Homegrown Terrorists: Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols (1995)
To… officials working the FBI command center, the questions were popping up as fast as leads on their massive charts. Could this be war? Was it the work of religious fanatics? Of Middle Eastern terrorists? But why in the world Oklahoma? The failed attempt at bringing down New York’s World Trade Center two years earlier, yes. The plan to blow out the Holland and Lincoln tunnels and the conspiracy to take down the United Nations Building… it was understandable that terrorists might want to hit a recognizable national landmark. But in the middle of the country?
It is not my intention by these remarks tonight to magnify my office. But it is hardly possible, for the reasons I have stated tonight, to exaggerate the importance of this case and what it means to our country. Someday when you know what I know and what I have learned, and that day will come, you will never again think of the United States of America in the same way.
The parallels to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing are striking: a huge, homemade bomb, concocted mainly from readily available ingredients such a fertilizer, driven in a rented truck to the site of the attack by a terrorist, who activates the fuse and then escapes; a subsequent arrest primarily due to the stupidity or carelessness of a prime suspect.
But the contrasts are even more stark: where the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was perpetrated by Islamic extremists, the April 19, 1995, destruction of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was the hateful act of two young Americans, veterans of the U.S. Army, one of them a decorated Gulf War vet. And, while the World Trade Center attack was destructive, it failed to topple the twin towers, as the terrorists had hoped; Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols utterly ruined their target, killing 168 fellow Americans in the process.
Timothy James McVeigh and Terry Nichols met during Army basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, in May 1988. Their paths crossed again at Fort Riley, Kansas. Nichols was honorably discharged from the military in May 1989. McVeigh stayed on to make sergeant serve a four-month tour in the Persian Gulf War, receiving commendation and brief notoriety as part of an honor guard for General Norman Schwarzkopf. He was accepted for Special Forces training, but he washed out and quit the Army in December 1991.
Now, McVeigh’s vagabond days began. His “Bible” was a book called “The Turner Diaries.” He had acquired and read it as early as 1988. Four years later the underground novel was his handbook. The book was written by a white supremacist names William Luther Pierce in the late 1970s and published under the pen name Andrew MacDonald.
“The Turner Diaries” Plot Summary
The narrative starts with a foreword set in the year 2099, one hundred years after the events depicted in the book. The bulk of the book then quotes a recently discovered diary of a man named Earl Turner, an active member of the movement that caused these events. The book details a violent overthrow of the United States federal government by Turner and his militant comrades and a brutal contemporaneous race war that takes place first in North America, and then the rest of the world.
The story starts soon after the federal government has confiscated all civilian firearms in the country under the Cohen Act, and the Organization to which Turner and his cohorts belong goes underground and engages in guerrilla war against the System, which is depicted as the totality of the government, media, and economy that is under Jewish control. The Organization starts with acts such as the bombing of FBI headquarters and continues to prosecute an ongoing, low-level campaign of terrorism, assassination and economic sabotage throughout the United States. Turner's exploits lead to his initiation into the Order, a quasi-religious inner cadre that directs the Organization and whose existence remains secret to both the System and ordinary Organization members.
Eventually, the Organization seizes physical control of Southern California, including the nuclear weapons at Vandenberg Air Force Base; ethnically cleanses the area of all blacks and summarily executes all Jews and "race traitors". What is notable about the Organization is its use of even more brutal responses to dissenters than The System used, e.g. Turner receives a five-year probation and no jail time from the federal government for having guns in his house; The Organization's response to a white woman who had a black man as a lover is summary execution.
The Organization then uses both the Southern California base of operations and their nuclear weapons to open a wider war in which they launch nuclear strikes against New York City and Israel, initiate a nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union, and plant nuclear weapons and new terrorist cells throughout North America. The diary section ends with the protagonist flying an airplane equipped with an atomic bomb on a suicide mission to destroy The Pentagon, in order to eliminate the leadership of the remaining military government before it orders an assault to retake California. The novel ends with an epilogue summarizing how the Organization continued on to conquer the rest of the world and how all people of other races were eliminated.
[Photo “TurnerDiaries1” here]
By 1992, McVeigh – at loose ends after leaving the Army – was suffering from depression, entertaining suicidal urges, and venting his growing hatred of the federal government in letters to newspapers and congressmen. During the summer of 1992, he stayed with Terry Nichols on the family farm in Michigan. There he found Terry and his brother James to be kindred spirits, when it came to anti-government vitriol. In late August, the trio followed with interest and growing anger the ten-day siege of survivalist Randy Weaver’s Ruby Ridge, Wyoming, homestead, a siege that ended with Weaver’s son and an FBI agent dead.
During the succeeding autumn and early winter, McVeigh supported himself as a security guard and by buying and selling firearms at gun shows. Then in February 1993, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco spearheaded the siege of David Koresh’s Branch Davidians religious commune near Waco, Texas. An initial assault on the compound left a total of 10 dead and resulted in a 51-day standoff. McVeigh drove to Texas in an attempt to join the group but was blocked at a checkpoint some three miles away. There he gave an interview that appeared in the Southern Methodist University student newspaper along with a photograph of the future bomber, seated on the hood of his car and wearing an Army fatigue cap.
McVeigh’s nomadic existence continued for a time after Waco. Also a political nomad, he wandered farther and farther from the mainstream, submerging himself into the world of right-wing militias. Finally settling into a rented house in Kingman, Arizona, where he works in a lumberyard, McVeigh begins to learn the art of bomb building. Returning now and aging to Michigan, he stays in close contact with Terry Nichols, who has settled down with a Philippine wife. By September 1994 McVeigh had settled on the Murrah Federal Building as the target by which he would ignite a second American civil war.
