not just reasonable doubt, but that my client is innocent.” He closes by reminding the jury, “Every pancake has two sides.” (Romano and Kenworthy 4/25/1997; Thomas 4/25/1997; Serrano 1998, pp. 275-280; Douglas O. Linder 2006)
The emotional testimony of a survivor of the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) brings a prosecution lawyer to tears in the trial of accused bomber Timothy McVeigh. The testimony takes place after a morning of tedious legal jousting over telephone records and arguments over McVeigh’s telephone card (see August 1994). Retired Army Captain Lawrence Martin, who worked in the Army recruiting station in the Murrah Federal Building on the day of the blast, tells of the seven colleagues who died that day. Martin’s testimony is handled by US Attorney Patrick M. Ryan, who begins to well tears as he elicits Martin’s testimony about Sergeant Bill Titsworth from Fort Riley, who brought his wife and two young daughters to the recruiting station. Titsworth was slated to join Martin and his colleagues in working at the station, and wanted to show his family around his new workplace. Martin says he survived being blown through the wall of his office, though his injuries were so severe that he was forced to retire from service. Ryan asks about Titsworth’s youngest daughter, three-year-old Kayla. “She died that morning on the floor?” he asks. Martin replies, “Yes, sir.” By this point, Ryan is openly weeping; others at the prosecutors’ table are shedding tears, as are some reporters and jurors. In the back of the courtroom, victims and family members are openly crying. According to author Richard A. Serrano, “McVeigh did not flinch.” Ryan concludes his questioning, and says to Judge Richard P. Matsch, “I’m sorry, your honor.” Then he walks back to the prosecutors’ table and buries his head in his hands. (Associated Press 5/8/1997; Serrano 1998, pp. 281-283)
FBI forensic expert Steven G. Burmeister and chemist Ronald L. Kelly testify in the trial of Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, August 10, 1995, and April 24, 1997) that the FBI crime lab found residues of explosives on McVeigh’s shirt and jeans, clothing that McVeigh was wearing when he was arrested less than 90 minutes after allegedly detonating a bomb in front of an Oklahoma City federal building (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995). However, Burmeister says his experts found no such residues in the car McVeigh was driving when he was arrested. Nor did they find any such residues in a Kansas storage locker that prosecutors say McVeigh and co-conspirator Terry Nichols used to store bomb supplies (see September 22, 1994, October 4 - Late October, 1994, October 17, 1994, and November 7, 1994). Prosecutors use Burmeister’s testimony to establish the exact composition of the bomb. Lab experts found residue of three substances on earplugs McVeigh was carrying when he was arrested (see Early May 1995 and After): nitroglycerine; PETN, a crystalline substance found in detonation cord; and EGDN, which is added to dynamite. PETN was also found on the white T-shirt and long-sleeved undershirt McVeigh was wearing when he was stopped by a state trooper, and PETN and nitroglycerine were found in the right pocket of McVeigh’s jeans. McVeigh’s lawyers cross-examine the two about a search they performed in the aftermath of the bombing; the two experts found and bagged items, including two fragments of the Ryder rental truck that prosecutors say carried the bomb (see April 15, 1995). One was a red-and-yellow piece of the truck body, which Burmeister later determined contained crystals of the explosive ammonium nitrate. Prosecutors say the bomb was composed of ammonium nitrate, a substance often used as fertilizer but which can become a powerful explosive when mixed with fuel oil or racing fuel. Burmeister testifies that such a bomb would require a detonator and an explosive such as dynamite to boost the explosion. Kelly admits to picking up and bagging several items, including a truck part, before an FBI photographer could take pictures of them; Kelly says he replaced the items, let the photographer take pictures, and rebagged them. Defense lawyer Christopher L. Tritico indirectly accuses Kelly of planting evidence. “You didn’t find it in the parking lot, yourself, isn’t that right?” Tritico asks, to which Kelly replies, “That is absolutely incorrect.” Defense lawyers hammer away at the two over reports that the FBI crime lab had been criticized by a Justice Department report on its use of substandard procedures (see April 16, 1997), but Burmeister emphasizes that he, Kelly, and the other technicians were extremely careful about their evidence retrieval and testing. McVeigh’s lawyers elicit an admission from Burmeister that no PETN or EGDN was found at the scene of the bombing. Burmeister also admits that the crime lab’s handling of the bombing evidence could have been better, citing the practice of using paper bags to transport McVeigh’s clothing from the Perry jail to the FBI lab. Judge Richard P. Matsch limits the scope of the defense’s attack on the lab’s evidence handling, and repeatedly refuses to allow the jury to hear criticisms of the crime lab’s procedures issued by former lab employee Frederic Whitehurst (see January 27, 1997); nor does he allow the defense to introduce the Justice Department report. The last witness of the day, Linda Jones of the British Ministry of Defense’s Forensic Explosives Laboratory, testifies that “it would be fairly simple” for one person to build such a bomb as was used in Oklahoma City, challenging the defense’s theory that only a large number of conspirators and bomb experts could have built the bomb. (Thomas 5/20/1997; Thomas 5/21/1997)
The prosecution in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, August 10, 1995, and April 24, 1997) rests its case on an emotional note after having presented 137 witnesses. (Douglas O. Linder 2001) The government presented what many legal analysts call a masterful case, moving far more quickly than anticipated and using witnesses to establish a string of facts that paint a strong picture of McVeigh’s guilt. The prosecution ends on a powerfully emotional note, presenting a number of first responders and survivors. Florence Rogers, a credit union employee who worked in the Murrah Federal Building, tells the jury of the moment when she lost seven of her co-workers in the bomb blast. She recalls the bomb going off with a “torrnado-like rush.” She was thrown to the floor, she recalls, and, she says, “everything else was gone.” Mike Shannon, chief of special operations for the Oklahoma City Fire Department, uses a diagram to show the jury how the bomb took an enormous “bite” from the north face of the building, and to show where rescuers finally freed the last survivor, 15-year-old Brandy Ligons, over 12 hours after the bombing. “To climb into” the area where Ligons was trapped, Shannon testifies, “it took people lying on their stomach, taking debris, pushing it down under their belly down between their legs. The second person would lay his head on the first person’s bottom and take that debris and pass it between his legs, and they would work their way into the pile. It was just big enough for just one person to wiggle through.” Dangling over Ligons and the rescuers was a 40,000-pound slab of concrete, ready to fall and crush everyone involved. Shannon testifies as to the difficulties of rescuing victims and removing the dead from a building whose front had pancaked into a heap of rubble. The effect was “like squeezing grapes,” he says. “Body fluids were dripping through, and it would just drip onto your gear as you were crawling through, onto your helmet.” Responder Alan Prokop tells jurors of the hand that rose from the rubble of the devastated building and grasped his, a hand belonging to a woman trapped under a huge slab of concrete. Prokop held her hand and felt her slowly die while rescuers tried vainly to free her. He recalls hearing the sound of what he thought was running water, and tells of a fellow rescuer saying, “It isn’t water, Alan, it’s blood.” Dr. Frederick B. Jordan, the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner, presents the jury with 163 death certificates for those who died in the bombing. He tells the jury how some of the victims were identified using the mangled remains of their bodies: a fingerprint from a resident alien card, a print taken from a box of Clairol hair coloring agent from a victim’s home, a scar on a little girl’s arm. The prosecution never mentions a contention by a federal grand jury that McVeigh and his co-conspirator Terry Nichols built the truck bomb at Geary Lake State Park in Kansas (see 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995); indeed, the prosecution does not attempt to prove how or where the bomb was built. The prosecution does not introduce a letter written by Nichols