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Profile: Susan Otto

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Susan Otto was a participant or observer in the following events:

El Reno Federal Corrections Center.El Reno Federal Corrections Center. [Source: Federal Bureau of Prisons]White supremacist Timothy McVeigh, held by federal officials on suspicion of being the Oklahoma City bomber (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995), is arraigned in a makeshift federal courtroom at Tinker Air Force Base near Midwest City, Oklahoma. He is arraigned before a federal magistrate on charges of maliciously damaging federal property. Merrick Garland, the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division in Washington, arrives in time to handle the hearing for the FBI. Garland is displeased by the lack of openness in the hearing, and arranges to have a dozen reporters in the “courtroom.” McVeigh, dressed in an orange jumpsuit and socks with no shoes, is led into the room and given a copy of the criminal complaint, or affidavit, against him. The affidavit is signed by an FBI agent, and in 14 paragraphs lays out the government’s case for holding McVeigh on suspicion of carrying out the bombing. The affidavit includes evidence given by Carl Lebron, McVeigh’s former fellow security guard (see April 20-21, 1995), though Lebron is not identified in the document. According to Lebron, McVeigh was “known to hold extreme right-wing views” and had been “particularly agitated” about the Branch Davidian debacle two years earlier (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). The affidavit says McVeigh visited the site of the Davidian compound in Waco during the standoff (see March 1993), and later expressed “extreme anger at the federal government” and said the government “should never have done what it did.” Reporter Nolan Clay for the Daily Oklahoman later recalls: “He seemed like such a kid. I’ve covered courts for years, and I’ve seen hundreds of killers and usually they have an aura around them of being a killer. That look in their eyes. You can tell in their eyes they’re killers, and they are scary. But he looked like the kid next door. It’s true, that image about him. I was very surprised by that.” McVeigh enters no plea at the arraignment.
Transferred to Federal Prison - After the arraignment, McVeigh is transferred to the El Reno Federal Corrections Center, just west of Oklahoma City. [New York Times, 4/22/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 196-198] He is represented by two local lawyers, public defender Susan Otto and private attorney John Coyle, who has specialized in death penalty cases. [New York Times, 4/22/1995] At El Reno, McVeigh is held in a cell with thick glass walls eight feet high; Coyle has to shout through the glass so that McVeigh can hear him. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 223] According to law professor Douglas O. Linder, McVeigh tells Otto and Coyle, “Yes, I did the bombing.” Any such admission would be privileged and not divulged to law enforcement officials. [Douglas O. Linder, 2006]
Conditions of Incarceration - McVeigh refuses to provide any more information than his name, Army rank, and serial number, and allegedly tells investigators that he considers himself a prisoner of war. According to reporter Michelle Green, “The implication was clear: He saw himself as a revolutionary in the hands of the government he allegedly hoped to destroy.” [People, 5/8/1995] He will later deny reports that he considers himself a prisoner of war, and refused to give any information besides name, rank, and serial number (see June 26, 1995 and June 26, 1995). McVeigh is given the same privileges as most prisoners at El Reno, a medium-security federal facility: he is allowed to send and receive mail, read newspapers, receive visitors, and listen to the radio, though he has no television access. Reportedly during his time at El Reno he will receive at least four marriage proposals from women writing to him in prison. He will meet with his lawyers on a near-daily basis and will receive two visits from his father. He reads the Dallas Morning News and a number of right-wing publications, from the mainstream newspaper, the Washington Times, to the more extremist Spotlight, the John Birch Society’s New American, and a number of newsletters from militia leaders James “Bo” Gritz and Jack McLamb. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 194]

Entity Tags: Carl Edward Lebron Jr, John Coyle, Douglas O. Linder, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Tinker Air Force Base, El Reno Federal Corrections Center, Terry Lynn Nichols, Merrick Garland, Timothy James McVeigh, Michelle Green, Susan Otto, Nolan Clay