Between September 1994 and April 19, 1995, McVeigh executed his plans. Preparations involved renting storage facilities, accumulating the requisite quantity of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and nitromethane racing fuel, as well as dynamite and blasting caps, which he stole from a Marion, Kansas, quarry. He may have participated in bank robberies during this time period to raise necessary capital. He seems to have conferred with various like-minded rightist radicals. He certainly worked like a hand and a glove with Terry Nichols.
The upshot is that the McVeigh/Nichols bomb exploded at 9:02 am on Wednesday, April 19, 1995, killing 167, including children at play in the Murrah Building’s day care center, and injuring more than five hundred more. Less than ninety minutes later, a state trooper made a routine stop of McVeigh’s car, because it lacked a license plate. Having no registration papers, and armed with an illegal handgun, McVeigh was taken to the county jail in Perry, Oklahoma. A few days later, he very nearly was released on bail before the authorities realized whom in fact the local police were holding.
The first break for federal agents was discovering of the rented truck’s rear axel, which carried a vehicle identification number. From there it wasn’t hard to locate witnesses who could identify McVeigh as the man who had rented the truck. He was still in the Perry jail on April 21s, when the FBI knew whom they were seeking. Terry Nichols was quickly implicated, interviewed, and – after spilling his guts – arrested as McVeigh’s accomplice.
Then began the legal maneuvering that would climax in Tim McVeigh’s trial some two years later.
After some other local lawyers, initially tagged to represent McVeigh, bowed out, Stephen Jones, a transplanted Texan who had represented oil and gas interests from his offices in Enid, was appointed by the federal court to represent McVeigh. Michael Tigar, a Texan, was appointed to defend Nichols. The defense team soon initiated a series of pretrial maneuvers to better their clients’ chances. Shortly after a grand jury indicted the two on murder and conspiracy charges in August 1995, Jones and Tigar launched their challenges to the proceedings as planned by the U.S. District Court.
Federal Judge Wayne Alley had been selected to try the case in a courthouse situated less than a thousand yards from ground zero. Alley’s courtroom itself had suffered some (apparently only slight) damage from the blast. The two defendants were slated to be tried together.
First, Tigar and Jones contended that no Oklahoma judge could render unbiased justice. “More than thirty-three of the dead had conducted regular business affairs in the courthouse, most prominently the eight federal law enforcement officers. Some of the judges attended as many as seven funerals. Other judges helped in the rescue effort. An employee in the court clerk’s office had lost her baby” in the blast. And a fundraiser had been run for the victims right inside the courthouse itself.
When Judge Alley refused to recuse himself, the defense attorneys appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The three-judge panel described the case before them as follows:
On April 19, 1995, a bomb exploded at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The explosion destroyed the Murrah Building, killed 169 people, injured many others, and caused extensive damage in the surrounding vicinity. The explosion inflicted massive damage (upwards of $1,000,000) to the United States Federal Courthouse, which is located one block south of the Murrah Building. Over one hundred windows shattered and were blown out. The explosion caused substantial damage to interior ceilings, walls, and fixtures. The explosion decimated the glass doors at the entrance to the courthouse. District court chambers located on the third and fourth floors along the north side of the courthouse, including Judge Alley's third floor chambers and courtroom, were heavily damaged. Flying glass damaged woodwork and furniture in Judge Alley's courtroom. Parts of the ceiling collapsed in Judge Alley's chambers. Plaster ceiling tiles fell from the office ceilings and light fixtures were dislodged and *350 left hanging. The skylight in Judge Alley's courtroom shattered, covering the courtroom floor in an inch of broken glass.
Although Judge Alley lost no family or friends in the bombing, the explosion slightly injured a member of his staff, and injured other court personnel. Some court personnel and employees had friends or relatives who were injured or killed in the Murrah Building explosion. It is likely that other court personnel and two judges would have been severely injured had they been at their desks.
Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were charged by grand jury indictment with the bombing. The indictment charges defendants with a total of eleven counts of violating the laws of the United States: one count of Conspiracy to Use a Weapon of Mass Destruction in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2332a; one count of the Use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2332a and 2(a) & (b); one count of Destruction by Explosive in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 844(f) and 2(a) & (b); and eight counts of First Degree Murder in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1114, 1111 and 2(a) & (b).
Mr. McVeigh filed a motion for recusal of the presiding judge, the Honorable Wayne E. Alley, who had been randomly assigned to the case. Thereafter, Mr. Nichols filed his own recusal motion, arguing additional bases for recusal not presented by Mr. McVeigh. By order dated September 14, 1995, Judge Alley denied both recusal motions. Mr. Nichols then filed a petition for writ of mandamus with this court, seeking disqualification of all judges of the Western District of Oklahoma (including Judge Alley) or, in the alternative, an order directing Judge Alley to permit discovery and hold an evidentiary hearing regarding the factual bases for disqualification issues raised in the recusal motion. Thus, this matter is before us as an original proceeding in the nature of mandamus.
On this characterization of the controversy, the court concluded that, because His Honor’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, recusal was required.
Although the decision stops short of embracing the defense contention that no federal judge in Oklahoma could render unbiased justice in the case, U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch of Denver was selected to take over the trial.
The defense’s next tactic was to move for a change of venue, contending that no jury comprised of Oklahomans could render a fair and unbiased verdict for their clients. U.S. Attorney Patrick Ryan, newly appointed by President Clinton to Oklahoma City, pleaded “eloquently, even tearfully” to keep the trial in Oklahoma. Don’t make the victims suffer again, this time by depriving them of the opportunity to attend the trial in person. Judge Matsch moved the trial home to Denver anyway.