on November 21, 1994 that advised McVeigh to clean out two storage lockers (see November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995). After the prosecution rests, defense lawyer Stephen Jones moves for a summary acquittal, a motion rejected by Judge Richard P. Matsch. However, the judge says he may delete some portions of the indictment before giving the jury its final instructions. Those portions include references to the purchase of bomb components, the rental of some storage units, the construction of the truck bomb at the Kansas lake, and the robbery of an Arkansas gun dealer used to finance the bombing, another instance not cited by the prosecution (see November 5, 1994). “I had in mind some redaction of the indictment, or perhaps even more substantial changes, before submitting it to the jury,” Matsch says after the jury is excused for the day. “I think we’ll deal with it at the instructions conference as the most appropriate time.” (Thomas 5/22/1997; Kenworthy 5/22/1997; Eddy et al. 6/3/1997; Wilmsen and Simpson 6/14/1997; Associated Press 1/11/1998) Legal analyst Andrew Cohen will say that the prosecutors did not “bore” the jury with a morass of technical details, instead moving swiftly through technical testimony and pacing their witnesses so that each day ended with the emotional testimony of a victim or family member. Law professor Christopher Mueller says after the prosecution rests: “[T]his is a trial the way a trial ought to look.… I think the prosecution has presented a very strong, almost compelling case. The biggest payoff is in the abandonment of much of the scientific proof that would have been enormously distracting” to the jury. (Kenworthy 5/22/1997; Wilmsen and Simpson 6/14/1997)
Judge Richard P. Matsch rules that the defense in the trial of Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, August 10, 1995, and April 24, 1997) cannot call former BATF informant Carole Howe to testify (see August 1994 - March 1995). Matsch rules that Howe’s testimony is irrelevant to McVeigh’s case and could confuse or mislead the jury, according to Howe’s lawyer Clark Brewster. Brewster says that Howe was scheduled to appear this afternoon, and would discuss audio recordings and handwritten notes she had made about alleged bomb threats from the white supremacists at Elohim City, Oklahoma (see 1983, January 23, 1993 - Early 1994, April 1993, October 12, 1993 - January 1994, August 1994 - March 1995, August - September 1994, September 12, 1994 and After, September 13, 1994 and After, November 1994, December 1994, February 1995, March 1995, (April 1) - April 18, 1995, April 5, 1995, April 8, 1995, and Before 9:00 A.M. April 19, 1995). Howe was a paid informant for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for over two years, and has claimed that she warned federal authorities more than four months prior to the Oklahoma City bombing that up to 15 US cities would be bombed. However, government sources have questioned her credibility, and she is under indictment in a separate case in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for alleged bomb threats and possession of a destructive device. (CNN 5/27/1997)
The defense in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, August 10, 1995, and April 24, 1997) calls a witness who casts doubts on the FBI’s version of the events preceding the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building (see May 9, 1997). Nancy Kindle, a waitress at a Denny’s Restaurant in Junction City, Kansas, where McVeigh spent the weekend before the bombing (see April 13, 1995, April 15, 1995, 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995), testifies that on Easter Sunday, April 16, McVeigh and two other men came into her restaurant for lunch. She placed them on a waiting list, and, she recalls, had to ask how to spell “McVeigh.” She describes one of McVeigh’s companions as “scraggly looking” and short. She cannot recall what the third person looked like. She says she saw McVeigh again later that afternoon at a Junction City Texaco, and remembers speaking to him, because, she says, “he had a cute appearance to me.” McVeigh’s co-conspirator Terry Nichols has given a different version of events: according to Nichols, McVeigh called him on the afternoon of April 16 and asked him to come to Oklahoma City to pick him up because his car had broken down; during the drive back to Kansas, Nichols said that McVeigh had told him he was planning “something big” (see April 16-17, 1995). Judge Richard P. Matsch has not allowed the prosecution to introduce Nichols’s statements. The call that came to the Nichols home that afternoon came from a telephone booth a few blocks away from the Nichols’s Herington, Kansas, residence, not from Oklahoma City; prosecutors have suggested that the two men made the four-and-a-half-hour drive to Oklahoma City to drop off McVeigh’s car for a getaway after the bombing. Kindle’s version of events seems to corroborate allegations that McVeigh worked in conjunction with several other conspirators aside from Nichols (see (April 1) - April 18, 1995). (Thomas 5/24/1997)
The defense in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, August 10, 1995, and April 24, 1997) calls Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, an FBI forensic lab specialist who has become a “whistleblower” for what he has called shoddy practices at the central FBI crime lab (see January 27, 1997). Lead defense lawyer Stephen Jones uses Whitehurst’s testimony to attack the credibility of the forensics tying McVeigh to the bombing (see April 16, 1997). Whitehurst casts aspersions on one lab technician’s handling of evidence obtained from a piece of the Ryder truck destroyed in the blast; the lab technician, David Williams, never told Whitehurst that the piece from the truck was found by a civilian and therefore of questionable evidentiary value. However, Whitehurst is unable to say that any evidence from the bombing itself was contaminated or handled poorly. Judge Richard P. Matsch refuses to allow the defense to introduce the Justice Department report criticizing the FBI lab’s “poor” handling of evidence in several cases (see April 16, 1997). (University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law 5/27/1997; CNN 5/27/1997; Douglas O. Linder 2006) Former US attorney Mimi Wesson later says that “the prosecution was able to dilute quite a bit of the impact of Whitehurst’s testimony during cross-examination.” (Davidson 5/29/1997)
The defense in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) rests after having presented 25 witnesses over less than four days of testimony. (Douglas O. Linder 2001) McVeigh does not testify in his own defense. (Kenworthy and Romano 6/14/1997) Defense lawyers, led by Stephen Jones, found it difficult to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case (see May 21, 1997). Their story was that McVeigh was the unwitting victim of an overzealous federal investigation and the treachery of his friends. Today, they try to cast doubt on some of the witness testimony, with little apparent success, focusing on critical testimony by two friends of McVeigh’s, Michael and Lori Fortier (see May 19, 1995, August 8, 1995, April 29-30, 1997, After May 6, 1995, and May 12-13, 1997), calling them drug addicts who were lying in order to profit from their story and to avoid jail time. The last witness, Deborah Brown, who employed Lori Fortier at her tanning salon in Kingman, Arizona, testifies that she had bought amphetamines from the Fortiers, and tells the jury the Fortiers were so poor that “their baby was on some kind of state assistance to get formula and diapers.” Jones plays an audiotape for the jury of Michael Fortier’s telephone conversations that were wiretapped by federal agents in the weeks after the bombing, when Fortier was considered a suspect. In those recordings, Fortier boasted to his brother John that he could mislead federal agents and make a million dollars through book rights from his connection to McVeigh, saying: “I can tell a fable, I can tell stories all day long. The less I say now, the bigger the price will be later.” On another audiotape, Fortier, his voice slurred from apparent drug use, is heard telling a friend: “The less I say right now, the bigger the price later—there will be books, book rights. I’m the key, the head honcho, General Crank. I hold the key to it all.… I could pick my nose and wipe it on the judge’s desk.” Jones also plays excerpts from an interview Fortier gave CNN, where he said: “My friend Tim McVeigh is not the face of terror that is reported on the cover of Time magazine. I do not believe that Tim blew up any building in Oklahoma.” Fortier has already admitted that he lied to the press and the FBI during the early phases of the investigation. However, the defense has no alibi for McVeigh, nor does it offer an alternative theory to the prosecution’s version of events.