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The court-appointed lawyers for suspected Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, public defender Susan Otto and private attorney John Coyle (see April 21, 1995), ask to be taken off the case. Both Otto and Coyle say they knew people killed in the blast (including Coyle’s law partner Gloyd McCoy) and cannot be objective in defending McVeigh. Coyle’s family has been threatened by people who apparently do not want Coyle to defend McVeigh. “Someone in as much trouble as Mr. McVeigh is entitled to 100 percent commitment from his lawyer,” Coyle says. “I personally witnessed the carnage. I had a friend die in the explosion.” Witnessing the aftermath of the blast “call[s] me to question whether or not I could give 100 percent. I just don’t see how any lawyer in Oklahoma City can be objective about anything in this case.” Before asking to withdraw, Otto and Coyle file a motion to transfer the case out of Oklahoma (see April 22, 1995); Coyle says the motion is “very important for this young man, if he is to get a fair trial.” The motions are filed in Federal District Court in Oklahoma City, a building that was damaged in the bombing and has been closed until today, when it is opened solely to allow McVeigh’s lawyers to file their motions. Coyle says McVeigh “understands” his reasons for withdrawing. Coyle lost a friend and fellow lawyer, Mike Weaver, in the blast, and himself was in a county courtroom that was damaged by a slab of falling rock. Otto’s office was damaged, its windows blown out, and her car was crushed in a parking lot. Coyle says he will suggest replacements for himself and Otto. [New York Times, 4/22/1995; New York Times, 4/24/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 223-224; Indianapolis Star, 2003] On May 8, attorney Stephen Jones will be assigned to represent McVeigh (see May 8, 1995). [Indianapolis Star, 2003]

Entity Tags: Stephen Jones, Gloyd McCoy, Mike Weaver, Timothy James McVeigh, Susan Otto, John Coyle

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

April 27, 1995: McVeigh Held without Bail

US magistrate Ronald L. Howland orders Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995) held without bail. Howland rules there is “an indelible trail of evidence” linking McVeigh to the bombing, and orders him detained. FBI agent John Hersley testifies that at least three witnesses place McVeigh near the Murrah Federal Building minutes before the blast that almost destroyed the building and killed over a hundred people. Hersley also testifies that McVeigh’s clothing bore chemical residue that matched the explosives used in the blast. The hearing is held in the El Reno Federal Corrections Center instead of the usual courtroom setting because of security concerns, in a prison cafeteria converted for the purpose. Only lawyers, FBI agents, and a small number of journalists are present, along with McVeigh, who is heavily cuffed and shackled. Hersley testifies that one witness, a meter maid, saw someone she believes to be McVeigh driving a Ryder Rental truck similar to the one that detonated in front of the Murrah Building. A second witness, Hersley says, saw someone who he believes to be McVeigh walking away from the Ryder truck after parking it in front of the building. A third witness saw what he believes to be two men (see April 20, 1995) driving away from the scene of the blast in a yellow Mercury (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995). Hersley says that other witnesses saw McVeigh bring a Ryder truck to the Dreamland Motel in Junction City (see April 13, 1995), and saw him again in the truck a day before the bombing (see 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). The other person to testify is trooper Charles Hanger, who arrested McVeigh on unrelated gun charges (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995). McVeigh’s lawyer John Coyle tells the judge that his client chooses to “stand mute” during the hearing, and later points out that none of the witnesses cited by Hersley actually saw McVeigh detonate the bomb. At the beginning of the hearing, both of McVeigh’s lawyers, Coyle and Susan Otto, again ask to be removed from the case (see April 24, 1995) because of their personal experiences with the bombing. “We heard it,” Otto tells Howland. “We smelled it. We lived there in it.” Otto lists the names of 10 people she and Coyle knew who were killed in the bombing. They both repeat their request that McVeigh’s trial be moved from Oklahoma City (see April 22, 1995). [New York Times, 4/27/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 223-224; Douglas O. Linder, 2001] Coyle will later tell reporters, “The reasons I accepted the appointment in the first place is that I’ve never seen anyone who needed a lawyer more than that boy did.” Now, however, “[t]his is a case where I know too many people. In a sense, I feel like a victim. Everyone in Oklahoma City feels like a victim. [McVeigh] deserves a lawyer who would have no hesitation in his defense.… If ever anyone needed a lawyer, it is this young man. And it should not be me.” [New York Times, 4/28/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 225]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charles Hanger, El Reno Federal Corrections Center, Timothy James McVeigh, Ronald L. Howland, Dreamland Motel (Junction City, Kansas), Susan Otto, John Hersley, John Coyle, Murrah Federal Building