Now two for two, the defense team next sought to have McVeigh and Nichols receive separate trials. The advantage of separate trials in terrorism cases has long been appreciated by criminal defense lawyers. In this book’s introduction I quoted from my novel concerning Clarence Darrow’s defense of the Western Federation of Miner’s top officials in the murder/conspiracy trial for the bombing death of former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg in 1905. WFM officers Haywood, Moyer, and Pettibone were forcibly kidnapped in Denver and hustled back to Idaho to stand trial for conspiring to have the ex-governor – despised by labor for having forcibly crushed a strike while in office – assassinated. Darrow understood the value of forcing the state to prosecute each defendant separately: if he won only one acquittal, the entire conspiracy theory would fall under a shadow of doubt, opening the way for successful appeals of any other “guilty” verdicts. In the event, the first trial, that of “Big Bill” Haywood, the union’s treasurer and most prominent radical, ended in a verdict of “not guilty.” After that, the subsequent acquittal of President George Pettibone was almost a foregone conclusion.
As if taking a page from Darrow’s 1907 trial notebook, Jones and Tigar contended that (1) Terry Nichols’ statements to the FBI during the marathon (nine-hour) interrogation immediately following his arrest were coerced and that he had not been properly apprised of his rights, and (2) that for a jury to hear Nichols’ words echoing from the basement of the police station, without McVeigh’s lawyer being able to interrogate Nichols on the stand (thus invading Nichols’ Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination) would be unfair under any circumstances. The defense was on a role. Judge Matsch ruled that not only would the two receive separate trials, but additionally none of Nichols’ police station statements could be heard by McVeigh’s jury.
He also set McVeigh’s trial down for March 31, 1997.
In the event, Federal Prosecutor Joseph Hartzler, confined to a wheelchair by multiple sclerosis, opened for the prosecution on April 24, 1997. His audience included not only a packed Denver courtroom, but also victims and families watching on CCTV --- a first for any federal trial --- back in Oklahoma City. He reached immediately for the heartstrings of the dozen jurors.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, April 19th, 1995, was a beautiful day in Oklahoma City – at least it started out as a beautiful day. The sun was shining. Flowers were blooming. It was springtime in Oklahoma City. Sometime after six o'clock that morning, Tevin Garrett's mother woke him up to get him ready for the day. He was only 16 months old. He was a toddler; and as some of you know that have experience with toddlers, he had a keen eye for mischief. He would often pull on the cord of her curling iron in the morning, pull it off the counter top until it fell down, often till it fell down on him.
That morning, she picked him up and wrestled with him on her bed before she got him dressed. She remembers this morning because that was the last morning of his life.
That morning, Mrs. Garrett got Tevin and her daughter ready for school and they left the house at about 7:15 to go downtown to Oklahoma City. She had to be at work at eight o'clock. Tevin's sister went to kindergarten, and they dropped the little girl off at kindergarten first; and Helena Garrett and Tevin proceeded to downtown Oklahoma City.
Usually she parked a little bit distant from her building; but this day, she was running a little bit late, so she decided that she would park in the Murrah Federal Building. She did not work in the Murrah Building. She wasn't even a federal employee. She worked across the street in the General Records Building.
She pulled into the lot, the parking lot of the federal building, in order to make it into work on time; and she went upstairs to the second floor with Tevin, because Tevin attended the day-care center on the second floor of the federal building. When she went in, she saw that Chase and Colton Smith were already there, two year old and three year old. Dominique London was there already. He was just shy of his third birthday. So was Zack Chavez. He had already turned three.
When she turned to leave to go to her work, Tevin, as so often, often happens with small children, cried and clung to her; and then, as you see with children so frequently, they try to help each other. Little -- one of the little Cloverdale boys -- there were two of them, Elijah and Aaron. The youngest one was two and a half. Elijah came up to Tevin and patted him on the back and comforted him as his mother left.
As Helena Garrett left the Murrah Federal Building to go to work across the street, she could look back up at the building; and there was a wall of plate glass windows on the second floor. You can look through those windows and see into the day-care center; and the children would run up to those windows and press their hands and faces to those windows to say goodbye to their parents. And standing on the sidewalk, it was almost as though you can reach up and touch the children there on the second floor. But none of the parents of any of the children that I just mentioned ever touched those children again while they were still alive.
Hartzler then characterized the crime and the criminal. “In plain, simple language, it was an act of terror, violence, intend – intended to serve selfish political purpose. The man who committed this act is sitting in this courtroom behind me, and he's the one that committed those murders. After he did so, he fled the scene; and he avoided even damaging his eardrums, because he had earplugs with him.”
Turning to motive, the federal prosecutor employed the t-shirt McVeigh was wearing, when apprehended some 75 minutes later, as a powerful metaphor.
[T]he T-shirt he was wearing virtually broadcast his intention. On its front was the image of Abraham Lincoln; and beneath the image was a phrase about tyrants, which is a phrase that John Wilkes Booth shouted in Ford's Theater to the audience when he murdered President Lincoln. And on the back of T-shirt that McVeigh was wearing on that morning, the morning of bombing, the morning that he was arrested, was this phrase: It said, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." And above those words was the image of a tree. You'll see that T-shirt; you'll see the tree; you'll see the words beneath the tree, and you'll notice that instead of fruit, the T-shirt – the tree on the T-shirt bears a depiction of droplets of scarlet-red blood.
Then, in good workmanlike fashion, Hartzler laid out evidence he planned to present during the course of the government’s case:
• A business card for a military supplies firm, found in McVeigh’s car and carrying his prints, and in his handwriting a reminder to himself, “TNT at $5 a stick. Need more. Call after May 1.”
• A sealed envelope, also in the car, containing pamphlets and news clippings that the prosecution contended were windows into McVeigh’s mind… “And one of them was a quotation that -- from a book that McVeigh had copied. And it was a book that he had read and believed in like the Bible. The book is entitled The Turner Diaries. It's a fictional account of an attack on the federal government that is carried out with a truck bomb blowing up a federal building and killing hundreds of people. And the clipping that McVeigh had with him on this day of the bombing talks about the value of killing innocent people for a cause.
It reads -- and he highlighted this – ‘The real value of our attacks today lies in the psychological impact, not in the immediate casualties.’"