Prosecution's Case Not Challenged, Analysts Say - Legal analysts say Jones did little to challenge the prosecution, and note that Judge Richard Matsch prohibited Jones from presenting his theory of a foreign terrorist conspiracy behind the bombing (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After). Neither did Matsch allow Jones to put FBI laboratory technicians on the stand to explain their alleged mishandling of evidence in the case (see January 27, 1997), though Jones did present FBI lab technician Frederic Whitehurst, whose whistleblowing led to a Justice Department investigation that revealed the mishandlings (see May 27, 1997). Jones also suffered a setback when his star witness, Daina Bradley, abruptly changed the story she had told for almost two years. Bradley, a victim of the bombing who lost her two children and her mother along with her right leg, had said that she saw a “swarthy” man get out of the Ryder truck that carried the fertilizer bomb. On the witness stand, Bradley added a new detail: a second, light-complexioned man also in the truck. She was also forced to admit that she had been treated for mental illness and had a poor memory (see May 23, 1997). Legal analyst Andrew Cohen says that the jury is most likely to focus on Jones’s inability to prove McVeigh’s innocence. “The message you get as a juror,” Cohen says, “is [that] this is the worst mass murder in American history. There’s 168 dead, and you can only come up with four days of testimony? What about the alibi? If you’re going to call a guy innocent, you’d better make your case.” (Kenworthy 5/29/1997; Brooke 5/29/1997; Eddy et al. 6/3/1997; Wilmsen and Simpson 6/14/1997; Associated Press 1/11/1998) After the final presentation, law professor Mimi Wesson, a former assistant US attorney and death penalty expert, says she is “puzzled” by the defense’s “truncated” presentation. “The main thing they tried to suggest was that McVeigh was not alone. They elicited that through witnesses who testified they saw McVeigh with someone else, or that they saw someone else at places connected to the bombing. But I must say that rather puzzled me, since it is no defense for McVeigh that he acted with a confederate even if that confederate cannot be identified and has not been apprehended and cannot be prosecuted.” Wesson believes that the defense may be conceding guilt, and may be attempting to build a case for “mitigating circumstances” that would spare McVeigh the death penalty. Wesson says that the testimony of Bradley was very damaging for the defense’s case, and doubly so because Bradley was a defense witness. The lawyer who handled the defense’s attack on the forensic evidence (see May 27, 1997), Christopher Tritico, did a “skilled” job in going after the forensics, but Wesson is not convinced Tritico’s assault swayed many jurors. She calls Whitehurst a “prig, a person who has his own fastidious, rather fussy idea about how things ought to be done, who is extremely inflexible and intolerant about things being done any other way” who did not make a good impression on the jury. Jones’s final attack on the Fortiers (see April 29-30, 1997 and May 12-13, 1997) was “predictable,” Wesson says, and nothing the jury had not already heard: “The thing about the Fortiers is not so much that we believe them because they’re truthful—we know they were liars about many things—but in the end I think you believe them because their testimony about McVeigh is corroborated at almost every point by other testimony.” The “parade of victims” put on by the government was tremendously effective, Wesson says: “They did such a tremendously effective case of arousing people’s emotions during the main part of the case.” (Davidson 5/29/1997)
Defense Had 'All but Impossible' Task - In 2006, law professor Douglas O. Linder will write: “The task of the defense team was all but impossible. They could not come up with a single alibi witness. They faced the reality that McVeigh had told dozens of people of his hatred of the government, and had told a friend that he planned to take violent action on April 19. Rental agreements and a drawing of downtown Oklahoma City linked him to the blast. He carried earplugs in his car driving north from Oklahoma City 40 minutes after the explosion. How could it all be explained away?” (Douglas O. Linder 2001)
Accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) is convicted on all 11 counts of murder and conspiracy. (University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law 6/2/1997; Douglas O. Linder 2001) The jury deliberates for over 23 hours, spread over four days (including a weekend), before announcing it has a verdict. McVeigh, who enters the courtroom with a smile on his face, shows no emotion when the guilty verdicts are read aloud by US District Judge Richard Matsch; Matsch polls the 12 jurors to ensure that they are indeed unanimous in their verdict. McVeigh is convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of eight law enforcement agents who died in the blast, one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, one count of using a weapon of mass destruction, and one count of destruction of a federal building. McVeigh awaits a trial in Oklahoma, where he will face 160 counts of murdering the civilians who died in the bombing; Oklahoma City district attorney Bob Macy says he will file state charges that will bring both McVeigh and fellow conspirator Terry Nichols to court to face the death penalty. Many family members break down in tears as the verdicts are read; one woman shouts, “We got him!” Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler accepts an ovation from the gallery, and later says: “We’re obviously very pleased with the verdict. We always had confidence in our evidence. Now maybe everyone else will have confidence in our evidence.” Defense attorney Stephen Jones says he will prepare his client for the sentencing phase, where many feel McVeigh will be sentenced to death (see June 11-13, 1997). (Both sets of attorneys are under a judicial gag order preventing them from discussing the details of the case.) Jannie Coverdale, who lost her grandchildren in the blast, says she has mixed emotions: “This is bittersweet. After all, this is a young man who has wasted his life. I’m glad they found him guilty, but I’m sad for him, too. I feel sorry for him. He had so much to offer his country.… I want him to get the death penalty, but not out of revenge. It’s necessary. I haven’t seen any remorse from Timothy McVeigh. If he ever walked the streets, he would murder again. I don’t want to see that.” Asked if the verdict will bring her closure, she says: “I don’t think there will ever be closure. Too many people are missing.” Sharon Ice, whose brother Paul Douglas Ice was one of the federal agents killed in the bombing, calls McVeigh a “monster.” Former judge Durant Davidson says he supports the verdict: “I don’t have any question about that. There was a time before the trial started that I didn’t know. [But] after having followed it, there would not have been any question in my mind.” In Washington, President Clinton refuses to comment directly on the verdict, citing the judge’s gag order, but says: “This is a very important and long overdue day for the survivors and families of those who died in Oklahoma City.… I say to the families of the victims, no single verdict can bring an end to your anguish. But your courage has been an inspiration to all Americans. Our prayers are with you.” (Eddy et al. 6/3/1997; Thomas 6/3/1997; Romano and Kenworthy 6/3/1997; Associated Press 1/11/1998) McVeigh’s father William and his sister Jennifer release a statement from their Pendleton, New York, home that reads in part: “Even though the jury has found Tim guilty, we still love him very much and intend to stand by him no matter what happens. We would like to ask everyone to pray for Tim in this difficult time.” (Romano and Kenworthy 6/3/1997) Later, a juror says he and his fellows grew more convinced of McVeigh’s guilt with each day that the trial continued. “There is no justification for that kind of action,” juror Tony Stedman will say. (Associated Press 1/11/1998) As the prosecution leaves the courthouse, a weeping woman pushes her way towards lead attorney Joseph Hartzler, throws her arms around him, and says, “Dear God, thank you for what you have done.” (Serrano 1998, pp. 292)
The jury in the trial of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997) unanimously decides that McVeigh should be sentenced to death by lethal injection. The verdict is written in heavy black ink by jury foreman James Osgood, a single word: “Death.”
Statements by Prosecution and Defense - The prosecution puts an array of survivors and family members of the victims on the stand to tell their harrowing stories, and shows videotapes of some of the surviving children battling grave injuries in the months after the bombing. The defense counters with testimonials from some of McVeigh’s former Army friends (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990 and January - March 1991 and After), and a presentation by McVeigh’s divorced parents, Bill McVeigh and Mildred Frazer; the father introduces a 15-minute videotape of McVeigh as a child and concludes simply, “I love Tim.” The defense emphasizes McVeigh’s far-right political views, insisting that his misguided belief that the government intended to impose tyranny on its citizens was fueled by the Ruby Ridge (see August 31, 1992 and August 21-31, 1992) and Branch Davidian (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After) incidents, and drove McVeigh to mount his own strike against a government facility. However, defense lawyer Richard Burr tells the jury, “He is just like any of us.” The defense brings in soldiers who served with McVeigh in the Army to testify about McVeigh’s exemplary service, but their statements are quickly neutralized when prosecutors remind them that they are all taught as their first rule of duty “never to kill noncombatants, including women and children.” Another damning moment comes when prosecutor Beth Wilkinson elicits testimony that shows McVeigh killed more people in the bombing than US forces lost during Desert Storm—168 to 137. Jones pleads for a life sentence without parole. At no time do defense lawyers say that McVeigh feels any remorse towards the lives he took.
Unanimous Verdict - The jury takes about 11 hours over two days to reach its verdict. The jury unanimously finds that at least seven “aggravating circumstances” were associated with McVeigh’s crimes, including his intention to kill, his premeditation and planning, that he created a grave risk to others with reckless disregard for their lives, that he committed offenses against federal law enforcement officials, and that he created severe losses for the victims’ families. They are split in consideration of “mitigating factors” proposed by the defense. Only two find McVeigh to be a “reliable and dependable person”; only four say he had “done good deeds and helped others” during his life; none see him as a “good and loyal friend”; and none agree with the proposition that he “believed deeply in the ideals upon which the United States was founded.” Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler says: “This is not a day of great joy for the prosecution team. We’re pleased that the system worked and justice prevailed. But the verdict doesn’t diminish the great sadness that occurred in Oklahoma City two years ago. Our only hope is that the verdict will go some way toward preventing such a terrible, drastic crime from ever occurring again.” Juror Tonya Stedman says that the jury wrestled with the idea of taking McVeigh’s life for his crimes: “It was difficult because we’re talking about a life. Yes, 168 died as a result of it, but this is another life to consider. This was a big decision. I feel confident in the decision we made.” Most relatives of the bombing victims echo the sentiments expressed by Charles Tomlin, who lost a son in the explosion: “I could see the strain on them [the jurors]. You know it was a hard decision to make to put a man to death, but I’m glad they did.” However, some agree with James Kreymborg, who lost his wife and daughter in the blast. Kreymborg says he “really did not want the death penalty” because “I’ve had enough death.” Mike Lenz, whose pregnant wife died in the blast, says: “It’s not going to bring back my wife and lessen my loss. My reason for believing or wanting to put McVeigh to death is it stops. It stops here. He can’t reach out and try to recruit anybody else to his cause.” Marsha Kight, who lost her daughter in the explosion, says she would have preferred a life sentence in prison: “There is a lot of pain in living—death is pretty easy.” Lead defense attorney Stephen Jones acknowledges respect for the jury’s decision, and adds: “We ask that the barriers and intolerance that have divided us may crumble and suspicions disappear and hatred cease. And our divisions and intolerance being healed, we may live together in justice and peace. God save the United States of America. God save this honorable court.” President Clinton had publicly called for the death sentence after the bombing (see April 23, 1995), but avoids directly commenting on the jury’s decision, citing the impending trial of fellow bombing suspect Terry Nichols (see November 3, 1997). Instead, Clinton says: “This investigation and trial have confirmed our country’s faith in its justice system. To the victims and their families, I know that your healing can be measured only one day at a time. The prayers and support of your fellow Americans will be with you every one of those days.” McVeigh faces 160 murder charges under Oklahoma state law. (Dedman 6/4/1997; Wilmsen and Simpson 6/14/1997; Kenworthy and Romano 6/14/1997; Serrano 1998, pp. 297-300, 308, 313-315; Douglas O. Linder 2001; Douglas O. Linder 2006; Douglas O. Linder 2006) McVeigh shows no emotion when the sentence is read. When he is escorted out of the courtroom, he flashes a peace sign to the jury, then turns to his parents and sister in the front row, and mouths, “It’s okay.” (Serrano 1998, pp. 315)
McVeigh Will Be Incarcerated in Colorado 'Supermax' Facility - McVeigh will be held in the same “supermax” federal facility in Florence, Colorado, that houses Theodore Kaczynski, the “Unabomber” (see April 3, 1996), and convicted World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef (see February 26, 1993 and February 7, 1995). In a letter to the authors of McVeigh’s authorized biography, American Terrorist, Kaczynski will later say he “like[s]” McVeigh, describing him as “an adventurer by nature” who, at the same time, is “very intelligent” and expressed ideas that “seemed rational and sensible.” (Douglas O. Linder 2006) A person who later speaks to McVeigh in prison will call him “the scariest man in the world” because he is so quiet and nondescript. “There’s nothing alarming about him—nothing,” the person will say. “He’s respectful of his elders, he’s polite. When he expresses political views, for most of what he says, Rush Limbaugh is scarier. That’s what’s incredibly frightening. If he is what he appears to be, there must be other people out there like him. You look at him and you think: This isn’t the end of something; this is the beginning of something.” (Nicole Nichols 2003) McVeigh is one of only 13 people to be sentenced to death under federal law. It has been 34 years since any prisoner sentenced to death under federal law was executed. (Dedman 6/4/1997) He will speak briefly and obscurely on his own behalf when Judge Richard Matsch formally sentences him to death (see August 14, 1997).
