“He said it was an easy target.”
With those words, a guilt-racked Lori Fortier testified Tuesday about the autumn day in 1994 when her husband’s Army buddy, Timothy McVeigh, sat in her living room and announced that he planned to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City.
“Tim specified that the building he was planning on bombing was the federal building in Oklahoma City,” the soft-spoken Fortier testified in U.S. District Court. “He diagrammed circles inside the truck, representing the barrels. He was thinking about using racing fuel and ammonium nitrate” as the explosive.
She said McVeigh explained that the barrels would be arranged in a triangular pattern inside the truck, with the base of the triangle parallel with the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. McVeigh said “it would get the most impact that way,” Fortier told jurors hearing the conspiracy and murder charges against McVeigh.
It was a tension-filled appearance from the moment Fortier, 24, was sworn in to testify.
Her eyes darted quickly to McVeigh, 29, who showed no response from his seat at the defense table.
Fortier’s husband, Michael, who befriended McVeigh when they were roommates in the Army, has pleaded guilty to weapons charges and lying to the FBI about his knowledge of the alleged plot. He is expected to testify later in the trial.
During her three hours of testimony, Fortier was often emotional, and she wept silently as she tried to explain why she had not gone to authorities before the bombing and had lied about her knowledge in the days immediately after the April 19, 1995, explosion that killed 168 people and injured more than 500 others.
“I was under the impression it wasn’t going to happen,” she said, attempting to explain why she hadn’t gone to authorities before the explosion.
“Why?” asked prosecutior Joseph Hartzler.
“Because no one wanted to help (McVeigh),” she said.
The mother of two children, Fortier said that after the explosion she lied to the FBI about her knowledge because “I was scared for my family,” particularly after she saw U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno calling for the death penalty for those involved.
“I wish I could have stopped it now,” Fortier said, brushing a tear from her cheek. “If I could do it all over again, I would have.”
She was in high school in Kingman, Ariz., when she met McVeigh after Michael Fortier, then her boyfriend, brought him home for Thanksgiving when they were on leave from the Army.
After graduating from high school in 1990, she moved to Manhattan, Kan., to be with Fortier, who was stationed at Fort Riley. They moved back to Kingman in 1991 when Fortier was discharged, she said.
She and Fortier were living in a trailer in Kingman when McVeigh first visited, in early 1993, and decided to stay, she testified. At the time, she recalled, McVeigh had been living with Terry Nichols, another Army buddy, in Michigan.
Nichols was indicted along with McVeigh, and will be tried later.
Lori Fortier said McVeigh was upset with the federal government’s handling of the Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas, that culminated in a fire and the death of more than 75 members of the sect on April 19, 1993. “He thought the government had murdered the people,” she said.
Under questioning by Hartzler, Fortier said she was present at numerous conversations with her husband and McVeigh during which he discussed how he and Nichols had stolen guns in Arkansas to be resold to finance the plot, how he and Nichols had stolen blasting caps from a quarry to set off the barrels of explosives and how McVeigh steadily turned up the level of his antigoverment rhetoric.
In September 1994, after McVeigh moved out of Kingman, he sent a letter, she recalled, in which he said he “wanted to take action against the government.”
Two weeks later, McVeigh returned to Kingman and visited the Fortier house trailer. As they sat in the living room, “Tim told us that what he meant (in the letter) was to blow up a building, a federal building,” she said.
“What did Michael say?” Hartzler asked.
“I think Michael told him he was crazy,” she replied. “I didn’t really know if he was serious or not. He never came to us with any violent behavior before.”
Later, he specifically said he planned to bomb the Oklahoma City federal building and, on one occasion, McVeigh and her husband drove through Oklahoma City to see the building, she said.
In December 1994, McVeigh returned again to Kingman and the Fortiers met him in the Mohave Motel. McVeigh had blasting caps, which they put in boxes and wrapped as Christmas presents, she said, so he could transport them without suspicion.
During the preceding months, McVeigh told them he had been purchasing fertilizer and racing fuel to make the bomb, she said.
On the morning of the explosion, Lori Fortier said she turned on the television and saw the horrifying bombing scene.
“I knew right away it was Tim,” she said.
“Did you feel responsible?” Hartzler asked.
“Yes,” she said, her voice strained.
“Why?” Hartzler probed gently.
“Because I could have stopped it,” she said, weeping.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TUESDAY’S DEVELOPMENTS Powerful testimony: Lori Fortier, a former friend of Timothy McVeigh’s, recounted how an angry McVeigh divulged in October 1994 he would blow up the Oklahoma City federal building because it was “an easy target.” Immunity deal: A judge granted Fortier immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony. Family reaction: Jannie Coverdale, whose young grandsons died in the bombing, lashed out at Fortier for failing to do something to prevent it. “I could strangle Lori Fortier,” she said. Truck evidence: Prosecutors revealed their largest, most important piece of physical evidence: a mangled, 250-pound axle they say links McVeigh to the bomb-carrying truck. Ryder truck executive Clark Anderson said the axle’s identification number was traced to a 20-foot Ryder truck rented on April 17, 1995 - two days before the bombing - from a Kansas auto body shop. Shop employees have identified McVeigh as the man who rented the truck. Fingerprints: FBI agent Louis Hupp, a fingerprint specialist, testified McVeigh’s fingerprints were found on anti-government writings discovered in his car after his arrest. A McVeigh fingerprint was also on a business card with a handwritten note to buy dynamite. What’s next? Lead defense attorney Stephen Jones will conduct the critical cross-examination of Fortier. - From wire reports