• The truck axel with the crucial VIN and the witness who watched it land and bounce into the street.
He talked about McVeigh’s life, his growing hatred for the government, the impact of Waco on mindset… how he and Nichols experimented with homemade bombs, educating themselves, preparing for action. Then he ticked off more of the key pieces of evidence the jurors should expect to see introduced:
• Receipts for bomb-making materials
• Calling cards and phone records of transactions
• The leases for three storage lockers
• The anticipated testimony of Michael and Lori Fortier, like-minded Arizonans in whom McVeigh allegedly confided his plans
• Correspondence with his sister Jennifer in which his motives once again appeared to be plain
• Records of the motel and truck rental proximate to the crime
• Surveillance tape placing him in a MacDonald’s near where the yellow getaway was purchased
Now Hartzler had to deal with a bit of a problem. For many months, the FBI had pursued a so-called “John Doe #2.” This was not Terry Nichols. This was someone who the truck rental folks had said accompanied Tim McVey when he picked up the 20-foot truck into which he built his bomb. The authorities had a sketch of JD #2:
[Photo “JohnDoeNumber2” here]
Although Mr. Doe looked nothing like Terry Nichols, he did resemble lots of other suspects. The FBI and various other law enforcement agencies received hundreds of tips. One called went so far as to say John Doe was “my wife.” Most likely, the rental clerks had seen a Fort Riley soldier, Private Todd Bunting, who had come into the Ryder agency near the military post at around the same time that McVeigh came by to claim his rental truck. No matter, Defense Lawyer Jones had played the John Doe #2 angle to the hilt. Conspiracy theory enthusiasts also latched energetically onto Mr. Doe. Indeed, to this very day, websites devoted to this mystery man, who in reality was probably either Private Bunting or else was non-existent, persist on the worldwide web. As speculation refused to die, post-9/11 events and actors were connected by conspiracy theorists to the 1995 bombing. Anticipating the dust Jones would try to toss in the jurors’ eyes, Hartzler cautioned:
There is another face that Mr. Elliott does not remember as well as he remembers McVeigh's face. It's the face of a second man that Mr. Elliott believes he saw with McVeigh on that Monday afternoon, only once, not on the first occasion. The man – nobody was with McVeigh that time. This is when McVeigh came to pick up the truck.
He saw that person just for a moment, glanced at him. His business, of course, was with McVeigh. That's who he was concentrating on.
Now, whether Mr. Elliott was mistaken about the existence of another person and who that other person might possibly be, if there is such a person, doesn't change the fact that Mr. Elliott will say that this defendant rented the truck that blew up the Murrah Building.
That same day, Stephen Jones opened for the defense, asserting,
I have waited two years for this moment to outline the evidence to you that the Government will produce, that I will produce, both by direct and cross-examination, by exhibits, photographs, transcripts of telephone conversations, transcripts of conversations inside houses, videotapes, that will establish not a reasonable doubt but that my client is innocent of the crime that Mr. Hartzler has outlined to you.
Remarkably, echoing his opponent, he began by highlighting the experience of a particular victim.
And like Mr. Hartzler, I begin where he began. As he said, it was a spring day in Oklahoma City. And inside the office of the Social Security Administration located in the Alfred P. Murrah Building, named after a distinguished chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, a young black woman named Daina Bradley was feeling the atmosphere a little stuffy and warm; so she left her mother, her two children, and her sister in line and she wandered out into the lobby of the Alfred P. Murrah Building. And as she was looking out the plate glass window, a Ryder truck slowly pulled into a parking place and stopped. She didn't give it any particular attention until the door opened on the passenger side, and she saw a man get out.
In the next breath, he unveiled his defense strategy.
Approximately three weeks later, she described the man to the Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, as indeed she did to us and to others, as short, stocky, olive-complected, wearing a puffy jacket, with black hair, a description that does not match my client. She did not see anyone else.
Jones intended to raise a reasonable doubt in the juror’s mind. Jones intended to demonstrate that somebody else – anybody except his client – had killed all those innocent people.
The government bore the burden. Jones didn’t have to prove McVeigh’s innocence. He didn’t have to prove who did it, if not his client. Consequently, while the prosecutors were required to shoot at McVeigh with a high-powered rifle, Jones could fire off shotgun blasts, hoping some of the pellets would hit his target: reasonable doubt.
But before firing those shotgun blasts at the jury, he tried to humanize his client. In fact, that was the threshold chore of the defense, to plant doubts about whether the young man seated at the beside Jones was the sort of person who would do such a dastardly deed, or if – and this was part two, already begun with Jones’ reference to a “short, stocky, olive-complected” man – only an alien terrorist would perpetrate such an atrocity.
So let me begin first with Timothy McVeigh. The evidence in this case, probably from the Government as well as from the defense, will show that yesterday, he turned 29 years old, as I think Mr. Hartzler has already made some reference to; for he was born on April 23, 1968 in Lockport, New York, son of William and Mildred McVeigh; and as Mr. Hartzler has indicated to you, he has a sister, Jennifer, younger by six years, and an older sister, Patricia, older by two years. Tim's dad, Bill McVeigh, had been an autoworker since 1963 and his mother, Micki, worked at various jobs, including most frequently as a travel agent.
Their (sic) parents were separated in June of 1984, when Tim was sixteen years old, and they were divorced in March of 1986. Tim continued to live in the family home with his father, Bill. He grew up in upstate New York. Witnesses will tell you that he started the first grade in September of 1974 in Lockport, New York, a small town just outside of Buffalo.
He continued through all of his schooling at Lockport. He made good grades except perhaps in his senior year – in fact, well above average grades. He got an honor pass award, which is reserved for students who exhibited above average academic performance and initiative, in his senior year; and when he graduated from the Star Point High School in Lockport in June of 1986, he had a small regents' scholarship to a state university in New York; but he didn't go to college.