Lawyers for convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) ask Judge Richard P. Matsch for a new trial. They cite a number of reasons for the request, including what they call juror misconduct. Lead lawyer Stephen Jones says that jurors violated an order by Matsch not to discuss the case among themselves before they began their deliberations, referring to a conversation held on May 9 in which one juror allegedly said during a break, “I think we all know what the verdict should be.” Matsch was made aware of the conversation and decided it warranted no action. However, Jones says the conversation proves that McVeigh did not have “an impartial jury.” Jones also says McVeigh was denied a fair trial by Matsch’s ruling that the defense could not introduce into evidence a Justice Department report that criticized practices at the FBI crime laboratory (see January 27, 1997 and April 16, 1997). Jones also attacks Matsch’s refusal to allow the testimony of federal informant Carole Howe (see May 23, 1997), which might have led the jury to conclude that “the government failed to investigate leads which concerned a larger conspiracy to bomb the Federal Building in Oklahoma.” Matsch ruled that Howe’s testimony would have been irrelevant to the charges against McVeigh. “Had the defense been allowed to admit Howe’s testimony and present evidence that others may have committed the bombing,” Jones argues, “the seeds of reasonable doubt would have been planted in the minds of the jurors.” (New York Times 7/8/1997) Prosecutors will oppose the request, calling the trial “scrupulously fair” and “close to perfect” in its handling. (Thomas 7/25/1997) Matsch will deny the request (see August 12, 1997).
Federal Judge Richard P. Matsch refuses to grant convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s request for a new trial (see July 7-25, 1997). Matsch says McVeigh’s trial was fair and impartial. McVeigh’s lawyer, Stephen Jones, says he will appeal Matsch’s ruling. (New York Times 8/12/1997)
The lawyer for alleged Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995), Michael Tigar, asks that his client be granted a change of venue for his upcoming trial. Tigar argues that Nichols cannot receive a fair trial in Denver due to bomber Timothy McVeigh’s recent conviction and sentencing in that city (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997). “Media coverage has now made it impossible for a jury in this district to make, if called upon, the reasoned moral response required by the cases,” Tigar argues in his brief. Tigar’s brief is accompanied by three bound documents filled with media coverage research. Prosecutors argue that Nichols can receive a fair trial: prosecutor Sean Connelly responds, “There is no reason to believe that Colorado jurors now lack the same ability fairly to decide Nichols’s guilt and punishment that was exhibited in the trial of his co-defendant McVeigh.” Tigar asks that the trial be moved to San Francisco; prosecutors say that Tigar wants the trial moved to a venue where the jury would be less likely to consider the death penalty if Nichols is convicted. Tigar’s arguments are much the same as those advanced by him and McVeigh’s legal team when McVeigh’s trial was moved from Oklahoma City to Denver (see February 20, 1996). “This community has come to share the characteristics identified by this court in its Feb. 20, 1996, opinion,” Tigar writes. (New York Times 8/13/1997; Thomas 8/14/1997) Judge Richard P. Matsch will deny the request four days later. (Thomas 8/16/1997)
Judge Richard P. Matsch denies a bid by lawyers for accused Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) to disqualify US Attorney Patrick M. Ryan from serving in the trial. Ryan, the US Attorney from Oklahoma City, might cry during Nichols’s trial, Nichols’s lawyers argue, as he did during the trial of Nichols’s alleged co-conspirator, Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997), and thus unduly influence the jury. Ryan wept during his questioning of a witness who was testifying about the death of a little girl in the bombing (see May 3, 1997). Ryan says of the questioning: “I recognize my voice quivered. I stopped for about 10 seconds to try to regain control.” Matsch asks Ryan, “Do you believe you can participate in the trial of Terry Nichols with the necessary detachment required of a trial advocate?” Ryan says that he can, and pledges “proper decorum” during the trial; Matsch then denies the request. Matsch does grant a defense request to hold a hearing about what use the FBI made of correspondence it had seized belonging to Nichols. Defense attorney Michael Tigar presents testimony that shows officials of the Bureau of Prisons made copies of Nichols’s correspondence with his son, Josh, his wife, Marife, his mother, and some close friends in Michigan. Tigar says he protested the handing over of that correspondence to the FBI. Prosecutor James Orenstein tells Matsch that prison officials had the authority to give copies of the correspondence to the FBI, but admits the correspondence gave them nothing useful. Matsch rules: “We’re entitled to find that out. We’re going to hold a hearing and find out what was done with the mail.” (Thomas 8/14/1997)
Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997), facing execution for his crimes (see June 11-13, 1997), is officially sentenced to death by Judge Richard P. Matsch. The hearing is a formality, as a jury sentenced McVeigh to death the day before; the entire proceeding takes nine minutes. Before Matsch pronounces sentence, he allows McVeigh to speak on his own behalf. McVeigh does so—briefly and cryptically. McVeigh says: “If the court please, I wish to use the words of Justice Brandeis dissenting in Olmstead to speak for me. He wrote: ‘Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.’ That’s all I have.” McVeigh is referring to a dissent written by Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis in a 1928 decision, Olmstead v. United States, which upheld the use of wiretap evidence. Brandeis’s dissent said that the government may not commit crimes to enforce the law, and warned of “terrible retribution” if it did. Stephen Jones, McVeigh’s lead lawyer, refuses to speculate as to why McVeigh chose to use that quote, though Jones says it is a favorite of his client. McVeigh believes the government broke the law in the Branch Davidian siege (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). Jones’s defense partner, Christopher Tritico, tells reporters he is unfamiliar with the quote and will have to look it up. US Attorney Patrick M. Ryan, part of the prosecution team, later says that McVeigh’s remarks were so fleeting that “I didn’t catch it all.” Many families of the bombing victims find McVeigh’s quote cryptic and unclear. Roy Sells, who lost his wife in the bombing, says: “I don’t know if he was referring to the Waco deal or what. I wish he would’ve quoted something from his own heart instead of out of somebody else’s book. I wanted to hear what he had to say about it.” A survivor of the bombing, Paul Heath, says McVeigh’s statement makes it clear he remains unrepentant and still considers himself a revolutionary. During the proceeding, Matsch asks McVeigh for permission to release a letter McVeigh wrote to him on June 22, which asked that Jones be replaced by other lawyers from the defense team for his appeals: Richard Burr, Robert Nigh Jr., and Randall Coyne. The letter was not specific about McVeigh’s reason for requesting Jones’s removal, but cited “problems and difficulties I have had with my appointed counsel in the past.” McVeigh will publicly blame Jones for “screwing up” his trial, and has reportedly told a Buffalo News reporter that he believes Jones repeatedly lied to him about unnamed aspects of the trial (see August 14-27, 1997). Jones merely reminds reporters: “I did not seek this appointment. I am, as I said, a draftee” (see May 8, 1995). (Thomas 8/14/1997; Serrano 1998, pp. 320; University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law 2006; University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law 2006) McVeigh will later explain his choice of quote to Buffalo News reporter Lou Michel. “I want people to think about the statement,” McVeigh will say. “What [lead prosecutor Joseph] Hartzler is trying to do is not have people learn. He wants to have them put their heads in the sand.” The Brandeis quote, McVeigh will say, reflects on the death penalty: the government says it is wrong for McVeigh to have killed, and yet “now they’re going to kill me. They’re saying that’s an appropriate way to right a wrong?” (Serrano 1998, pp. 321)
The upcoming trial of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) is expected to be fundamentally different from the trial of Nichols’s alleged co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997), according to a New York Times analysis. The charges against Nichols will be much the same—eight federal counts of murder and three conspiracy charges—but the case will include different evidence and different witnesses. Nichols was not in Oklahoma City on the day of the bombing; according to his lawyer Michael Tigar, Nichols had withdrawn from the bombing conspiracy (see March 1995), and was at his Kansas home with his family on the days preceding the bombing as well as on the morning of the bombing (see May 25 - June 2, 1995). The evidence against Nichols is strong, prosecutors say, but mostly circumstantial. And the case will hinge on evidence not introduced at McVeigh’s trial, including Nichols’s alleged participation in a robbery that prosecutors say helped fund the bombing (see November 5, 1994 and Before July 3, 1995). Much of the evidence that will be introduced against Nichols derives from a nine-hour interview Nichols gave to FBI agents two days after the bombing, when he voluntarily turned himself in for questioning (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995). Notes from that interview were not allowed to be used in the McVeigh trial because Nichols could not be compelled to testify, but Judge Richard P. Matsch has ruled that they may be introduced against Nichols. Some discrepancies exist between the government’s timeline of events and the evidence, such as an April 16, 1995 telephone call that prosecutors say McVeigh made to Nichols from Oklahoma City (see April 16-17, 1995); that phone call did not come from Oklahoma City, but from an outdoor pay phone near Nichols’s home in Herington, Kansas. Prosecutors believe Nichols lied to the FBI about the extent and purpose of his contacts with McVeigh in April 1995. (Thomas 8/29/1997)
