To demonstrate the force of the blast that leveled the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, government prosecutors Wednesday wheeled carts into the courtroom that carried tire rims, a gear and an 8-foot truck frame - bent, blackened pieces that exploded over downtown Oklahoma City two years ago.
But it took the testimony of one eyewitness and his recollection of the truck axle flying through the air to prompt one juror to bury her face in her hands.
The debris was all that was left of a Ryder rental truck allegedly driven by accused bomber Timothy J. McVeigh.
The debris had been scattered over several city blocks, and prosecutors used it to demonstrate the destructiveness of the 2-ton ammonium nitrate and fuel oil truck bomb they say McVeigh drove to the front of the building.
And to further tie McVeigh to the bombing, the worst case of terrorism in America, prosecutors played for the jury chilling black-and-white photos from a downtown surveillance camera that show a Ryder truck moving slowly toward the Murrah building.
The series of photos, taken from the Regency Towers high-rise apartment building located catty-corner from the Murrah site, show the truck stopping momentarily before proceeding toward the federal office building.
The explosion occurred at 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995. The bombing killed 168 people and injured more than 500. McVeigh, on trial for federal capital murder, has pleaded not guilty.
The most gripping testimony came from a maintenance worker at the Regency Towers. Richard Nichols, the Regency janitor, ran outside at the time of the explosion, only to see the Ryder truck’s giant axle fly through the air and smash into his wife’s car.
The surveillance camera that captured the Ryder truck also showed Bertha Nichols driving her red Ford Fiesta up to the front of the Regency Towers. With her was a nephew, Chad, and they were picking up her husband.
“I took about two steps when there was a terrific explosion,” Richard Nichols testified. “We felt heat and pressure and it kind of spun us around a little.”
His wife had stepped out of the car. “What’s going on?” she screamed. He grabbed her. He thought the boilers had just blown at the Regency. “We made a lunge for the car because my little nephew was in the car,” he said.
That is when he saw the 250-pound truck axle flying toward them. “I saw this humongous object coming straight at us, spinning like a boomerang,” he said. They secured Chad, 10, in the car just as the axle struck the side of the vehicle and clanged onto the street.
No one in the family was hurt. But the memory haunts Richard Nichols. “Excuse me,” he said at one point from the witness stand, trembling so much he could not continue.