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Profile: Steven Gradert

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Steven Gradert was a participant or observer in the following events:

Terry Nichols and his brother James Nichols are charged by a Michigan federal court with conspiring to help suspected Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh build explosives at Terry Nichols’s farm in Michigan (see December 22 or 23, 1988). Judge Monti Belot rules that Terry Nichols will be held without bail, and will be transferred to Oklahoma City sometime after noon on May 5; the delay in the transfer gives Nichols’s public defender, Steven Gradert, time to file a possible appeal. (Gradert also alleges that when the FBI first interviewed Nichols—see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995—he may not have understood his rights under the law.) The complaint, filed in a federal court in Michigan, does not directly link either of the brothers to the Oklahoma bombing. It does accuse both brothers of building what the complaint calls “bottle bombs” and of experimenting with other explosives with McVeigh in 1992 and 1994 (see April 2, 1992 and After, November 1991 - Summer 1992, October 12, 1993 - January 1994, October 12, 1993 - January 1994, and February - July 1994). Until today, both the brothers were held, not as suspects, but as material witnesses (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995); the conspiracy charges are designed to keep them behind bars until investigators can find more solid links between them and the bombing plot. An affidavit accompanying the complaint says that, like McVeigh, both Nichols brothers blamed the government for the 1993 Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After); authorities have alleged that part of McVeigh’s motivation for the bombing was revenge for the 1993 debacle (see April 24, 1995). An initial version of the affidavit says a witness, Daniel Stomber of Evergreen Township, Michigan, had heard James Nichols “stating that judges and President Clinton should be killed, and that he blamed the FBI and the ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] for killing the Branch Davidians in Waco.” A revised affidavit made public later deletes that information. James Nichols’s lawyer, Miriam Siefer, calls the information in the affidavit “quite stale.” The complaint itself says that James Nichols informed federal agents that his brother and McVeigh had been at his Michigan farm off and on since December 1991. James also told agents that his brother had obtained survival books that had information about bombs, and said he believed McVeigh knew how to build a bomb. The affidavit says James has admitted to building small bombs with McVeigh and his brother, but denied ever buying ammonium nitrate, one of the key ingredients in the Oklahoma City bomb. However, the affidavit says all three men were known to possess quantities of fertilizer and fuel oil, the same materials used in the Oklahoma City bomb, and says that Terry Nichols admitted to FBI investigators that he had bought at least 100 pounds of ammonium nitrate in the recent past. The affidavit says a witness told agents that all three men built other devices made of prescription vials, black powder, blasting caps, and safety fuses, which they detonated in empty fields of James Nichols’s 500 acres. Shrapnel was found in the fields, the affidavit says. Investigators found 28 50-pound bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and a 55-gallon drum of fuel oil on James Nichols’s farm; both ingredients are common on many farms, but James Nichols has claimed to be an organic farmer and thusly would not ordinarily use such materials. The affidavit says that in December 1993, McVeigh used an alias to buy liquid nitro airplane fuel, which could be used with other chemicals to improvise explosives (see December 1993). The complaint and affidavit will be presented to a federal court in Wichita, Kansas, on April 26. James Nichols will be released a month later without bond; US District Judge Paul Borman will rule that the government failed to link him to the bombing (see May 22, 1995). [New York Times, 4/26/1995; Boston Globe, 4/26/1995; New York Times, 4/25/1996; Mickolus and Simmons, 6/1997, pp. 810-811]

