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Profile: Sean Connelly
Sean Connelly was a participant or observer in the following events:
Oklahoma City bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, April 21, 1995, and April 24, 1995) refuses to give prosecutors a handwriting sample. He is transported from the El Reno Federal Corrections Center, about 25 miles west of Oklahoma City, to a courtroom in Oklahoma City, where he refuses to provide the sample. Prosecutors say the handwriting sample could be compared to a receipt for the rental of the Ryder truck used to plant the bomb (see 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). The courtroom, across the street from the targeted Murrah Federal Building, still has rough wooden plywood covers for many of its blown-out windows and is adorned with purple mourning ribbons. One man in the building wears a T-shirt that reads on the front, “In Memory, April 19, 1995.” The back reads, “A society that makes war against its police had better learn to make friends with its criminals.” McVeigh’s lawyer, Stephen Jones, argues that McVeigh should not have to provide a handwriting sample on the grounds that it may violate his rights against self-incrimination. Jones also says that McVeigh has written only in block letters since before joining the military in 1988 (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990), and that a handwriting sample in cursive letters would require more than a mechanical effort by his client. Prosecution assistant Sean Connelly reminds the court that the grand jury investigating the case has requested the sample, and calls it a “very routine” test. “We are not probing his mind or thought processes,” he says. “If he says he can’t spell ‘no,’ we’ll tell him N-O.” Judge David Russell finally rules that McVeigh will give the sample. “I’m going to order the defendant to comply with the subpoena of the grand jury,” he says. “I don’t see any reason to wait. The law is clear.” To McVeigh, he says, “Failure to comply could be used against you, not just in a contempt proceeding but as evidence in a trial.” When McVeigh again refuses to give the sample, Russell orders him charged with contempt of court and gives the defense five days to respond to the contempt charge. [New York Times, 7/19/1995]
Hoppy Heidelberg. [Source: Digital Style Designs]Prosecutors in the Oklahoma City bombing case (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, July 11-13, 1995, and August 10, 1995) say that the recent dismissal of juror Hoppy Heidelberg from the investigation’s federal grand jury does not warrant throwing out indictments against the two suspects, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. Heidelberg was dismissed from the jury after disclosing information about the jury deliberations with Lawrence Myers, a reporter from Media Bypass, a magazine with ties to paramilitary groups. He also spoke to a reporter from the Daily Oklahoman. Heidelberg. a horse breeder from Blanchard, Oklahoma, told the reporters that prosecutors did not present enough evidence concerning the possibility of a larger conspiracy, and that they refused grand jury requests to interview witnesses and ask questions about such a larger conspiracy. Heidelberg may face contempt charges, as jurors are legally prohibited from revealing details of the cases they hear. Special US Attorney Sean Connelly calls Heidelberg’s concerns part of “his own conspiracy theories that predated this crime by decades.” Transcriptions from the magazine also show that Myers exaggerated and inflated Heidelberg’s complaints in the article. Heidelberg does not contend that the indictments of McVeigh and Nichols are unwarranted, though he says that he and other members of the grand jury are suspicious of the government’s case. Defense lawyers have asked that their clients have charges against them dropped because of what they call “prosecutorial misconduct” surrounding Heidelberg’s actions. Asked by reporters about charges that he is a conspiracy theorist, Heidelberg laughs and responds: “The people that know me know better. The people that don’t are going to have to wait to decide.” [New York Times, 10/14/1995; United States District Court, Western District of Oklahoma, 10/24/1995; Associated Press, 11/1/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 255] Heidelberg will later win a certain degree of fame as a “9/11 truther,” one of a group of theorists that believe the US government orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, or at the least were complicit in them. The article discussing Heidelberg will also cite theories saying that two separate explosions struck the Murrah Building (see After 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) and that an Oklahoma City police officer, Terry Yeakey, was “suicided,” i.e. murdered in a manner that appeared to be a suicide, after supposedly beginning to “express his concerns” that the government was hiding evidence of its collusion in the bombing. Yeakey’s death is one of a “slew of deaths” that have supposedly occurred to cover up the government’s role in the bombing, according to Heidelberg. Heidelberg will also release a video “proving” that the grand jury “was manipulated and obstructed” by the government. [Wendy Bird, 6/10/2008; Wide Eye Cinema, 2011]
Lawyers for the accused Oklahoma City bombers (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, July 11-13, 1995, and August 10, 1995) assail the prosecution’s decision to seek the death penalty against their clients. They say that Attorney General Janet Reno, who made the final decision to seek the execution of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols if they are convicted (see October 20, 1995), ignored Justice Department procedures in making that decision. “The government cannot simply ignore its own rules when it decides who lives or dies,” says McVeigh’s lead lawyer, Stephen Jones. Jones accuses Reno of “categorical prejudgment” of the death penalty. Nichols’s lead lawyer, Michael Tigar, calls Reno’s decision “two-faced.” Both note that within hours of the bombing, Reno announced the government would seek to execute whoever carried out the attack (see 4:00 p.m., April 19, 1995 and April 22, 1995); rules adopted in February 1996 allow the attorney general to seek the death penalty in federal cases only after informing defense lawyers and going through a review by an in-house Death Penalty Committee. US Attorney Sean Connelly counters that when Reno announced that “she would prosecute [the bombing] to the fullest extent possible, she was not acting as a judge, she was acting as a law enforcement officer.” Defense lawyers also argue that the 1994 federal death penalty statutes are unconstitutional. Connelly retorts, “If the death penalty is not appropriate in this case, it would be hard to imagine any case where it would be.” [New York Times, 5/2/1996]
Accused Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh, left, and Terry Nichols look on as Judge Richard Matsch orders their trials to be severed. [Source: The Oklahoman]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.” [New York Times, 9/8/1996; New York Times, 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.” [New York Times, 10/4/1996] Joseph Hartzler leads the team of attorneys prosecuting McVeigh (see May 22, 1995). [TruTV, 2/2009]
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; New York Times, 8/14/1997] Judge Richard P. Matsch will deny the request four days later. [New York Times, 8/16/1997]
Michael Fortier, a friend of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) who cooperated with the prosecution of McVeigh and fellow conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998) in order to escape prosecution for his own participation in the bomb plot, says through his attorneys that federal prosecutors lied in order to get a harsher sentence for him. Fortier was given 12 years in prison for his actions (see May 27, 1998). During his sentencing hearing, prosecutors argued that Fortier’s sentence should exceed standard guidelines because of the magnitude of the crime. They argued that Fortier knew profits from the sale of stolen guns would be used to help finance the bombing because he was present when his wife, Lori, and McVeigh discussed it (see April 3-4, 1995). Recently, prosecutor Sean Connelly conceded there was no evidence Fortier was present during the conversation between his wife and McVeigh or was told by either one of them what had been said. [Mayhem (.net), 4/2009]
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