As Timothy McVeigh watched, pale and still, his hands clenched under his chin, the judge in the Oklahoma City bombing trial sent the case to the jury Friday morning, warning, “You are not to be swayed by sympathy.”
Judge Richard Matsch told the seven men and five women on the jury: “You are to be guided solely by the evidence in this case and the crucial, hard-core question that you must ask yourselves as you sift through the evidence is: Has the government proven the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt?”
McVeigh, 29, a former Army sergeant and veteran of the Persian Gulf War, is charged with three counts of conspiracy and eight counts of first-degree murder in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. His co-defendant, Terry Nichols, is to be tried separately, after McVeigh’s trial is over.
The jurors, who have been going home each night since the trial began on April 24, will now be sequestered until they reach a verdict. After they deliberated into the afternoon, Matsch dismissed them for the day. They are to return to the federal courthouse this morning to resume deliberations.
In his instructions to the jury Friday morning, Matsch explained the charges against McVeigh. They include conspiring with Nichols and a person or persons unknown, beginning on or about Sept. 13, 1994, to use a weapon of mass destruction - a truck bomb - to kill innocent people and destroy federal property.
McVeigh is also charged in the bombing itself and with destroying U.S. government property. He also faces eight charges of first-degree murder in the deaths of federal law-enforcement agents killed in the line of duty.
“The defendant is not on trial for any of his thoughts, beliefs or statements, which are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States,” Matsch told the jury.
He told the jurors to give careful consideration to the testimony of one of the prosecution’s most important witnesses, Michael Fortier, a former Army friend of McVeigh who pleaded guilty to bombing-related charges after agreeing to testify as a government witness.
“A witness who realizes that he may be able to obtain his own freedom or receive a lighter sentence by giving testimony favorable to the prosecution has a motive to falsify - to testify falsely,” he said.
“Therefore, you must examine his testimony with caution and weigh it with great care. If after scrutinizing his testimony, you decide to accept it, you may give it whatever weight, if any, you find it deserves.”