He first started working at Burger King in the fall of 1986, until the spring of 1987. Then he switched jobs and went to work as an armored car driver for Burke's Security in Buffalo from the spring of 1987 to the spring of 1988. It was during that period of time that he knew and was well acquainted with some of the people that Mr. Hartzler mentioned to you, friends of his, like Mr. Darlak that he grew up with in upstate New York.
Then he went to work at the Burns International Security Service, March of 1992. He had a supervisory position there, and he left it in January of 1993. He came to Arizona, where his friends Mike and Lori Fortier lived; and Tim worked at the TruValue Hardware store in Kingman beginning in 1993 and again as a security guard at State Security during the same period of time. And then he went to work, so to speak, on his own, buying and selling and trading weapons at the numerous gun shows held throughout the country, of which there are probably anywhere from 2- to 3,000 a year.
But in May of 1988, he entered the armed services and stayed there until December of 1991, in the United States Army. After Fort Benning, his permanent station duty was Fort Riley, Kansas. And there he became a gunner for a Bradley fighting vehicle and repeatedly throughout his Army service, as his friends will testify here, he achieved a top gun ranking. In fact, first among 93 other Bradley gunners.
He achieved extraordinary advancement in the enlisted ranks from a private E1 to a sergeant E5 in less than three years. And then when the Operation Desert Shield, which became Operation Desert Storm, started, he served in the front line assault, in the Kuwait/Iraq operations. He was literally on the front line and made one of the first invasions into the enemy area.
During this service in the military, he earned one of our highest awards, the Bronze Star. He also earned the Army Commendation medal with an upgrade for valor. He received the Army Commendation medal, two Army Achievement medals, and several others. In fact, his unit was chosen to be the inner perimeter guard at the site where General Schwarzkopf and his opposite number in the Iraqi army arranged the terms of the armistice that ended the war.
After the war, he returned to the United States. He came back initially to go into the Special Forces. He had been accepted into it, but he had been in the desert for several months, had lost a considerable amount of weight and frankly physically wasn't up to it; so he and a friend of his who came back with him and joined on the same day dropped out the second day, because they knew they weren't cut out for his physically. He went back to Fort Riley, stayed in the service and then eventually got out, went into the reserves in New York, and then went to work at some of the places that I have suggested to you here.
That's basically his background, where he grew up, who his parents were, where
he worked, and what his position was.
Jones had struggled mightily during the months leading up to this day to work the media on behalf of his client. He had gotten himself reprimanded by the court early on for sneaking a Newsweek team into the jail, resulting in a cover story about McVeigh.
But this campaign came crashing down around his ears, as news media somehow got their hands on what purported to be internal defense memoranda, replete with damaging facts and opinions about McVeigh. These leaks had led the trial judge to seal inadmissible interview notes and other suppressed evidence. The Dallas Morning News, a prime beneficiary of the leaks, joined with other media in seeking a writ of mandamus to force His Honor to unseal these documents. In the midst of the trial, the Tenth Circuit denied their motion, refusing to issue the writ. However, the damage was already done. And McVeigh’s cold, detached demeanor during the trial would support the portrait of a callous killer, already established in the media, as against the sympathetic portrait painted by Jones in his opening.
Jones droned on into the late afternoon and began again the next morning, first suggesting that his client’s right-wing extremist views were more common and less incendiary then they might seem at first blush. Then he attacked the government’s leading witnesses, McVeigh’s former friends and alleged accomplices, the Fortiers and Nichols, and the physical evidence. He tried to cast a shadow over the competency and quality of the government’s investigations.
However, the defense’s only real hope was its conspiracy theory. This, too, Jones had been peddling relentlessly in the newspapers and on TV. Following a mid-morning break on the second day of the trial, Jones at last returned to the theme with which he had begun his opening statement on the previous afternoon. He contended in great detail that someone – two someones, in fact – other than his client had rented the Ryder truck.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, before the recess, I was describing to you what the three people at Elliott's remembered about the two men that came in to rent the Ryder truck that the FBI says carried the bomb.
From both the standpoint of the Government's evidence and ours, this is the critical event; and that is why I'm spending the time to tell you now, because we won't put on our case until much later, what we believe the evidence will show.
I have described for you what I believe the evidence will show Mr. Kessinger remembered as one of the people that was in the room the entire time Mr. Kling was. Mr. Elliott was not in the room except briefly.
I left off by telling you Mr. Elliott's memory as I believe the evidence will show it. Mr. Elliott, as Ms. Beemer had said to Mr. Kling, was working at his body shop. And I should say parenthetically that the rental of Ryder trucks is incidental to his body shop. His principal business there is he's got a body shop; but he's also got the Ryder truck franchise, and it's hooked up by the computer system to the Ryder office, wherever the corporate headquarters are.
In any event, be that as it may, he was working that Saturday morning, as he did most Saturday mornings, at his shop on April 15, 1995.
This fellow Kling comes up to him, and they have a brief conversation about putting a deposit on the truck. This is about 8:45 Saturday morning.
Kling paid the entire sum, which was exactly $280.32 to rent the Ryder truck. Elliott's memory was that Kling was approximately the same height as Elliott, and Elliott will testify that his height is about 5' 10".
Kling on this Saturday morning was wearing a camouflage military T-shirt, and he had a wrinkle or a drawn-in mark on his chin.
Kling came back to Elliott's Body Shop on Monday, April 17, 1995; and according to Mr. Elliott, this was about 4:20 P.M. Elliott asked Kling at that time if he had changed his mind about insurance and whether Kling wanted to inspect the truck with Elliott.
