The lawyer for Timothy McVeigh, the prime suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing, said Sunday that he expects his client’s Army buddy, Michael Fortier, to be indicted on lesser charges in the case in exchange for testifying for the prosecution.
The indictments to be handed up by a grand jury in Oklahoma City this week, possibly on Thursday, are expected to name only McVeigh and the other suspect in custody, Terry L. Nichols, as the main authors of the April 19 blast which destroyed the federal building and killed 167 people, said the lawyer, Stephen Jones.
Jones said he believes that Fortier is likely to be named in connection with such lesser charges as being an accessory to a crime, dealing in illegal weapons and lying to federal investigators.
But Jones added in a telephone interview that he suspects negotiations over the terms of any agreement still are going on. Fortier’s lawyers have declined comment.
“This is an incredible high-stakes poker game for Mr. Fortier,” Jones said.
Typically under such an agreement, a defendant would agree to plead guilty to lesser charges. Prosecutors then would recommend that a judge sentence him leniently, bearing in mind his aid to the government’s case.
It is believed that Fortier also has, as an additional consideration in the negotiations, his desire for a grant of immunity to protect his wife, Lori.
Such immunity was extended last week to cover McVeigh’s sister, Jennifer, who testified before the grand jury.
In the days and weeks after the bombing, hundreds of FBI agents and other investigators questioned thousands of people, including comrades from McVeigh’s Army unit, members of a paramilitary group in Michigan and residents of the high desert truck-stop town of Kingman, Ariz., all in the pursuit of countless leads that failed to pan out. In the huge manhunt for a suspect known as “John Doe No. 2,” several people were taken into custody, including a pair of beery drifters and a former biochemist holed up in a ghost-town trailer park with a cageful of rattlesnakes. All eventually were released.
No links were established beyond the original small group of suspects, and it now seems that John Doe No. 2 may not exist.
Fortier’s testimony about any knowledge of the plan to blow up the federal building and the rationale behind it could be expected to strengthen the government’s case against McVeigh and Nichols, which rests largely on physical and circumstantial evidence.
But Fortier’s activities also could present a dilemma for the Justice Department because Attorney General Janet Reno has vowed to seek the death penalty for the perpetrators of the bombing.
Since Fortier opened negotiations with the government in May, new evidence has surfaced suggesting he may have been more deeply involved than first had appeared.
Federal officials say Fortier has told them that he drove to Oklahoma City with McVeigh so that he could case the building.
But now, Fortier has been tied to a November 1994 robbery of an Arkansas gun collector - which the government believes was undertaken to finance the bombing - by a relatively rare Winchester rifle, identified as part of the haul, which he gave to a friend and neighbor in Kingman, James Rosencrans, to repay a debt.
Rosencrans has testified before the grand jury. In an interview afterward, Rosencrans said Fortier had asked him about three weeks before the bombing to drive McVeigh to an undisclosed location and leave the car at an airport.
Furthermore, Rosencrans said, about three days before the bombing, Fortier asked for help in burying a large, clanking duffel bag weighing about 80 pounds in the desert outside Kingman. He said that Fortier said it contained, among other things, Claymore mines and grenades.
FBI agents drove Rosencrans about the Kingman area, asking him what Fortier had buried in the desert.