Two important prosecution witnesses in the Oklahoma City bombing trial took the witness stand Tuesday and swore the man who rented the Ryder truck the government says carried the bomb was Timothy McVeigh.
Eldon Elliott, the owner of Elliott’s Body Shop, the Ryder rental outlet in Junction City, Kan., and Tom Kessinger, a mechanic there, insisted that “Robert Kling,” who paid $280 cash and said he did not need insurance because he was a careful driver, was, in fact, McVeigh.
In the first of two days of pretrial hearings before Judge Richard Matsch of Federal District Court, the credibility of both men was hammered by Stephen Jones, McVeigh’s lawyer, who wants their testimony and that of seven others barred.
Pretrial publicity, Jones argued, has irretrievably tainted their ability to make an honest identification of McVeigh, who is charged with the bombing along with Terry Nichols, who will be tried separately.
Kessinger has already conceded that he had made a mistake when he said the square-jawed man who came to be known as John Doe No. 2 had accompanied McVeigh. The man he described was actually Pvt. Todd Bunting of the Army, who rented a truck a day later and had no connection with the bombing.
On Tuesday, under an on-slaught of questions from Jones, Kessinger said he was absolutely certain that the man he described as John Doe No. 1 was McVeigh.
“Was John Doe 1, the person you say is Timothy McVeigh, accompanied by anyone else when he came to the Ryder truck rental office?” Jones demanded.
“I don’t know,” Kessinger responded. “I want to say yes, but I don’t know who that individual was.”
Elliott, who has granted no interviews since the bombing, conceded at the outset, under questioning from Jones, that after the bombing, his shop printed up about 50 T-shirts saying “Elliott’s Body Shop - We Remember Our Customers.”
On Tuesday, Elliott said he was alone in the rental office on Saturday, April 15, when a man who called himself Robert Kling came in to reserve a Ryder truck.
On April 21, Elliott said, he was sitting 10 feet from the television set in the Elks Lodge when McVeigh, in prison garb, was led from the Noble County Courthouse in Perry, Okla. “I said, ‘That’s him.”’