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Fbi Expert Defends Lab Work Mcveigh Lawyer Repeatedly Fails To Discredit Procedures

Wed., May 21, 1997

An FBI expert on Tuesday rejected defense suggestions at the Oklahoma City bombing trial that his findings of explosives residue on Timothy McVeigh’s clothing were tainted by improper handling and testing procedures.

Steven Burmeister sparred for more than two hours with defense lawyer Christopher Tritico, but refused to budge from his belief that the testing, conducted at the FBI laboratory in Washington, D.C., was not contaminated.

Nearly a dozen times, Tritico attempted to ask questions related to an internal investigation of the FBI lab that revealed questionable testing procedures in some cases as well as inaccurate testimony - though none of the findings involved Burmeister.

Each time Tritico tried to raise the issue, Justice Department prosecutor Beth Wilkinson objected and was sustained by U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch.

Justice Department prosecutors contend that McVeigh, 29, and co-defendant Terry Nichols, who will be tried later, purchased 4,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, mixed it with racing fuel, and detonated it in a Ryder truck on April 19, 1995, outside the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. A total of 168 people died.

Throughout his cross-examination, Tritico attempted to exploit the inability of the FBI lab to find explosives residue in McVeigh’s car, in two Kansas storage sheds allegedly rented by the defendants or in McVeigh’s motel rooms in Kingman, Ariz., where he stayed until just days before the bombing.

Burmeister conceded that although he reported finding residue on McVeigh’s clothes, an examination of McVeigh’s car turned up no trace of explosives residue.

Burmeister, however, said he conducted hundreds of tests on blank samples between his examinations of McVeigh’s clothing and a piece of the Ryder truck that he said bore ammonium nitrate crystals. The tests on the blanks came up negative, he said, indicating that his equipment and lab room were not contaminated.

When Tritico criticized Burmeister’s finding of only one piece of evidence with ammonium nitrate crystals, Burmeister replied that heavy rains as well as the force of the blast likely destroyed traces of other evidence.

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