The federal trial of Oklahoma City bombing co-conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) begins. As with Nichols’s accused co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh, recently convicted of murder and conspiracy surrounding the bombing (see June 2, 1997), the trial takes place in Denver, and is presided over by Judge Richard P. Matsch. Nichols faces the same eight counts of murdering federal officials and three counts of conspiracy that McVeigh was convicted of, and like McVeigh, he faces the death penalty if convicted. (Thomas 11/4/1997; Douglas O. Linder 2001) The jury consists of seven women and five men. It includes two bus drivers; a day-care worker; a bank clerk; a soda machine installer; a telemarketer; a loading-dock worker; a maintenance employee; an obstetrics nurse; a remedial reading tutor; a contract seamstress, whose husband is a corrections officer; and a geophysicist. Two members of the jury are African-American. As with the McVeigh jurors, their identities are concealed. Legal analysts say there is far less direct evidence of Nichols’s guilt than existed to use against McVeigh. (Kenworthy 10/31/1997; Fox News 4/13/2005) Prosecutors tell the jury that Nichols worked “side by side” with McVeigh to build the bomb that destroyed the Murrah Federal Building. For his part, Nichols’s lawyer Michael E. Tigar says Nichols had nothing to do with the bomb plot, and is a victim of McVeigh’s deceit and a web of misleading circumstantial evidence. Lead prosecutor Larry Mackey (see October 31, 1997) says that the deceit was on the part of Nichols. Mackey acknowledges that Nichols was at his Herington, Kansas, home on the morning of the bombing: “Terry Nichols had planned it just that way,” he says. But Nichols had been involved in every aspect of building the bomb and plotting the attack. The prosecution’s case is far broader in its scope than the more narrowly focused case against McVeigh (see August 29, 1997). Tigar indicates that he plans to challenge what he calls the “junk science” used by the prosecution to forensically prove Nichols’s involvement in building the bomb. (Thomas 11/4/1997)
The prosecution in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and November 3, 1997) opens with an array of witnesses, people who either lived through the bombing or who lost family members or friends. Unlike the heart-rending tales told throughout the trial of Nichols’s alleged co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997), the stories told today are strictly curtailed in order to restrict emotional reactions from jurors. Four jury members weep anyway during the recountings. Judge Richard P. Matsch, ruling in favor of a defense motion, has precluded “overly emotional” testimony, telling jurors this morning, “You have to consider it and not consider the emotions of it.” Matsch explains that testimony from survivors is being introduced only to establish who had died and how their deaths had affected the performance of the federal government, important elements in the indictment (see August 10, 1995), which charges not only murder but also a crime that interfered with interstate commerce. Witnesses stick closely to the bare facts and eschew the emotional stories and vignettes that were prominently featured during McVeigh’s trial. Even so, the testimony of survivor Helena Garrett, who testified during McVeigh’s trial (see April 25, 1997), moves some jurors to tears as she tells of waiting for rescue personnel to find her infant son, Tevin, who died in the blast. She says one child “looked as if she’d been dipped in blood,” and talks of the “line” made “of our babies” by rescue personnel who brought out the dead and injured children from the blasted Murrah Federal Building. (Thomas 11/5/1997)
Prosecutors in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and November 3, 1997) link Nichols and his alleged co-conspirator, convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997), to the October 1994 theft of explosive materials from a Kansas quarry (see October 3, 1994). The prosecution claims that Nichols and McVeigh used those materials in the construction of the bomb that devastated the Murrah Federal Building and killed 168 people. A blaster at the Martin Marietta Aggregates quarry near Marion, Kansas, Allen E. Radtke, testifies that on October 3, he discovered that someone had stolen 1,200 to 1,400 electric blasting caps, 75 60-foot lengths of Primadet non-electric blasting caps, and 150 sticks of Tovex explosive from two sheds. On October 4, Radtke says, he found that someone had drilled open the padlock on the back door of a third shed. FBI analyst James J. Cadigan testifies that he had compared the marks left on the padlock with a quarter-inch drill bit found at Nichols’s home (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995). Though the marks on the padlock seem to match marks made by Nichols’s drill bit, Judge Richard P. Matsch instructs the jury to disregard Cadigan’s conclusions to that effect. Nichols’s lawyer Michael Tigar, who has called such analysis “junk science” (see November 3, 1997), says that a thousand drill bits made by the same machine might produce the same marks. (Thomas 11/8/1997)
The prosecution in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and November 3, 1997) links Nichols and his alleged co-conspirator, convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997), to a rifle stolen from an Arkansas gun dealer, Roger Moore (see November 5, 1994 and Before July 3, 1995). Prosecutors have alleged that Nichols and McVeigh, who planned the robbery, used the proceeds from the robbery to finance the bombing. The link between Nichols and the robbery is made in part by Karen Anderson, Moore’s longtime girlfriend, who says the ornate, custom-made .308-caliber rifle found in Nichols’s Herington, Kansas, home (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995) was hers. She says when prosecutors first showed her the rifle, she exclaimed: “It’s my baby!… It was made for me.” Anderson says she has been Moore’s girlfriend for over 20 years, and lives in what is apparently an open relationship with Moore and his wife Carol. Prosecutors say Nichols donned a ski mask and robbed Moore’s gun dealership of more than $60,000 in guns, precious jewels, gold, silver, cash, and other items. Anderson says she recognized several other weapons seized by FBI agents from Nichols’s home. Of one, a shotgun, she says: “I shot a pair of blue jeans with this a couple of times. Jeans with holes cost $100. I figured if you shot them yourself, you could save about $90.” Anderson’s colorful testimony and flamboyant gestures trigger several waves of laughter in the courtroom, including one instance where she apologizes for inadvertently waving a submachine gun at Judge Richard P. Matsch, saying, “I just pointed it at the judge again!” Prosecutor Beth Wilkinson quips in response, “No matter how mad he makes you, don’t fire it.” Anderson says she has a list of the serial numbers of many of the stolen guns; Moore previously told investigators his list of the serial numbers disappeared the day of the robbery. Anderson also discusses her friendship with McVeigh, and says she and Moore were so impressed with McVeigh’s warnings about a United Nations plot to take over the country that they visited several military bases in an unsuccessful search for Russian vehicles. After Anderson testifies, Moore testifies, telling the jury how he was robbed by a man who carried a shotgun, wore a black ski mask, and bound him with duct tape before purloining items from his farm, from which he runs his dealership. He says he was alone on his farm the morning of the robbery, and had just gone outside to feed the animals when he heard a voice say, “Lay on the ground.” He turned and saw “a horrible picture, a man dressed with camouflage, with a black ski mask, carrying a pistol-grip shotgun aimed right at my face.” Attached to the shotgun was a garrote wire that he says could “cut your windpipe and jugular vein.” The robber was a white man wearing what he thinks were Israeli combat boots, Vietnam-era camouflage pants and shirt, and military gloves. Moore says he could see a short beard and suntanned skin through the mouth opening in the mask. He identifies a number of weapons shown to him by prosecution lawyers as being among those stolen from his dealership. Defense lawyer Michael Tigar accuses Moore of conspiring with McVeigh to commit insurance fraud. Tigar asks Moore: “Isn’t it a fact you were not robbed? Isn’t it a fact that you and Mr. McVeigh worked out a plan to get these guns out on the market, and you would collect whatever you could from the insurance company?” Moore angrily responds, “I deny that.” He admits to seeking an insurance settlement even though he had no serial numbers for the stolen weaponry, nor an accurate accounting of the weapons he said had been stolen. He also acknowledges telling investigators differing accounts of the robbery, and engaging in friendly letter exchanges with McVeigh after the robbery, including one letter written by Moore in the days before the bombing that complained of the “New World Order” (see September 11, 1990) and stated, “Plan is to bring the country down and have a few more things happen, then offer the 90 percent a solution (Better Red than Dead).” He also admits to using the alias “Bob Miller” on the gun-show circuit, and admits to previously telling lawyers that he suspected law enforcement agents or militia members of robbing him. However, he says, he also suspected McVeigh of setting him up, and says that the letters were designed to persuade McVeigh to come back to Arkansas so he could question him about the robbery. (Thomas 11/18/1997; Thomas 11/19/1997)
FBI agent Stephen E. Smith testifies in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and November 3, 1997).
