November 5, 1997 in Nation/World

Emotion Still Creeps Into Bomb Survivors’ Matter-Of-Fact Stories Judge, Defense Lawyers Try To Defuse The Emotion In Nichols’ Trial

Jo Thomas New York Times

Jurors at the trial of Terry Nichols heard Tuesday about the Oklahoma City bombing from some who had lived through it, but the stories were strictly curtailed so as not to cloud the jurors’ vision with tears.

At least four jurors - one man and three women - wept anyway.

In a dramatic shift from her appearance at the trial of Nichols’ co-defendant, Timothy McVeigh, Helena Garrett, 29, said nothing of her romp with her 16-month-old son, Tevin, just before she took him to the day-care center in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Nor did she tell of the last time she kissed him - at the funeral parlor on his chubby legs, which were all she was allowed to see.

U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch had agreed with lawyers for Nichols that emotional testimony could sway jurors unfairly.

“You have to consider it and not consider the emotions of it,” Matsch warned jurors Tuesday morning, explaining that testimony from survivors was being introduced to establish who had died and how their deaths had affected the performance of the federal government - important elements in the indictment which charges not only murder but also a crime that interfered with interstate commerce.

A truck bomb delivered by McVeigh, who has been convicted and sentenced to death in the case, killed 168 people and injured 850 others when it exploded at 9:02 a.m. Wednesday, April 19, 1995.

Susan Gail Hunt, office manager for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which had 82 employees in the building when the bomb went off, was one of the first witnesses. Hunt told her story calmly, needing only an occasional glass of water.

Gone were most of the vignettes she had related at McVeigh’s trial about those who had died, although Hunt, who said she never was hungry in the morning, could not resist telling the jury that Anthony Reyes had offered her a piece of candy for breakfast.

Hunt simply identified, one by one, the 35 employees in her office who had died, including Reyes, giving only their names and job titles as she pointed to their smiling photographs.

Unlike Stephen Jones, McVeigh’s lead lawyer who did not question these survivors, Michael E. Tigar and Ronald Woods, lawyers for Nichols, have promised to cross-examine every witness for the prosecution.

Tuesday, in what seemed to be an effort to defuse the emotion in the courtroom, Tigar asked a photographer who had shot a video of dazed and blood-soaked survivors if he could identify the type of earthmoving equipment in the background.

Still, Garrett’s story deeply moved the jurors. She told of frantically waiting outside the smoking ruins of the federal building as rescue workers carried out babies and toddlers one by one.

Rebecca Denny, the first child she saw, “looked as if she’d been dipped in blood,” Garrett said, shutting her eyes tight. Rebecca lived.

Colton Smith, 2, was placed beside her, she said, and a doctor told her, “I’m sorry; there’s nothing I can do.”

Then children were brought out and “wrapped in white sheets, but their legs wasn’t covered,” she said. “They laid them right at my feet. They laid them in a row in front of me, on the ground by Colton. They made a line of our babies.”

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