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Renowned defense lawyer Roy Black, who has refused to defend Timothy McVeigh.Renowned defense lawyer Roy Black, who has refused to defend Timothy McVeigh. [Source: USLaw (.com)]With accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s two court-appointed lawyers, John Coyle and Susan Otto, asking to be removed from the case (see April 24, 1995 and April 27, 1995), it is unclear who will step up to represent McVeigh. Oklahoma defense lawyer Allen Smallwood tells a reporter: “I’ve said to many people, the acid test of a criminal defense lawyer is could you represent Hitler or Adolph Eichmann? And, yes, I could have. But the publicity and the downside to my life personally would be far, far greater in representing McVeigh than Hitler.” McVeigh is widely regarded as a pariah, and many lawyers fear that to associate themselves with his case would do them irreparable personal and professional harm. Officials at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers say they are confident he will have the best defense possible. America has a long tradition of providing expensive and talented lawyers to represent even the most reviled and unpopular clients, going back to 1770, when future president John Adams represented British soldiers accused of murdering five colonists. If new lawyers are appointed, as seems likely, they will be chosen by the Defender Services Division of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts in Washington. Indications are that several lawyers have already been contacted about the case or expressed an interest in it and that the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is sounding out possible volunteers in case its help is sought. Oklahoma City defense lawyer Robert A. Manchester says bluntly: “The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution says everybody has a right to counsel. That doesn’t mean they have a right to me.” An American Bar Association ethics rule allows lawyers to turn down appointments if the client is “so repugnant to the lawyer as to impair the lawyer-client relationship.” A number of prominent defense lawyers have already said they would not defend McVeigh. Roy Black, the Florida lawyer who defended William K. Smith, a Kennedy family cousin, on rape charges, has refused, saying: “I find I do the best job in cases where I’m really interested in what I’m doing, and believe in the people and have enthusiasm for it. If no other lawyer was available to take the case, I think I would have the obligation to take it. I don’t think that’s the situation here.” White-collar defense lawyer Carl Rauh says he would not defend accused bombers such as McVeigh. Jack Zimmerman, who defended Branch Davidian Steve Schneider (see March 13, 1993), says he would not defend a client accused of treason unless he was personally convinced of the client’s innocence. Zimmerman’s colleague Richard DeGuerin, who defended Branch Davidian leader David Koresh (see March 13, 1993 and March 29-31, 1993), notes: “You have to understand that the information known about this case is what’s being fed to the public by the authorities. We found out in Waco the public was not being fed the truth.” Lawyers William Kunstler and Ronald Kuby, who have made their reputations defending high-profile, unpopular clients, say they only take clients from the political left or members of minorities whom they feel can be made to represent social issues. “We don’t represent right-wing murderers,” Kuby says. “If I wanted to represent right-wing murderers, I’d become a corporate lawyer.” Kuby says he does not believe that anyone from the American left would have committed such a violent crime. And Manchester notes the difficulty any lawyer will face in becoming involved in such a trial. “My estimate is that whoever gets into the case is going to be faced with 70- to 90-hour weeks solid for six to eight months at $40 an hour for out-of-court time,” he says. “You’re starting two leagues behind the government, and you’ll run all the way until the final day of trial to try and catch up.” Los Angeles defense lawyer Harland Braun, who earlier in his career prosecuted five members of the notorious Manson Family, says: “The government had better make sure they have good cases that are well documented. Otherwise, you’re not only going to create martyrs, but you’re going to create perpetual questions like the JFK thing: Did this guy really do it or was he part of a plot? So you’d better know what you’re doing.” [New York Times, 4/28/1995] McVeigh’s lead lawyer will be Stephen Jones (see May 8, 1995).