Nichols Told of Picking Up McVeigh - Smith testifies that Nichols told him and other FBI agents that on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1995, three days before the bombing, he drove around downtown Oklahoma City looking for his alleged co-conspirator, convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997). Nichols, says Smith, drove around the Murrah Federal Building, McVeigh’s target, several times before finding McVeigh in a nearby alley (see April 16-17, 1995). McVeigh, according to what Nichols told Smith, had asked Nichols for a ride from Oklahoma City back to Nichols’s Herington, Kansas, home (see (February 20, 1995)) because his car had broken down. Nichols found McVeigh, Smith says: “[H]e was standing in a light rain with Mr. Nichols’s TV set and a green laundry bag.” Smith was one of the agents who interrogated Nichols for nine hours after the bombing (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995). He was not allowed to testify in McVeigh’s trial, but was allowed to introduce the 22 pages of handwritten notes taken during Nichols’s interrogation. Smith’s testimony is the first to describe what Nichols said about the trip from Oklahoma City to Herington. McVeigh was going to bring Nichols a television set, Nichols told Smith, when his car broke down. Nichols said after he received the telephone call from McVeigh at around 3 p.m., he left about 10 minutes later and drove straight to Oklahoma City. McVeigh had told him to “drive around the block a couple times,” Nichols told the agents, and added that he passed “that building” several times. The alley McVeigh was standing in was, Smith testifies, next to the YMCA near the Murrah Building. Nichols told Smith and the other agents that McVeigh was “hyper” during the return trip to Herington, and they talked about the upcoming anniversary of the federal assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Texas (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). Nichols told the agents that McVeigh told him “he would see something big in the future.” Nichols, Smith testifies, asked if McVeigh was planning to rob a bank; McVeigh replied, “No, but I’ve got something in the works.” Nichols was shocked to learn that McVeigh was a suspect in the bombing, Smith testifies: “He thought Tim was driving back east to see his family.” Nichols told the agents he could not discern any motive for the bombing, since McVeigh “was supposed to receive an inheritance from his grandfather and he would have money” to do whatever he wanted. Smith testifies that when the agents asked Nichols if he was worried about what McVeigh might say about him, Nichols replied that “he’d be shocked if Mr. McVeigh implicated him.… Terry Nichols said he trusted Timothy McVeigh more than anyone. Timothy McVeigh lived up to his arrangements and took responsibility for his actions.” Smith adds that Nichols never clarified what he meant. Nichols told the agents that the Easter telephone call was the first contact he had had with McVeigh since November 1994. However, other testimony has shown numerous contacts between McVeigh and Nichols since that time period (see November 7, 1994, March 1995, April 13, 1995, April 15, 1995, and April 15-16, 1995). (Thomas 11/21/1997) Nichols also told federal agents that he spent the morning of April 18 at an auction in Fort Riley, Kansas, and that the same morning, McVeigh had borrowed his pickup truck to run errands. Nichols told agents that the morning of April 18, McVeigh called at 6:00 a.m. and asked to borrow the truck. Nichols agreed, and the two met at a McDonald’s restaurant in Junction City, Kansas, around 7:30 a.m. The two drove to the auction site, and McVeigh took the truck, leaving Nichols at the auction. McVeigh returned after 1:00 p.m. Nichols told agents he signed in at the auction site sometime around noon. (Thomas 11/26/1997)
Story Contradicted by Other Evidence - Other evidence has shown that Nichols’s story about driving to Oklahoma City to pick up McVeigh and a television set is false. That evidence has shown that on April 16, Nichols met McVeigh at a Dairy Queen in Herington, then the two drove separately to Oklahoma City to scout the location for the bomb. McVeigh left his getaway car at the scene (see April 13, 1995) and the two drove back to Herington in Nichols’s pickup truck (see April 16-17, 1995). On the morning of April 18, McVeigh, staying at a motel in Junction City with his rented Ryder truck (see April 15, 1995), met Nichols at a Herington storage unit (see (February 20, 1995)). The two loaded bags of fertilizer and drums of nitromethane into the Ryder truck, and McVeigh told Nichols, “If I don’t come back for a while, you’ll clean out the storage shed.” They drove separately to Geary County State Fishing Lake, where they met and mixed the explosive components. Nichols later told investigators that he cleaned out the storage shed on April 20. One witness told investigators that he saw McVeigh with a man resembling Nichols at the motel. Other witnesses recalled seeing the Ryder truck parked behind Nichols’s house on April 17, and the Ryder truck and a pickup truck resembling Nichols’s at Geary Lake on April 18. Other witnesses said that on either April 17 or 18, they saw what appeared to be Nichols’s pickup truck parked behind the Herington storage shed (see 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). Videotape from the Regency Towers Apartments, one and a half blocks from the bombed Murrah Federal Building, showed Nichols’s dark blue pickup with a white camper shell passing the building on April 16, though the videotape does not itself disprove Nichols’s claims of driving to Oklahoma City to pick up McVeigh and a television set. (Lane 12/24/1997; Fox News 4/13/2005) Prosecutors will soon submit evidence showing that Nichols’s claims of his whereabouts on April 18 are incorrect (see November 25, 1997).
Shared Interest in Bombs - Nichols also said that he and McVeigh were curious about bombs. They read books and magazines about them, and discussed how they worked. Nichols told the agents that “it’s possible he [McVeigh] could make a device to blow up a building without my knowledge.” Nichols, Smith testifies, insisted that their interest in bombs was strictly out of curiosity. Nichols told Smith and the other agents that he had learned about explosives from people “who came by the table at gun shows and literature he had read.” Nichols also said that he had learned “ammonium nitrate fertilizer can be used to make a bomb.… I imagine you have to put a blasting cap on it.” Smith testifies that someone had informed Nichols that ammonium nitrate could be mixed with diesel fuel to make a bomb, but adds that Nichols said he had not done that.
