Guilty on every count

The Denver Post/June 3, 1997
By Mark Eddy, George Lane, Howard Pankratz and Steven Wilmsen

June 3 - As survivors and family members of those who died grasped hands and silently wept in a packed Denver courtroom Monday Timothy McVeigh was found guilty of all charges in the Oklahoma City bombing.

McVeigh, a decorated Gulf War veteran, stoically sat with his hands clasped under his chin as U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch read the guilty verdict for each of the 11 counts against him in the worst act of terrorism ever committed on U.S. soil.

Survivors and family members in the courtroom as well as the prosecution and defense teams kept a tight rein on their emotions as the guilty verdicts were read. Before he read the verdicts Matsch warned the court that no emtional outbursts would be tolerated.

But almost as soon Matsch said "guilty" for the 11th and final time survivors rushed into the hall outside the courtroom where they cried, hugged and tried to console each other as this chapter in the bombing tragedy drew to a close.

After the jury had left the courtroom, McVeigh stood shook the hand of Stephen Jones, his lead defense attorney, looked at his watch and then left with several U.S. Marshals.

Outside the federal courthouse the crowd heard the verdict almost immediately from a man leaning out of a second-story window of the U.S. Customs House across the street. "Guilty!" he shouted, after hearing it on the radio. A cheer erupted and drivers in passing cars honked their horns.

At a chain link fence adorned with teddy bears and ribbons that surrounds the bomb site in Oklahoma City, victims and relatives hugged each other and wept as they heard the news. Many family members and survivors said they planned to attend a vigil at the site last night.

At the Pendleton, N.Y., home where McVeigh grew up, his father, William, and sister, Jennifer, watched the verdict with Lou Michel, a family friend and reporter for The Buffalo News. About two hours after the verdict was announced, Michel emerged and read the following statement, attributed to the family:

"Even though the jury has found Tim guilty, we still love him very much and intend to stand by him no matter what happens . . . We would like to ask everyone to pray for Tim in this difficult time.''

The verdict brought relief to survivors, some of whom feared the jurors might not be able to agree on McVeigh's guilt.

"I was relieved when the judge started to say 'guilty, guilty, guilty.' said Steve Taylor, whose sister was killed in the bombing. "Guilty is what I expected in my heart, but I was afraid it might be a hung jury, which would have been devasting.''

The verdict brought a good feeling, said Dan McKinney, the husband of Secret Service agent Linda McKinney who didn't survive the blast.

"I felt there were 168 smiles from above.''

Although the guilty verdicts were a welcome announcement they did little to soothe the battered emotions of some victims.

"This doesn't help, it doesn't help at all," said Tessa Embry, whose mother-in-law died in the bombing. "I'm glad he was found guilty, but this doesn't bring my mother-in-law back. It really tore a lot of people's hearts. It took away a lot of people's families.''

Dr. Paul Heath, a psychologist who worked in the building and led a band of coworkers down five floors to safety, said that although the verdict isn't the end of the ordeal, it does provide some answers.

"What it does do is answers who did it and possibly why they did it.''

A total of 168 people, including 19 children, were killed in the April 19, 1995 explosion, but murder charges were only brought against McVeigh for the eight federal agents who were on duty when the 5,000 pound fuel oil and fertilizer bomb ripped away the face of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Along with the eight counts of murder McVeigh was charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, using a weapon of mass destruction and destruction of a federal building.

Oklahoma City District Attorney Bob Macy said he would file state charges in the other 160 murders after McVeigh's co-defendant, Terry Nichols, is tried later this year.

The 19 children were in the second story day care center just above the parking space where McVeigh left a Ryder truck loaded with ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil. The truck exploded at 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, sending the day care center and the children plummeting into the basement and pulverizing the glass-sided building and collapsing much of it.

The youngest victim was 4 months old, the oldest 73. The building has been razed, but the site has become a shrine for those who visitors and the city's residents. Many write notes to the dead and attach them to the chain-link fence surrounding the grassy plot where the building once stood. Others leave flowers and teddy bears for the dead children.

The jury of 12 men and women delibered for 23 1/2 hours over four days before it was announced late Monday morning that they had reached a verdict.

Nichols defense team refused to comment on the McVeigh verdict.