Entity Tags: Monti Belot, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dan Stomber, Miriam Siefer, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Terry Lynn Nichols, Paul Borman, Steven Gradert, James Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Federal prosecutors charge Terry Nichols, a suspected co-conspirator in the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and May 9, 1995), with conspiring to carry out the bombing along with accused bomber Timothy McVeigh (see April 21, 1995). If convicted, Nichols could face the death penalty under federal anti-terrorism laws. Nichols is escorted under heavy guard into the Wichita, Kansas, federal courthouse; a woman in the crowd screams at him, “Baby killer!” Nichols is charged with being a direct participant in the “malicious damage and destruction” of a federal building, and charged with aiding and abetting the attack. Prosecutors have not yet revealed the evidence they have against him. The charges faced by McVeigh and Nichols are likely to be augmented or replaced entirely by a broader conspiracy indictment, federal officials say. Nichols’s public defender, Steven Gradert, refuses to speculate on whether the prosecutors are attempting to pressure Nichols into cooperating with their prosecution of McVeigh. “I don’t know,” Gradert says, and adds that he believes “the government is not quite sure what the theory of this case is.” Nichols is being transported to Oklahoma, where he will be incarcerated at the El Reno Federal Corrections Center, the same facility that currently houses McVeigh. Nichols’s ex-wife Lana Padilla and their son Joshua Nichols are in Oklahoma City to testify before a grand jury empaneled to hear evidence about the bombing. The FBI is also pressuring another friend of McVeigh’s and Nichols’s, Michael Fortier, to give more information (see April 23 - May 6, 1995, May 1, 1995 and May 8, 1995). Nichols has been held in the Sedgwick County, Oklahoma, jail since April 22 as a material witness to the bombing. He is accompanied by his two public defenders, Gradert and David Phillips. Gradert calls his client “scared… upset, and… nervous.” [New York Times, 5/10/1995]

Entity Tags: Lana Padilla, David Phillips, El Reno Federal Corrections Center, Joshua Nichols, Michael Joseph Fortier, Steven Gradert, Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

An FBI affidavit filed today in Oklahoma suggests that planning for the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) began as early as September 1994, when accused bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995 and April 24, 1995) began buying thousands of pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and rented the first of several storage sheds in small towns in Kansas (see October 17, 1994). Nichols is accused of accumulating two tons of ammonium nitrate and, just before the bombing, purchasing an unspecified quantity of diesel fuel, another essential ingredient for the bomb. The affidavit, unsealed at a hearing for Nichols at the El Reno Federal Corrections Center outside Oklahoma City and intended to show a judge that sufficient grounds exist to charge Nichols with the bombing, provides the first look at the government’s case against Nichols and accused bomber Timothy McVeigh (see April 21, 1995). The affidavit provides a chronological timeline of events that together portray Nichols and McVeigh as Army buddies turned amateur terrorists, and suggests that Nichols may have actually led the bomb-making effort, though he did not participate in the bombing itself. Nichols’s brother James Nichols has also been indicted on charges of building bombs (see May 11, 1995). However, the indictment shows no direct involvement by James Nichols or anyone else in the bombing conspiracy. The indictment specifically offers no evidence that the as-yet unidentified “John Doe No. 2” (see April 20, 1995), suspected of accompanying McVeigh when he rented the Ryder truck used to deliver the bomb (see April 15-16, 1995, 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995), is involved in the bombing, though authorities continue to search for him, believing him to be either a co-conspirator or a valuable witness. The affidavit states that “an explosive device of the magnitude” that wrecked the Murrah Federal Building “would have been constructed over a period of time utilizing a large quantity of bomb paraphernalia and materials.” Building such a bomb, the document says, “would necessarily have involved the efforts of more than one person,” although it does not say how many. The affidavit also reveals that five months before the bombing, Nichols left a letter that instructed McVeigh to clean out two of the storage sheds if Nichols were to unexpectedly die, told McVeigh he would be “on his own,” and said he should “go for it!” (see November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995). It shows that a search of Nichols’s home found numerous materials appearing to be related to the bomb, including explosive and other materials used in the bomb itself. And Nichols has admitted to having the knowledge required to make an ANFO (ammonium nitrate and fuel oil) bomb such as the one used in Oklahoma City. He said he disposed of ammonium nitrate by spreading it on his yard on April 21 after reading press accounts that the substance was one of the ingredients used in the bomb, and told investigators that the materials they found at his home were “household items.” After the 13-minute hearing, US Magistrate Ronald L. Howland orders Nichols held without bail pending a preliminary hearing scheduled for May 18. Patrick M. Ryan, the interim US Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, reads the charges against Nichols, and says the government will seek the death penalty. Nichols is currently represented by two federal public defenders, David Phillips and Steven Gradert, but the judge is expected to appoint another lawyer to represent Nichols on the bombing charges. [New York Times, 5/12/1995]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Phillips, El Reno Federal Corrections Center, James Nichols, Patrick M. Ryan, Steven Gradert, Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, Ronald L. Howland

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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