Entity Tags: Harland Braun, Timothy James McVeigh, William Kunstler, Allen Smallwood, Administrative Office of the United States Courts, Carl Rauh, Stephen Jones, Susan Otto, Ronald Kuby, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, John Coyle, Jack Zimmerman, Roy Black, Robert A. Manchester, American Bar Association, Richard DeGuerin

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 24, 1995) disavows two Houston lawyers who say they have been hired by his family to represent them. One of the lawyers, Brent Liedtke, suggests McVeigh is being manipulated by his two current defense lawyers, who have said they do not wish to continue representing McVeigh (see April 24, 1995 and April 27, 1995). Liedtke goes on to accuse prison officials of denying him and his partner, Paul Looney, access to McVeigh. In a one-page “advisement to the court,” McVeigh says Looney and Liedtke have portrayed themselves as his lawyers against his wishes. He says he met briefly with them at the Federal Correctional Institution at El Reno, Oklahoma, on April 27 and told them he did not want them on the case. “Any statements made by Messrs. Looney and Liedtke to the contrary are false and unauthorized,” McVeigh’s statement reads in part. “I do not now, nor did I ever, desire their representation in this matter.” McVeigh’s “advisement” is filed by his current lawyers, Susan Otto and John Coyle. Liedtke states that he doubts McVeigh wrote the document, saying: “I don’t think he uses words like ‘Messrs’ and like this. This is not the way he talks.” Liedtke says McVeigh’s sister Jennifer (see April 24, 1995) retained Looney. [New York Times, 5/4/1995]

Entity Tags: Jennifer McVeigh, Brent Liedtke, John Coyle, Paul Looney, Timothy James McVeigh, Susan Otto