Now, this was important to Mr. Elliott, because if Kling wanted insurance, Elliott didn't have to inspect the truck, because if there was any marks on it or damage, it was covered by insurance. But if Kling didn't want insurance, then Elliott had the obligation to take a form and go out and inspect the truck and mark on the form whatever damage was already on the truck so that presumably when Kling turned in the truck, he wouldn't be charged for damage that was already on the truck before he rented it.
Elliott himself remembers that on that Monday afternoon, Kling was accompanied by John Doe 2, or another man. Elliott remembers that the second man had a hat with blue stripes or lightening on the side of it. He remembers that John Doe 2 talked to Robert Kling briefly and that John Doe 2 was a little shorter than Kling.
Also, Elliott remembers that on April 17, Kling was wearing Army fatigues or military-type clothing when he was in picking up the truck.
The individual with Kling on Monday was described by Elliott as being about 5' 7" to 5' 8", wearing a white cap with blue stripes.
Jones then worked hard to plant the notion that the government obfuscated and ignored the eyewitness evidence that someone other than McVeigh had rented the Ryder truck.
In June of 1995, the Government attorneys showed Mr. Elliott a photograph of a cap worn by Todd Bunting on April 19 – or actually, the next day, April 18, 1995, the Tuesday before the bomb went off on Wednesday.
Mr. Elliott, like Mr. Kessinger, told the prosecutors that the cap was not the same one worn by John Doe 2.
Mr. Elliott again told the prosecutors that Mr. Kling was with a John Doe 2 when Kling rented the truck.
Mr. Elliott was interviewed on numerous occasions in late April: on the 20th, again on the 20th, on the 27th. He was not invited down to Oklahoma City. He wasn't shown a photographic lineup. He was contacted again by the FBI on May 8. He told them he had no new information. And on May 19, he was again interviewed, this time concerning the color of the Ryder truck.
And on June 6, 1995, Mr. Elliott was served with a grand jury subpoena. On June 8, approximately fifty days after the Oklahoma City bombing, he was asked for the first time – on June – to look at a photo lineup. He had never been asked to participate in the lineup, he had never been asked to look at a photo spread or a photo lineup prior to June 8.
Before that time, he had seen countless media depictions of Tim McVeigh coming out of the Noble County Jail. He admits himself that he saw some of them; but on that day, almost two months after the bombing, shown the spread, he identifies Tim McVeigh.
The third person present was Vickie Beemer. She was the bookkeeper; and she worked the counter at Elliott's Body Shop. She was the one who actually handled the transaction. She stood directly across from Kling almost the entire time. Kessinger – he'll testify, he'll show you where he was sitting. He was kind of sitting over here. The counter goes like that; but Vickie Beemer is directly across the counter for ten, fifteen minutes with this man Kling.
She starts the paperwork. A reservation has been made. It's been prepaid with cash. The truck is there.
According to her, Kling tells her that his birthday is April 19; and Vickie Beemer states to Kling that she had been married longer than Kling had been alive.
She remembered that Kling had telephoned her on April 14 to do a rate quote. He had provided to her Omaha, Nebraska, as an address. She told the FBI she could not remember his face. She could not remember what Robert Kling's face looked like, but she did remember that a second person accompanied him.
While she could not remember Kling's face, she stated that he was approximately 5 feet, 10 inches tall, medium build. She was interviewed by the FBI on the 19th, the 20th, the 27th, the 28th, May 5, 8, June 6, June 9, June 28, November 14, 1996. In none of these interviews did she ever change her indication that Robert Kling was accompanied by John Doe 2.
On August 1, 1995, the proof will show that Vickie Beemer came before the grand jury in Oklahoma City; and when asked by the prosecutor how certain she was that somebody was with Kling when he rented the truck, she responded, "Without a doubt, a hundred percent sure."
She told the grand jury Kling was 5' 10" to 5' 11".
On Tuesday, the 18th of April, at the same hour, approximately 4:30, two men entered Elliott's. One is about the same height as Tim McVeigh, about the same build, and about the same facial features, except he has a mustache, or at least he did then. The other gentleman who accompanied him is a shorter man with a kind of a tan complexion. He has black hair, has a tattoo, and he's a kind of a stocky fella.
The taller man is Sergeant Michael Hertig. The shorter man is Todd Bunting. Todd Bunting has a hat that has stripes on it, like lightening. It's white and blue. He calls it his Carolina Panther hat.
The proof will show that Mr. Elliott and Ms. Beemer and Mr. Kessinger are mistaken about two men being there on Monday and in their confusion described to the FBI – honestly, I'm sure – the people on Monday for the people on Tuesday, or the proof will show that the two people on Monday bear a striking resemblance to the two people on Tuesday, or it will show there was only one person on Monday; and our proof is if they're not even sure about whether there was a second one, how can they be sure what the first one looks like?
This was a somewhat subtle argument. Jones wasn’t accusing the two soldiers, Hertig and Bunting. Rather, he was suggesting that the witnesses from the rental agency had confused two other customers from the day before with the two GIs. This went hand-in-hand with the “short, stocky, olive-complected” man victim Dana Bradley supposedly saw leave the truck-bomb moments before it exploded, very nearly killing her.
Jones had planted his seeds. Now he had to wait weeks to see if they sprouted and bore fruit. Meanwhile, Hartzler and his team laid out a textbook prosecution case.
First, they presented a series of witnesses who painted a complete picture of the bombing, the devastation, and the subsequent arrest of McVeigh. Patrick Ryan, the U.S. Attorney assigned to Oklahoma City was tasked to interrogate some of the survivors. One such witness was retired Army Captain Lawrence Martin, whose career had been cut short by the loss of an eye in the blast. He was assigned to the large army recruiting office in the Murrah Building. That morning, Sergeant Bill Titsworth from Fort Riley was paying a social call. He had been reassigned to the federal building. He’s brought his wife and two little daughters to introduce to his new colleagues. Some twenty army staffers were present in the offices, as Sergeant Titsworth made the rounds. The time was about nine in the morning. A moment or two later came the blast.