Government attorneys were mobbed as they departed the courthouse. Police stopped traffic and surrounded the team as the prosectutors, beaming, fought their way through crowds of photographers and spectators shouting congratulations.

Family members and victims of the blast burst into applause as the team arrived at Holy Ghost Roman Catholic Church, a safe-haven for victims and their families. One woman, weeping uncontrollably, stepped from the crowd to wrap her arms around lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler and sob, "Dear God, thank you for what you have done.''

Prosecutors, still under a judge's gag order, refused to say anything about the case.

Meanwhile, McVeigh's attorney, Stephen Jones, appearing soft-spoken and somewhat downcast, said he planned to "get right back to work. There will be a second phase to this trial, and we're going to be ready for it.''

Jones, who is also bound by the gag order not to discuss the case, reiterated that he would be ready for the next phase and congratulated the prosecution team.

"I simply wanted to say we will be ready for the second stage in the morning and I congratulate (the prosecution) and the FBI agents who were responsible for the investigation and prosecution of this case and their work on behalf of the United States and their presentation in court.''

Lawyers for both sides will appear before the judge today before proceeding with the death penalty phase of the trial Wednesday.

"We're not going to quit," Jones said. "I'm going to go back to the office and resume working.''

Monday the jurors spent the night at home for the first time in four days. They were sequestered Thursday after closing arguments. They'll have Tuesday off and then will begin hearing testimony Wednesday and will ultimately decide whether McVeigh will spend the rest of his life in prison or be put to death.

If sentenced to die McVeigh would become the severth person given the death penalty under under the 1994 federal death penalty law. No one has been executed in a federal case in 30 years.

Many survivors and family members whose lives were changed forever when McVeigh exploded the massive bomb vehmently called for him to die.

"I spent my career saving lives . . . but if the death penalty isn't used in this case, what case is there that it should be used," said Darlene Welch, a registered nurse whose 4 1/2-year-old niece, Ashley died. Ashley's grandparents were also killed. The three had gone to the social security office that morning and died when the bomb exploded at 9:02 a.m.

"Life is very precious," Welch said. "When Timothy McVeigh destroyed those lives he gave up his right to that precious life that God gave him. The only real justice will come when he stands before his maker.

"I don't think I could stand the thought of him living when Ashley didn't stand a chance.''

"Death," was all Charles Tomlin said when asked what McVeigh's fate should be. Tomlin's son, Rick, was killed in the bombing. Laura Tomlin, Rick's mother, said she was eager to come back Wednesday for the start of penalty phase of the trial.

Mike Reynolds, a systems analyst from Westminster took his radio and waited outside the courthouse during his lunch hour to hear the verdict. There's no question that McVeigh should be put to death, said Reynolds as he stood next to one of Denver's mounted police officers.

"I just told this officer, if he's got a rope in his bag we've got a tree. . . . I couldn't believe another American could do that.''

Although the prosecution didn't put anyone on the stand who could say they saw McVeigh in Oklahoma City that morning or saw him build the bomb, legal analysts said the government presented a nearly flawless case.

Durant Davidson, a former district attorney and judge in eastern Colorado, said he was convinced of McVeigh's guilt.

"I don't have any question about that. There was a time before the trial started that I didn't know. (But) after having followed it, there would not have been any question in my mind.''

The verdict followed a blitzkrieg prosecution lauded by many experts for its brevity, simplicity and for a repeated return to the haunting stories of victims and survivors who clearly moved the jury.

Prosecutors painted a picture of McVeigh as a man driven to exact revenge from a government that killed 75 innocent men and women during the siege on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas on April 19, 1993.

They called McVeigh a "domestic terrorist" guilty of "a crime of ghastly proportions." The defense portrayed him as the unwitting victim of an overzealous federal investigation and the treachery of his friends.

In the end, as he sat in the courtroom, McVeigh was totally alone as former best friends and family members testified against him.

Through it all his demeanor was confident, loose and he seemed jovial at times. The fact that McVeigh remained unrepentant for his crimes enraged some onlookers.

"He's not smiling anymore! He's not smiling anymore!" said one unidentified woman outside the courthouse as tears streamed down her face.

But despite the cheers after the verdict, the Oklahoma City bombing, the trial and its aftermath will be forever remembered with tears.

The verdict can't change that, said Taylor.

"It doesn't end anything. We still go to bed the same way: in pain and hurt. We still wake up the same way.''

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