After a week of hearing about fertilizer and fuel oil, jurors in the Oklahoma City bombing trial were sent home for the weekend Friday with moving testimony from a blast survivor who escaped down a fire department ladder.
The panel was shown the widely broadcast news videotape of government veterinarian Brian Espe, a man fearful of heights, carefully scooting down the ladder after the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Espe, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, described a rumble followed by a chilling silence from the blast that knocked out a wall and killed seven co-workers.
“I was in a room with no windows and the lights off,” said Espe, who had been alone in a conference room preparing a slide show when the bomb went off. “Now, I could see across Fifth Street to the Journal Record Building.”
Testifying in the trial of Timothy McVeigh, Espe said he survived the bombing with only minor scrapes, but soon faced another challenge: climbing down from the fifth floor on a ladder.
“I had a terrible fear of heights. I was very reluctant to go down the ladder,” he said, noting that he relayed these fears to the firefighter.
“He said, ‘I’ll walk you down every step of the way.’ Which he did.”
Espe’s account was the first from a bombing survivor since the emotional opening day of testimony April 25. After him, another survivor, Bruce Lind, who worked in the building for the Federal Highway Administration, said that after the explosion there was a lull.
“And then the building started to collapse … I could see it. It was sort of like rain. I could look over my left shoulder and I could see it coming down. After several iterations of this, it stopped altogether,” he said. “I could see sky.”
As the jury left for the weekend, two women on the panel appeared close to tears.
Earlier Friday, the focus of the trial had shifted to Terry Nichols, with a witness called to link McVeigh’s alleged accomplice to the purchase of two tons of explosive fertilizer.
The total cost of what authorities say was the major ingredient of the bomb that killed 168 people: $457.48 - paid in cash.
Robert Nattier, president and general manager of a Kansas farm cooperative, tracked the sale of ammonium nitrate to a man using the name Mike Havens - alleged to be Nichols’ alias.
Nattier said the man made two purchases of one ton each in fall 1994, six months before the bombing. Prosecutors say one of the receipts was found in Nichols’ home after his arrest and it bore McVeigh’s fingerprint.
Although the testimony dealt largely with Nichols, it came in the trial of McVeigh, charged with murder and conspiracy.
Nichols, an Army buddy of McVeigh’s, goes on trial later on the same charges.