Ryan: Did you ever again see Sergeant Vickie Sohn alive?
Martin: “No, I didn’t.”
Ryan: “How about Dolores Stratton?”
Ryan: “Wanda Walker?”
Ryan ran down the list of victims. Then he asked the maimed captain what had happened to him when the bomb exploded.
Martin: “I ended up about twelve feet from my desk, went through a wall, and ended up in the next office.”
Ryan: “Did you hear anything?”
Martin: “No. I… I didn’t hear a noise at all. When I looked up to what used to be my window, all I saw was fire and smoke.”
Ryan: “All right. What did you do now after you had found yourself in this position? You felt numb? What happened? What next occurred?”
Martin: “Well, two of my sergeants, female sergeants, were crying, and it wasn’t like a normal cry. It was like a wailing sound and it was very eerie, and I knew something had really happened. And then I looked at myself and noticed that my wrist was damaged really badly and blood was pouring out.”
The tears weren’t confined to Captain Martin’s testimony. Attorney Ryan was in tears himself, needing to pause to compose himself from time to time during Martin’s testimony. Others in the courtroom cried, while the defense attorneys looked down at their feet. McVeigh simply stared straight ahead.
Lori Fortier out of Arizona was the bridge between this horror show and the defendant. Granted immunity, she had turned on her old friend, who had stayed with her and her husband many times on his travels back and forth around the South- and Mid- West. Referring to April 19, 1995, she recalled, “We turned the news on early that morning and se seen what happened. We saw that the building had been blown up, and I knew right away that it was Tim.”
Hartzler asked her if she felt any personal responsibility. “I could have stopped it,” she conceded.
Hartzler: “Why didn’t you say anything?”
Mrs. Fortier: “Because I guess on some level, I --- Tim was my friend and I thought that he wasn’t capable of it at that time. I don’t know.”
Hartzler: “he told you that he had the materials. Is that right?”
Mrs. Fortier: “Yes.”
Hartzler: “He diagrammed the bomb. Is that right?”
Mrs., Fortier: “Yes.”
Hartzler: “He told you what his target was. Is that correct?”
Mrs., Fortier: “Yes.”
Hartzler: “He indicated he was capable, didn’t he?”
Mrs., Fortier: “Yes, he did.”
Hartzler: “Why did you think he wasn’t?”
Mrs., Fortier: “Because I guess at some level I was in denial that he really was capable of this.”
Hartzler rubbed it in: “You recognize today that you could have stopped this from happening, do you not?”
Mrs., Fortier: “Yes, I do.”
Lori Fortier’s husband, who received no immunity, and whose hopes – caught on tape by FBI wiretaps – of achieving fortune and glory for his connection to the atrocity, but who ended up in prison for a batch of lesser federal offenses, corroborated his wife’s testimony.
Hartzler: “You realize that as you sit here today that you might have stopped this bombing, had you called someone?”
Mr. Fortier: “yes, sir. I live with that knowledge every day.
Hartzler: “Why didn’t you?”
Mr. Fortier: “There is really – there is no excuse that I could offer that would compensate for why I didn’t. I think one would have to look at my lifestyle and my friendship with Tim. I… I had known Tim for a while, eight years up to that point, maybe less than that, six years.”
He added, “But Tim – well, if you don’t consider what happened in Oklahoma, Tim is a good person.” Then, reminiscent of those who have contended that Hitler liked dogs, “He would stop… he would stop and help somebody that was broken down on the side of the road.”
Following a month of such testimony for the prosecution, Jones took up only a few days of the jury’s time. As promised in the first few paragraphs of his opening statement, he presented victim Daina Bradley, who had had business in the Social Security office on April 19, 1995. Co-counsel Cheryl Ramsey, a soft-spoken interrogator, suggested to Bradley, “You don’t want to be here, do you?” Bradley replied, “No.”
Q. Okay. When you got to the Social Security office – first of all, where is the Social Security office in the Murrah Building? Where was it on April the 19th?
A. It's on the first floor.
Q. Okay. When you went into the Murrah Building and went into the Social Security office, then what happened next?
A. I went in and signed the papers, and my mom was standing in line for – for us – for me. And I was doing the papers. I went to her and let her look over the papers.
Q. Okay. So she was actually holding your place in line?
Q. While you were trying to get everything ready to present to the person you were going to talk to at Social Security; is that correct?
Q. All right. You went over and talked to your mom about the papers that you had filled out; is that right?
Q. And what happened next?
A. At this time, I turned around and looked out the window.
Q. Are there all – is the front part of the Social Security office windows?
Q. Okay. And so you looked out the window, and what did you see?
A. I seen the yellow Ryder truck drive up.
Q. And what did you think when you saw the Ryder truck pull up into the – pull up?
A. That it was very unusual that -- downtown, they do not allow moving trucks as far as those kind of vehicles being parked down in that area.
Q. Okay. And did the – what did the truck do when you saw it?
A. It – they stopped.
Q. Did it park?
A. Yes. It parked.
Q. Okay. And did you see anything else at that time or did you continue your conversation with your mother?
A. I went back and I looked up and I started talking to my mother again and I looked back out. I seen two men get out of the truck.
Q. All right. Did you say anything to your mother about the Ryder truck when it pulled in and parked, or did you just think it to yourself?
A. I – me and my sister and my mother, we both thought that it was unusual.
Q. Okay. So there was something mentioned about it?
Q. All right. Now, you saw the men get out, and then what happens next that you remember?
A. I seen the driver get out.
Q. I don't want to get into your – what happened at that point yet. What happened after you saw the Ryder truck park and the men get out? Did you go back to talking with your mother?
A. No. At this time, my mother had told me to go back to my sister to – for her to help me fill out the part that – that I did not fill out on the application. At this time that I was going back, that's when I was looking out the window.
