The case against Timothy J. McVeigh drew to a dramatic climax Thursday, with a government prosecutor calling the Oklahoma City bombing defendant a “domestic terrorist” guilty of “a crime of ghastly proportions” and the defense portraying him as the unwitting victim of an overzealous federal investigation and the treachery of his friends.
The contrasting views of McVeigh, a 29-year-old decorated veteran of the Persian Gulf War, came as government prosecutors and defense lawyers presented their closing arguments in a case that began with jury selection just nine weeks ago. McVeigh could face the death penalty if found guilty of the conspiracy and murder charges to which he has pleaded not guilty. The jury is expected to get the case today.
Prosecutor Larry Mackey took nearly 3-1/2 hours to meticulously recap for the jurors the government’s contention that McVeigh, in an uncontrollable rage against the federal government, acted with malicious premeditation when he detonated a 4,000-pound truck bomb on April 19, 1995, in front of Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring hundreds more.
“Who could do such a thing? Who could do such a thing,” Mackey asked jurors. “Based on the evidence, the answer is clear: Timothy McVeigh did it.”
Referring to some of McVeigh’s virulent anti-government writings, Mackey concluded by pointedly telling jurors, “The law-enforcement officers who died were not treasonous officials … or ‘cowardice bastards.’ The credit-union employees who disappeared were not tyrants whose blood had to be spilled. And certainly the 19 children who died were not the storm troopers McVeigh said must die because of their association with the evil empire.”
“In fact, they were bosses and secretaries, they were blacks and whites, they were mothers, daughters, fathers and sons. They were a community. So who are the real patriots and who is the traitor?”
But Stephen Jones and Robert Nigh Jr., McVeigh’s lead attorneys, portrayed McVeigh as the victim of a rush to judgment by a federal government desperate to solve the worst act of terrorism on American soil and by a public overwhelmed by sympathy for the victims of the bombing.
“The emotion is a twin emotion,” said Jones. “On one hand what has been evoked, has been sympathy for the victims, and on the other hand, repugnance” for McVeigh’s far-right political philosophy.
“The evidence demonstrates tragically that what law enforcement did was terribly, terribly wrong,” said Nigh. “Instead of an objective investigation of the case, the federal law-enforcement officials involved decided the case and then jammed the evidence and witnesses to fit the decision.”
McVeigh’s attorneys attempted during the trial to cast doubt on the government’s case by suggesting that evidence was tainted by sloppy FBI lab work and that key witnesses had changed their stories to fit the prosecution’s version of events.
The government spent the entire morning presenting its summation. Looking directly at the jury, and speaking in a low, soothing voice to a packed federal courtroom, Mackey advised jurors that they did not have to agree with all of the government’s case, but should look at its evidence as a “smorgasbord” from which to “pick and choose” in order to convict McVeigh.
He said a “wall of evidence” constructed “brick by brick, witness by witness,” showed that McVeigh rented the Ryder truck that blew up in Oklahoma City, described to friends and family members his elaborate plans for the bombing, and stole and purchased the materials used to make the ammonium-nitrate fertilizer and fuel-oil bomb. His co-defendant Terry L. Nichols, who has also pleaded not guilty, will be tried separately at a later date.
“What you learn from all this evidence is that Timothy McVeigh either bombed the Murrah building and killed all those people,” said Mackey, “or he is the unluckiest man in the world.”
“Timothy McVeigh is a domestic terrorist,” Mackey said. “This is not a prosecution of Timothy McVeigh for his political views. This is the prosecution of Timothy McVeigh for what he did. … He committed murder.”
While McVeigh entered the courtroom Thursday smiling and conversing animatedly with his attorneys, he looked pale and tired. He sat with his hands clasped tightly in front of his face, betraying no emotion as Mackey recapitulated the case prosecutors presented over 18 days.
Survivors of the blast, and relatives of the victims, on the other hand, quietly wept in the courtroom as Mackey described the devastation of April 19, 1995. At least 35 family members packed three rows of seats, and some said they had stood on line from 4 a.m. to ensure getting a place.
Mackey reiterated the prosecution’s contention that McVeigh, aiming to avenge the government’s April 19, 1993, assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, and hoping to spark a general uprising against the federal government, planned for six months before detonating the Ryder truck bomb in Oklahoma City.
“But the only blood that flowed in the streets was the blood that Timothy McVeigh shed,” said Mackey. The crime, argued Mackey, was inspired by an eerily similar fictional bombing of FBI headquarters in Washington from the racist and anti-Semitic novel “The Turner Diaries” that McVeigh pressed on family members and friends over a seven-year period. “Timothy McVeigh was fixated on ‘The Turner Diaries,”’ said Mackey.
Mackey also fell back on one of the government’s most effective trial tools - testimony from survivors of the blast, who often wept on the witness stand as they recounted the horror of the blast. The prosecutor reminded the jurors, in detail, of that emotionally powerful testimony by government employees who survived the explosion and by mothers who lost their infants as the building collapsed onto the second-floor day-care center where 15 of the children died.
“From every corner of America people responded,” said Mackey. “Rescuers from across the country descended on Oklahoma City. America was in shock. People needed help. One man, this man, headed in the opposite direction, out of town.”
Thursday Poll: Hucks Nation prefers to see a third term for President Barack Obama than to see either Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump elected this fall. 136 of ...
If you read Friday's story about the start of state-licensed medical marijuana sales, you might be wondering where exactly are those stores. The Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board is willing ...
A GRIP ON SPORTS • Back when our country had just celebrated its 200th birthday, a decision had to be made on my future. Sports journalism seemed the way to ...
You know, on a scale of all-time most moving Trudeau strips? (It's on page B9 in the print edition.) I'd place it at No. 3.