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Stephen Jones.Stephen Jones. [Source: Associated Press]Attorney Stephen Jones is named by the court as the lead defender of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995). He agrees to work for a taxpayer-funded rate of $125 an hour, considerably less than his usual fee. Jones, who primarily represents large oil and insurance firms, is a Republican activist who failed to unseat Senator David Boren (D-OK) in 1990 and has represented a number of unpopular clients. He is joined by another prominent defense attorney, Robert Nigh Jr., a lawyer recommended to the case by Jones before he himself was chosen to represent McVeigh. Jones discussed the request from Judge David L. Russell with, among others, Governor Frank Keating (R-OK); Jones has done legal work for Keating in the past, and wished to ensure that his representation of McVeigh would not damage Keating’s reputation. Jones eventually accepted Russell’s request; when he accepted, Russell quipped, “I hope I haven’t signed your death warrant.” Jones replied, “That makes two of us.” To the media, Jones says: “My role is as old as the Constitution. Whether I perform professionally will be determined by how I conduct myself and whether my client is satisfied.… I did not seek or request the appointment or even encourage it in any way. I have been drafted. However, I will do my duty.… I will seek, for my part, to avoid the circus atmosphere that has prevailed in certain other well-known jurisdictional proceedings, which have included the self-promotion and self-aggrandizement of some individuals. I am a small-town county-seat lawyer.… I want to set a contrast to the O. J. Simpson [a former athlete and Hollywood celebrity recently acquitted of murdering his wife and another man in a sensational court proceeding] trial, which represents much of what is wrong with the legal process,” he says, referring to what he sees as “a lot of self-aggrandizement by all the parties: the witnesses, the jury, the judge, the lawyers.” He concludes with a warning to the press: “There is a well-recognized tension between the need for a free press and a fair trial, so I hope the ladies and gentlemen of the press will understand that I will defend this case in the courts of law.” Jones is working with McVeigh’s current lawyers, John Coyle and Susan Otto, who are preparing to leave the case (see April 24, 1995 and April 27, 1995). (When the media announces Jones’s naming to the case, one of Coyle’s staffers shouts: “You watch. He will make it all about himself.”) Jones is preparing McVeigh for a grand jury, which is being seated to hear evidence against him. McVeigh turned down the offered services of two lawyers (see May 3, 1995), but is willing to accept Jones’s services. [New York Times, 5/8/1995; New York Times, 6/15/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 231; Serrano, 1998, pp. 248-249; Douglas O. Linder, 2006; TruTV, 2/2009] “There’s no doubt in my mind that Stephen Jones views this to be a horrible crime,” Tony Graham, a former federal prosecutor who has often opposed Jones in court, will comment. “That he can go ahead and represent a person accused of that is the mark of a very professional lawyer.” Enid lawyer and former mayor Norman L. Grey will say: “With Stephen, you know you have a battle on your hands. I don’t think there’s a better legal mind in the area of criminal proceedings, state or federal.” [New York Times, 6/15/1995]
Conspiracy Theories, 'Necessity' Defense - Later, Jones will recall watching news footage of the bombing at his law office in Enid, Oklahoma, and remember his old elementary school being firebombed. “I recognized it as a bombing right away,” he will say. “And the minute I heard about the day care, I thought, ‘That’s it.’ Because I remembered the babies at Waco (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). And later that night I heard about old man Snell [executed white supremacist Richard Wayne Snell—see 9:00 p.m. April 19, 1995] and I thought, ‘Yes, that’s relevant too.’” Author Richard A. Serrano will later write, “Even on that first evening, Jones was thinking conspiracy theories.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 249] Though Jones is not forthcoming about the defense strategy he and McVeigh intend to deploy, legal observers speculate that they will base their defense on attempts to discredit government witnesses that the prosecution will use to build their case against McVeigh. Court observers say McVeigh is working actively with Jones on their defense. In the following days, Jones will begin interviewing people in Kansas, Oklahoma, and elsewhere, trying to undermine the credibility of the witnesses the prosecution is expected to bring into court. Jones is also expected to try to prove that the prosecutors’ evidence against McVeigh is largely circumstantial and therefore open to reasonable doubt. Observers doubt that Jones will try to use an insanity defense, because McVeigh is clearly competent to stand trial. They also doubt that Jones will try to allege that McVeigh was motivated by political opposition to the government, since innocent people, including children, were killed in the blast. No one feels that the prosecution will offer McVeigh any sort of plea deal. [New York Times, 5/11/1995] Researchers later learn that McVeigh wants Jones to present what some call a “necessity defense”—admitting to the bombing and justifying it by detailing what he considers the “crimes” of the federal government that his bombing was designed to prevent. McVeigh believes that if the jury hears about the government’s actions at Ruby Ridge, Idaho (see August 31, 1992 and August 21-31, 1992), and at the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After), at least some of the jurors will be sympathetic. More importantly, such a politicized trial would give McVeigh the opportunity to make his case against an overreaching federal government in the larger court of public opinion. Jones will resist presenting such a defense, in part because he believes that McVeigh has no chance of establishing, as he would be required to do to raise the defense, that the federal government put him in “imminent danger.” [Douglas O. Linder, 2006]
Third Lawyer to Join Jones, Nigh - Two weeks later, Russell will name Houston lawyer Richard Burr to join Jones and Nigh for the defense. Burr has extensive experience working with death penalty cases, and formerly directed the Capital Punishment Project of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Any capital case, but particularly one of this magnitude, calls for our system of justice to perform as reliably, as fairly, and as humanely as it can,” Burr will say. “I feel honored to become a part of the defense team in Mr. McVeigh’s case.” [New York Times, 5/23/1995]

Entity Tags: David Boren, David L. Russell, John Coyle, Frank Keating, Tony Graham, Norman L. Grey, Susan Otto, Richard A. Serrano, Timothy James McVeigh, Richard Burr, Stephen Jones, Robert Nigh, Jr

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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