Cross-Examination - Nichols’s defense lawyer, Ronald G. Woods, has Smith read the entire 22-page sheaf of handwritten notes he took during his interviews with Nichols, then tells Judge Richard P. Matsch that the typewritten transcript of those notes “was not accurate or complete.” Woods also questions why the interviews were not tape-recorded. Smith calls his notes accurate, but admits that he had not written down what he now testifies was Nichols’s silence when shown a letter he had written to McVeigh the previous November urging him to “Go for it.” During the interview, Smith says Nichols admitted to having the knowledge needed to build a fertilizer bomb after initially denying it. (Kenworthy 11/21/1997; Thomas 11/22/1997; Lane 12/24/1997)
After the closing arguments (see December 15-16, 1997) in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and November 3, 1997), Judge Richard P. Matsch sends the jury to begin its deliberations. Jurors will not be sequestered and are free to go home at the end of the day. Matsch reminds the jury that “individuals, including Mr. Nichols, have the right under the First Amendment to assemble and discuss even the most unpopular ideas, including unlawful acts, and such a discussion does not constitute an unlawful agreement.” He also tells the jurors to weigh the case solely on the evidence. (Thomas 12/17/1997) Matsch gives the Nichols jury more leeway than he gave the jury that convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997). Though Nichols faces the same charges that McVeigh faced, Matsch tells the jurors that they can consider charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, or involuntary manslaughter for Nichols in the deaths of eight federal law enforcement agents in the bombing. (Because McVeigh and Nichols were tried in federal courts, they could only face charges of murdering federal agents. Both men await state charges of murdering the other 160 victims.) If convicted, Nichols could escape with as little as six years in prison without parole for his role in the deaths of the agents, or he could be sentenced to death. McVeigh’s former lawyer Stephen Jones (see August 14-27, 1997) says: “I suspect the judge’s thinking went something like this: There was no evidence Nichols was in Oklahoma City on Wednesday and that he himself set off the bomb, so the jury might infer that while he wanted to blow up the building, he didn’t specifically want to kill these people.” To find Nichols guilty of first-degree murder, the jurors must conclude that he is guilty of premeditated murder; if they do not agree on premeditation, then their next choice is second-degree murder, or failing that, involuntary manslaughter, “the unlawful killing of a human being without malice.” This would be a “lawful act, done without due caution, which might produce death,” he says. Jones is critical of Matsch’s guidelines, saying: “I can’t imagine how the judge persuaded himself to give an instruction on manslaughter. I don’t see how you get involuntary manslaughter out of building a bomb. It’s like a virgin prostitute.” (Thomas 12/19/1997; New York Times 12/23/1997)
Accused Oklahoma City conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and December 15-16, 1997) is convicted of one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and eight counts of involuntary manslaughter. He is found not guilty of use of a weapon of mass destruction (see April 16-17, 1995), and of using an explosive, as well as the more serious charges of first-degree and second-degree murder. The jury took 41 hours over six days to decide Nichols’s fate (see December 16-18, 1997). By rejecting the murder charges in the deaths of eight federal law-enforcement officials, the jury concludes that Nichols did not provably intend to kill the people inside the Murrah building. Observers and researchers such as law professor Douglas O. Linder will later conclude that the jury believed the defense’s contention that Nichols had withdrawn from the bombing plot (see March 1995 and March 31 - April 12, 1995), and was probably swayed by Nichols’s decision to stay home on the day of the bombing instead of joining convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City (see June 2, 1997) at the bomb site. The jury may also have been moved by Nichols’s show of emotion during the trial; unlike the stoic McVeigh, Nichols broke down and wept during several moments in the proceedings. Legal analysts say the split verdict is in part because of a much more effective defense (see December 2, 1997) than that presented by Nichols’s co-conspirator, McVeigh (see August 14-27, 1997), who was sentenced to death for carrying out the bombing (see June 2, 1997). Kentucky defense lawyer Kevin McNally says of the verdicts: “[They mean] he had a much less culpable state of mind regarding the homicides. To the jury, he engaged in certain actions that were reckless, but it wasn’t a premeditated killing.” Former federal prosecutor Marvin L. Rudnick says the jury “probably compromised” on the involuntary manslaughter verdicts. Lead prosecutor Larry Mackey says: “The jury has spoken. We accept their verdict in its entirety. We are prepared to go forward now with the penalty phase.” Nichols’s lead attorney, Michael Tigar, immediately files an appeal and says he will challenge any attempt by the jury to sentence Nichols to death. However, analysts feel that Nichols will escape execution. Denver attorney Andrew Cohen says: “I would be very surprised if the jury sentenced Nichols to death. They distinguished in their own minds what both men did.” Both McVeigh and Nichols face 160 counts of murder in an Oklahoma state court. (Thomas 12/23/1997; Romano and Kenworthy 12/24/1997; Bruni 12/24/1997; Douglas O. Linder 2001; Indianapolis Star 2003; Douglas O. Linder 2006) Under federal law, a conviction of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction can lead to the death penalty. The law is only three years old and has never been used. This death penalty provision was passed by Congress in 1994 after the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York (see February 26, 1993). (Brooke 12/25/1997)
Mixed Reactions - Predictably, reactions regarding the verdict are mixed. Claudia Denny, whose two children were seriously injured in the blast, says, “We’re all disappointed, but we can live with it.” She says she would have preferred murder convictions, but “one more terrorist is off the street.… The important thing to us now is our children. This doesn’t change that. It doesn’t matter.” Bud Welch, who lost his daughter in the bombing, says that the involuntary manslaughter convictions were inappropriate because that charge is what people get “for running a stoplight” and killing someone with a car. Diane Leonard, whose husband was one of the eight law enforcement agents killed, calls the verdict “a slap in the face.” Marsha Knight, whose daughter was one of the 160 civilians killed in the blast, says: “He conspired to build the bomb. What the hell did they think he was going to do with it?” (Bragg 12/24/1997; Romano and Kenworthy 12/24/1997) President Clinton says the convictions of McVeigh and Nichols “should offer a measure of comfort” to the relatives of the victims. But, he adds, “I know that no verdict in a court of law can ease the loss of a loved one.” (Thomas 12/23/1997)
Judge Offers Leniency, Nichols Turns Down Offer - Judge Richard Matsch later tells Nichols he will consider some leniency in sentencing him to prison if he cooperates in helping the government learn more about the bombing conspiracy. Nichols rejects the offer. (Indianapolis Star 2003)
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)
Lawyers for convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) ask the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, based in Denver, for a new trial for their client. They argue that McVeigh did not receive a fair trial. In a 225-page brief, McVeigh’s lawyers say that Judge Richard P. Matsch, the federal district judge who presided over McVeigh’s trial and sentencing, made a number of errors in his rulings, jurors had been exposed to prejudicial information in news reports that McVeigh had confessed to his defense team (see February 28 - March 4, 1997), Matsch ignored juror misconduct, and Matsch allowed “unfairly prejudicial, inflammatory” testimony from bombing survivors. (New York Times 1/17/1998)
Terry Nichols, the white separatist convicted of participating in the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and December 23, 1997), sends a 16-page letter to Judge Richard Matsch declaring that he would give up his life if it would bring back the 168 people who died in the blast. “If I in any way contributed to the Oklahoma City bombing, I am truly sorry,” he writes. “I’ve tried and tried, but there are no words that I can express to the victims and survivors for the loss, pain, sorrow, and heartache that they have gone through and will continue to go through for the rest of their lives.… I wish I could change the past, but I can’t. No one can. This is not anything that I ever wanted to happen. It’s a totally senseless act. This is a burden that I will carry with me all my life.” Nichols says that he never wanted to harm or kill anyone or to damage or destroy any buildings, and writes: “I would not do a horrible thing such as a terrorist bombing.… My heart truly goes out to the victims and survivors. And I am sincere when I say that I would give my life if it would bring back all those that died in the bombing.” He implies that he never believed his co-conspirator, Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) would actually go through with the bombing. (New York Times 3/25/1998; Haynes 6/5/1998; Indianapolis Star 2003; Douglas O. Linder 2006; The Oklahoman 4/2009)
Terry Nichols, the white separatist convicted of participating in the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and December 23, 1997), refuses an offer of leniency in his upcoming sentencing, an offer contingent on his cooperation in the FBI’s continuing investigation of the bomb plot. In a brief filed by his lawyers, Nichols says any such cooperation would help the state of Oklahoma convict him on 160 counts of murder relating to the bombing. He does offer to look over the thousands of pages of government evidence in an attempt to help the government pinpoint any other suspected participants. Judge Richard Matsch has said he would sentence Nichols to life in prison unless Nichols cooperates with the FBI. Nichols’s lawyer Michael E. Tigar has said that Nichols still faces a state murder investigation in Oklahoma, and “whatever he says falls into hands that do not have his best interests at heart.” (Thomas 3/26/1998; Washington Post 4/21/1998)
Judge Richard P. Matsch sentences convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997) to life in prison without the possibility of parole after his jury cannot decide whether to sentence him to death (see January 7, 1998). He is also sentenced to eight concurrent six-year terms for the deaths of eight federal agents. Matsch orders Nichols to pay $14.5 million in restitution to the General Services Administration (GSA) for the destruction of the Murrah Federal Building. Nichols swears he has only $40,000 in assets; Matsch says that any future proceeds he might receive for selling his story would be given over to the government. Nichols’s defense team tried in vain to assert that Nichols was a “dupe” of fellow defendant Timothy McVeigh (see June 11-13, 1997) and should be given a lighter sentence. Nichols, who refused to provide information about the bombing plot, gave Matsch a written apology (see March 10, 1998). Matsch says Nichols committed an act of treason that demands the most severe punishment: “The only inference that can be drawn from the evidence is that the purpose of the plan was to change the course of government through fear and intimidation.… The evidence shows to my satisfaction that the intention was to disrupt, to disorganize, to intimidate the operations of these agencies and United States government. Apparently, the intention was that the response would be fear and terror and intimidation and that these people would not be able to perform their work and that the response throughout the nation would be hysteria.… But you know, it didn’t work out that way. There was no anarchy. There was no reign of terror.… What occurred was that a community became even more united, and I think perhaps the country as well. We proceeded with the orderly processes of recovery and of restoration.… What he did was participate with others in a conspiracy that would seek to destroy all of the things that the Constitution protects. My obligation as a judge is to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Terry Nichols has proven to be an enemy of the Constitution, and accordingly the sentence I am going to impose will be for the duration of his life. Anyone, no matter who that person might be or what his background might be, who participates in a crime of this magnitude has forfeited the freedoms that this government is designed to protect.” Prosecutors say they are pleased with the sentence, while Nichols’s defense lawyers continue to assert that Nichols did not intend to kill anyone in the bombing. Nichols’s lead attorney, Michael Tigar, files papers calling for a new trial; Matsch says he will schedule a hearing. Marsha Kight, whose daughter Frankie Ann Merrell was killed in the bombing, says: “I’m proud of what happened in the judicial system. I felt like singing ‘God Bless America.’ He got what he deserved.” (Haynes 6/5/1998; Kenworthy 6/5/1998; Thomas 6/5/1998; Douglas O. Linder 2001; Indianapolis Star 2003; Fox News 4/13/2005) Nichols will serve his term 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). (Douglas O. Linder 2006) Nichols refused an offer of leniency in return for his cooperation in further investigation of the bombing (see April 21, 1998).