Q. Okay. You went over to your sister; is that correct?
Q. You were talking with her?
Q. Right? And then what happens next? Does the explosion occur shortly thereafter?
Q. All right. How long were you in the Murrah Building, do you think, before the explosion occurred, if you remember?
A. I don't. All I know is that when I was talking to my sister, that a flash of light came over the desk, and that's – that's where I – I don't know how long that it was there.
Q. And what is it that you remember next?
A. That I was trapped.
Q. All right. How long were you trapped in the building?
A. Before rescue or completely out?
A. I was in there for five hours.
Q. All right. And during that time that you were trapped, you had to have your leg amputated, didn't you?
Q. In order to be released from the building; is that correct?
Q. And did your mother and your two children survive?
Q. And your sister was severely injured, also, wasn't she?
Q. And you were then taken to the hospital at some point after you were retrieved from the building; is that correct?
Ramsey then directed Bradley’s attention to her hospital interview with the FBI.
Q. Did you tell them the Ryder truck came up and parked?
Q. All right. Did you tell them that you observed an individual get out of the passenger side of the vehicle?
Q. Okay. And did you give them a description of the person?
Q. All right. And what did you tell them about the person that got out of the vehicle? Do you recall?
A. I recall telling them that – that it was an olive-complexion man with short hair, curly, clean-cut. He had on a blue Starter jacket, blue jeans, and tennis shoes and a white hat with purple flames.
Q. All right. And did you tell him that – or tell them that he was wearing a baseball cap?
Q. And did you also tell them when you talked to them on May the 3rd and 4th that you observed him from a side view?
Q. And did you also tell the FBI what this person did when he got out of the Ryder truck?
Q. And what did you tell them?
A. I had told him that -- I told them that he had got out of the truck, went to the back of the truck, and proceeded to walk very fast forward in front of the truck. He went back on the sidewalk and left.
Q. All right.
A. In a rapid speed.
Q. And he was walking very quickly?
Q. And did that also call your attention to him?
Q. Okay. Did you also talk with the FBI on May the 3rd and 4th about the sketch that you had seen when you were in the hospital?
Q. And what did you tell the FBI about that sketch?
A. That man was familiar; that I had seen him get out of the truck.
Q. All right. And when had you seen that sketch? Did they show it to you or had you seen it when you were in the hospital?
A. I had seen it when I was in the hospital.
Q. When you saw the sketch when you were in the hospital, were you with someone or were you by yourself?
A. I was by myself.
Q. Now, on your screen, I have what's previously been admitted as Government's Exhibit 320. Is that the sketch that you saw on television?
Q. All right. And when you saw this sketch, did you say to yourself – I believe you told the FBI that you were certain that this was the person that you had seen get out of the Ryder truck?
Q. And I believe also, you told the FBI that when you saw him get out of the truck and walk down the sidewalk very quickly, the next thing that you recall was the explosion; is that correct?
Q. Now, did the FBI also show you sketches on May the 3rd and 4th when you met with them?
Q. And did you tell them that you had only seen one person –
MR. RYAN: Your Honor, I'm going to object to leading.
MS. RAMSEY: I'll rephrase the question.
THE COURT: All right.
BY MS. RAMSEY:
Q. Did you tell them about anyone else getting out of the vehicle?
A. No, I did not.
Q. Did they – did the FBI show you a sketch of the other person?
Q. And you could not identify that; isn't that correct?
Q. Because you said you'd only seen one person; correct?
Q. Okay. Now, you also met with the FBI on May the 21st; isn't that correct?
Q. When you met with them on May the 21st, had you been released from the hospital?
Q. And you met with them where?
A. I met with them at my lawyer's office.
Q. At Ms. Wallace's office?
Q. And is that in Oklahoma City?
Q. And when you met with the FBI on May the 21st, did you tell them about the Ryder truck?
Q. What did you tell them about the Ryder truck?
A. That it parked in front of the Social Security office.
Q. Did you also give them a description of the person you saw get out of the vehicle?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. And what was that description?
A. The olive-complexion man and the short hair, curly hair, with the Starter jacket, blue jeans, and tennis shoes, with the baseball hat with the flame, purple flame.
Q. Did you also tell them that the hat was white on one side with a purple flame on it?
A. I told him the hat was white with flames on it.
Q. Okay. And did you also tell them that he – the person left the vehicle and walked at a very rapid pace?
Jones also presented the testimony of Frederic William Whitehurst, an FBI forensics expert, subpoenaed as an adverse witness, in an effort to undermine the prosecution’s physical evidence. Then at the end of May, little more than a month after they opened, lead counsel closed their cases. And only a few days after that, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. They had deliberated about three days.
The next step was the sentencing hearing. A Newsweek poll, published within less than a week of guilty verdict, found that 67 percent of Americans favored the death penalty. The jury didn’t disappoint them.
Appeals and Execution
The U.S. court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed McVeigh’s conviction and sentence, ruling,
(1) defendant was not entitled to relief based on claims of presumed and actual prejudice due to pretrial publicity; (2) allowing juror who allegedly made statement prejudging case to remain seated was not abuse of discretion; (3) evidence of alternative perpetrators was properly excluded; (4) “knowingly” intent standard applied to offenses of use of and conspiracy to use weapon of mass destruction; (5) lesser-included offense instructions were not warranted; (6) admission of victim testimony during guilt phase of trial was proper; and (7) admission of victim impact testimony during sentencing phase of trial was proper.
Six months later, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the Tenth Circuit’s decision.
Further appeals postponed the inevitable. Then in January 2001, McVeigh expedited the matter, dropping all pending appeals. Judge Matsch set May 16th as execution day. And then U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft released some 4,000 pages of government documents not previously provided to the defense. Angered, McVeigh at first threatened to seek reinstatement of his appeals. But on June 7th, he renewed his request to die.
His wish was granted on June 10, 2001.