Timothy McVeigh, an embittered drifter with a grudge against the government, was ordered to stand trial by a magistrate who found “an indelible trail of evidence” connecting him to the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.
At a makeshift hearing room inside a federal prison here Thursday, an FBI agent said several witnesses had seen McVeigh fleeing the federal building in Oklahoma City just before a bomb exploded there April 19.
One said he had to brake his car to avoid hitting McVeigh as he walked through a parking lot across from the federal building before it was shattered by a massive bomb. Another said he saw McVeigh and another man speed from the area in McVeigh’s yellow Mercury.
McVeigh, in manacles and a rumpled white T-shirt, was ordered held without bond by U.S. Magistrate Roland Howland, who cited a “high risk of flight.”
Howland said the FBI had laid out “an indelible trail of evidence that starts in Junction City (Kan.) and ends up at the front door of the Murrah (federal) building.” The FBI says the bomb that shattered that building was delivered by a van rented by McVeigh in Junction City.
The testimony came as the number of dead in the explosion passed the 100 mark, with 90 people still listed as missing.
Thursday, for the first time publicly, the FBI said it fears an accomplice of McVeigh’s - identified as John Doe 2 - might set off a second explosion.
FBI agent John Hersley said at the hearing his “primary responsibility is to find the other subject to prevent another bomb from going off.”
The FBI put out an alert for an Arizona license tag missing from the Mercury Marquis McVeigh was driving when he was arrested in Perry, Okla., 75 minutes after the bombing. The agency said it hopes the tag could lead to John Doe 2.
Inside the El Reno federal prison, 30 miles west of Oklahoma City, the FBI used a four-hour hearing to lay out evidence linking McVeigh to the bombing.
A meter maid quoted by Hersley said she saw McVeigh driving a Ryder truck headed toward the building shortly before the explosion. The truck was moving slowly enough that she thought the driver was going to stop and ask directions.
She described only one occupant in the truck, but other witnesses said there were two.
Hersley testified that investigators found explosives residue on McVeigh’s clothing after his arrest a week ago today.
While the FBI testimony added to circumstantial evidence against McVeigh, Hersley also said three witnesses who thought they had seen McVeigh outside the Oklahoma City federal building could not conclusively pick him out of a lineup held Saturday.
Of four witnesses shown the lineup, one positively identified McVeigh. One picked out two people including McVeigh. A third could not identify anyone, and a fourth first said he did not recognize McVeigh but later said, “Yes, that was him. I hesitated because he was staring at me,” Hersley said.
McVeigh followed the proceedings intently, showing little emotion but seeming to laugh to himself several times. He seemed most interested when one of his court-appointed public defenders showed the court a large collection of newspaper headlines about the case.
The FBI has said investigators are searching for other possible co-conspirators. Only McVeigh, 27, a decorated Persian Gulf War veteran, has been charged with carrying out the bombing.
Terry Nichols and his brother James, a Michigan farmer and friend of McVeigh’s, have been charged with conspiracy to manufacture illegal explosives in Michigan in 1992 and 1994 - when they had contact with McVeigh.
The Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram reported Thursday that investigators had located what was described as a diary detailing plans by McVeigh and associates to simultaneously bomb buildings in Omaha, Neb.; Phoenix; and Oklahoma City. The Star-Telegram’s two sources said the bombers settled only on Oklahoma City when they ran out of time to acquire enough explosives for all three.
The FBI and Justice Department said Thursday they have no knowledge of such a “diary,” but they would not comment on whether they have information about other planned bombings.
One of the Star-Telegram’s sources, saying “maybe it wasn’t a diary; maybe it was a letter,” reiterated Thursday night that agents had confiscated “something in writing” that outlined McVeigh’s intentions for bombings in the three cities.
Cable News Network, citing unnamed sources, reported Thursday night that FBI agents had obtained a letter written by McVeigh to a girlfriend revealing plans for bombings in other cities. The letter was found in the 1973 Mercury Marquis that McVeigh was driving when he was stopped 90 minutes after the bombing for not having a license plate on the vehicle, CNN said.
Carl Stern, spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, said: “Of course, we’ve received reports that McVeigh planned other attacks. We take them all seriously.”
In the makeshift prison courtroom Thursday, defense lawyer Susan Otto said McVeigh’s alleged presence near the federal building does not prove he had carried out the bombing.
“None of these witnesses has said they saw Mr. McVeigh detonate the bomb. That’s all there is to it,” Otto said.
McVeigh’s other lawyer, John Coyle, said some witness accounts placing McVeigh in Oklahoma City at various times before the bombing contradict other witnesses who placed him elsewhere, including Junction City.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: BOMBING NOTES Thursday’s developments: The trial. A federal magistrate ordered Timothy McVeigh held without bail in the bombing, saying there is sufficient evidence to hold him for trial. No further hearings were scheduled immediately. The magistrate turned down a request to move McVeigh’s trial out of Oklahoma City and denied requests from defense lawyers Susan Otto and John Coyle III to be removed from the case. The scene. The pace of work in the ruins of the federal building accelerated. The death toll reached 110, including 15 children, while the official count of the missing stood at 90, including five children. The manhunt. The FBI asked for help in finding an Arizona license plate number LZC646 that may have fallen off Timothy McVeigh’s car near the blast scene. Anti-terrorism. President Clinton’s request for new tools to combat terrorism won bipartisan welcome at a Senate hearing, but several senators urged a go-slow approach to ensure the protection of civil liberties. What’s next. A detention hearing for James Nichols, held as a material witness, is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. today at a the Milan Federal Correctional Institution outside Detroit. - Associated Press