Federal Judge Richard P. Matsch gives permission for the Justice Department to assist the investigation of an Oklahoma grand jury investigating whether the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) was carried out by more than the two men convicted of the crime (see June 30, 1997). Matsch presided over the trials of convicted bombing conspirators Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) and Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998). Matsch says he will allow a federal judge in Oklahoma to decide whether federal grand jury information used to indict McVeigh and Nichols (see August 10, 1995) could be used by the Oklahoma grand jury. (New York Times 6/25/1998)
Convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998) asks a federal appeals court in Denver for a new trial, contending that Judge Richard P. Matsch, who presided over his trial, made a number of reversible errors in both the trial and sentencing. Nichols’s co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) has also asked for a new trial (see January 16, 1998), a request that was denied (see September 8, 1998). Nichols’s legal team, Michael Tigar, Susan L. Foreman, and Adam Thurschwell, argue that Matsch erred in the instructions he gave the jurors, in the testimony he permitted, and in his interpretation of federal sentencing guidelines. According to Nichols’s lawyers, Matsch erred when he told the jury that Nichols’s responsibility for the deaths of people killed as a result of the bombing conspiracy (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) did not depend on proof that Nichols intended to kill anyone. An intent to kill, Nichols’s lawyers contend, is a necessary element in the offense. The jurors who convicted Nichols of conspiracy acquitted him of blowing up the building and of first- or second-degree murder in the deaths of the officers. They also contend that Nichols should have been sentenced under federal guidelines for arson and property damage, not first-degree murder, and that the restitution order of $14.5 million is punitive. (Thomas 11/22/1998)
Michael E. Tigar, the lead defense attorney for convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998), says evidence given to the defense near the end of the federal trial provided enough information about another suspect to warrant a new trial (see March 31 - April 12, 1995, (April 1) - April 18, 1995, April 5, 1995, April 8, 1995, April 13, 1995, April 15, 1995, April 15, 1995, April 15, 1995, April 16-19, 1995, 3:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, April 17-21, 1995, (6:00 p.m.) April 17, 1995, 9:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, 8:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, 7:00 p.m. April 18, 1995, April 18, 1995, and Early Morning, April 19, 1995). “Government counsel argued that Mr. Nichols mixed the bomb and that he was with [fellow conspirator Timothy] McVeigh for long periods on April 17 and 18,” Tigar states (see April 13, 1995, April 15, 1995, April 15-16, 1995, April 16-17, 1995, Late Evening, April 17, 1995, 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, 8:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995, and Early Afternoon, April 18, 1995). “The withheld evidence contradicts this key government theory.” Tigar called a number of witnesses who said they saw McVeigh with an unknown suspect known as “John Doe No. 2” (see April 15, 1995, 9:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, 3:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, April 18, 1995, April 20, 1995, April 21, 1995, April 29, 1995, and June 14, 1995) and/or other people during key periods in the days and weeks leading up to the bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Tigar will demand those documents for his new trial request. (New York Times 7/8/1999; Mayhem (.net) 4/2009) Judge Richard P. Matsch, who presided over the first trial, will deny Nichols’s request. (New York Times 9/14/1999) In December 2000, a federal appeals court will also deny the request. (New York Times 12/19/2000)
Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and June 2, 1997) gives up on his appeals and asks to be executed. In an affidavit, McVeigh writes: “I believe I am fully competent to make this decision. If the court thinks that a psychological evaluation is necessary to make certain I am competent, I will submit to such an evaluation. I will not justify or explain my decision to any psychologist, but will answer questions related to my competency.” He acknowledges that he makes his request against the advice of his attorneys, and asks that Judge Richard P. Matsch set an execution date within 120 days. McVeigh’s lawyer Nathan Chambers says that McVeigh has been considering this decision for some time now. “This is not a snap decision,” Chambers says. “The judge is going to want to make a determination that Mr. McVeigh’s decision is a decision he made voluntarily and knowingly.” McVeigh gives no further explanation, though some believe he intends to become a martyr for the far-right “patriot” movement. Eight days later, Matsch grants McVeigh’s request. (Cart 12/13/2000; The Oklahoman 4/2009; Mayhem (.net) 4/2009)
Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and June 2, 1997) again says he wants to drop any further appeals (see March 8-9, 1999 and December 13, 2000) and asks to be executed. Judge Richard P. Matsch sets his execution date for May 16, 2001. (Douglas O. Linder 2001; Fox News 4/13/2005)
Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, awaiting execution (see January 16, 2001), changes his mind about his appeals, and allows his attorneys to file a motion to delay his execution. Six days later, an appeals court refuses to delay the execution and McVeigh announces he is ready to die. (Douglas O. Linder 2001; Fox News 4/13/2005) McVeigh’s attorneys write in their motion that the government continues to withhold evidence (see May 10-11, 2001): “The overt acts alleged against Mr. McVeigh, together with the circumstantial evidence and absence of proof concerning the making of the bomb, created the impressions that Mr. McVeigh was the primary actor bearing full responsibility for the bombing. In this context, any credible evidence that other specific individuals played a major role in the bombing, for example construction of the bomb, would have cast doubt on the overt acts committed by Mr. McVeigh. If Mr. McVeigh’s execution is stayed and he is given access to the tools of civil discovery, there is reason to believe that a nexus between some of these individuals and Mr. McVeigh will be established.” Judge Richard P. Matsch, who presided over the McVeigh trial, has called the prosecution’s failure to turn over the evidence “shocking.” (Mayhem (.net) 4/2009)
Lawyers for FBI laboratory employees send an urgent letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft alleging that a key prosecution witness in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) may have lied during McVeigh’s trial. The accusations center around Steven Burmeister, now the FBI laboratory’s chief of scientific analysis, who testified that the FBI crime lab found residues of explosives on the clothing that McVeigh was wearing when he was arrested after the bomb exploded (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995). The letter reads in part, “Material evidence presented by the government in the OKBOMB prosecution through the testimony of Mr. Burmeister appears to be false, misleading, and potentially fabricated,” referring to testimony Burmeister had given in an unrelated civil case, which contradicted his testimony in the McVeigh case; Burmeister had talked about the restrictions on his work area and the requirement that laboratory employees wear protective clothing. The letter is sent to Ashcroft by fax and by courier with the notation “urgent matter for the immediate attention of the attorney general.” The letter will sit in Ashcroft’s clerical office for nearly two months before being turned over to the FBI. Justice Department spokesperson Barbara Comstock will say that neither Ashcroft nor other top department officials ever saw the letter, and it was never reviewed to determine if it should be given to McVeigh’s lawyers. Prosecutors used Burmeister’s testimony to determine the exact composition of the bomb McVeigh used to bring down the Murrah Federal Building and kill 168 people. The judge in the trial, Richard P. Matsch, refused to allow McVeigh’s lawyers to hear criticisms of the crime lab’s evidence handling (see January 27, 1997 and May 20, 1997). The accusations against Burmeister were never given to McVeigh’s lawyers, even as a judge was weighing the option to delay McVeigh’s execution because the government failed to turn over other evidence (see May 10-11, 2001, May 16, 2001, and June 1-7, 2001). The letter is later turned over to the lawyers of convicted bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997, June 4, 1998, and May 15, 2001), who will face 160 counts of murder in an upcoming trial by the State of Oklahoma (see September 5, 2001). (New York Times 5/1/2003)
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