McVeigh admitted bombing, memos say

The Dallas Morning News/March 1, 1997
By Pete Slover

His attorney disputes documents' credibility

Timothy McVeigh has described for his defense team how he bombed the Oklahoma City federal building, saying the daytime attack left a "body count" intended to get a point across to the government, according to confidential defense reports.

In the documents, examined by The Dallas Morning News, Mr. McVeigh implicated his former Army buddy and co-defendant Terry Nichols in the plot but insisted he alone drove the explosives-filled truck that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995.

Mr. McVeigh's lead attorney, Stephen Jones, called The News' report "irresponsible" and "sensational" at a news conference Friday evening in Denver.

He suggested that either the newspaper had obtained stolen documents or the documents were fake. At one point he said the reports may have been furnished by someone with ill will toward the paper.

The reports quoted by The News "do not resemble anything that's in our office," Mr. Jones said after a hastily convened meeting with the judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch.

Mr. Jones initially declined to answer when asked whether Mr. McVeigh had ever admitted the crime to him, citing a gag order by the judge and attorney-client privilege.

"I can't tell you what he said in my interviews," he said.

Later in the news conference, Mr. Jones denied that Mr. McVeigh had ever made comments reflected in the reports.

Ralph Langer, executive vice president and editor of The News, said the newspaper obtained the documents legally.

"Clearly, we would not publish a story if we weren't confident of the quality of the information we have," Mr. Langer said.

Prosecutors and lawyers for Mr. Nichols had no comment, but Mr. Nichols has pleaded not guilty and denied any part in any illegal activity related to the bombing.

Both defendants face possible death sentences if convicted of murder and conspiracy. Mr. McVeigh's trial is set to begin March 31.

Mr. McVeigh's statements, culled from summaries of several 1995 interviews with a defense team member, appear to validate key elements of the prosecution's case. They describe how the two men committed robbery and burglary in the course of assembling money and materials for the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The blast killed 168 people and injured more than 500.

Some anti-government activists condemned the attack because of its high death toll, and one militia leader said Mr. McVeigh would have been a hero had he bombed the building at night to minimize casualties.

Asked about that by the defense staffer in July 1995, "Mr. McVeigh looked directly into my eyes and told me, 'That would not have gotten the point across to the government. We needed a body count to make our point,' " the staff member wrote in notes of the interview with Mr. McVeigh.

Prosecutors have said the bombing attack was revenge on the government for the deadly 1993 Branch Davidian siege near Waco, in which more than 80 people died.

Though Mr. McVeigh has pleaded not guilty, he has never publicly denied committing the bombing. Nowhere in the documents examined by The News does he deny the attack.

The reports were written based on meetings with Mr. McVeigh between July and December 1995 at El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma, where he was held before his transfer to the Denver area in March 1996.

Because the reports were based on Mr. McVeigh's meetings with a defense team member, they are not available to prosecutors and will probably never be introduced to the jury.

The reports provide no details on whether Mr. McVeigh was accompanied by another man - the elusive John Doe 2 - as initially described by witnesses at the Junction City, Kan., Ryder agency that rented the truck used in the blast.

In one meeting, Mr. McVeigh disputed the account of a waitress who said she knew the identity of another man who actually drove the bomb truck.

"Mr. McVeigh again insisted that he was the one that drove the Ryder truck," the interviewer wrote.

The reports contain several references by Mr. McVeigh to Mr. Nichols' participation and knowledge of the bomb plot, but he denied any involvement by Terry Nichols' brother, James. James Nichols, of Decker, Mich., was arrested after the bombing and held for a month as a material witness.

"Mr. McVeigh stated that [James] Nichols had no knowledge about the bombing as far as he knew, but that he didn't know what Terry Nichols might have told brother James," says one report.

Federal prosecutors have accused Mr. McVeigh and Terry Nichols of starting in September 1994 to assemble components for the bomb, allegedly built the day before the blast at a lake near Mr. Nichols' home in Herington, Kan.

The reports say the government may have been low in estimates that about 4,800 pounds of fertilizer went into the bomb.

Mr. McVeigh told the defense interviewer the device was built with 5,400 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer - purchased for $540 - blended with about $3,000 worth of high-powered racing fuel.

"Mr. McVeigh states that 108 50-pound bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizer were mixed with the nitro fuel purchased by Terry Nichols ," says one report.

The reports also detail Mr. McVeigh's account of a November 1994 robbery that prosecutors say helped bankroll the bombing. In one report, Mr. McVeigh said that Terry Nichols was the gunman in the holdup of Arkansas gun dealer Roger Moore.

The indictment alleges Mr. McVeigh and Mr. Nichols "caused" the robbery and got the proceeds from stolen guns, but it does not identify the robber.

"Mr. McVeigh stated that he laid out the plan and that Terry Nichols alone broke into Moore's house and stole the weapons," a report says.

Mr. McVeigh's account of what was done with the Moore loot closely tracked a statement given in August 1995 by Michael Fortier, a former friend and Army associate and now a key witness against him. Mr. Fortier pleaded guilty to helping transport the stolen weapons and failing to warn the government of the bomb plot.

Mr. McVeigh described how he and Mr. Fortier picked up the guns from Council Grove, Kan., where Mr. Nichols had stored them. He said Mr. Fortier took the weapons to sell in Kingman, Ariz., where both men once lived and worked.

Mr. McVeigh also detailed a burglary broadly outlined in the federal indictment. Mr. McVeigh said that he and Mr. Nichols stole explosives from a storage building at a Marion, Kan., quarry during an October 1994 break-in.

Mr. McVeigh told the defense staffer that Mr. Nichols drove them to the quarry in Mr. McVeigh's car. Mr. Nichols used his household drill to open a padlock so they could steal blasting gel and blasting caps, Mr. McVeigh reportedly said.

Those materials are not mentioned as bomb components in the indictment. But they are among the bomb components described in The Turner Diaries, a book Mr. McVeigh praised to Army colleagues and later to friends.

The Turner Diaries tells of an anti-black, anti-Semitic, anti-government revolution, including a fictional federal building bombing similar to the Oklahoma blast.

In an incident not mentioned in the charges against him, Mr. McVeigh said he and Mr. Fortier burglarized a National Guard armory in Kingman in June or July of 1994. He said they jumped a fence to try to take welding tools. Failing that, he said, they stole an ax, a shovel and some other items.

The reports suggest Mr. McVeigh discounted the multitude of conspiracy theories surrounding the case. The McVeigh defense team at times has played up suggestions that international terrorists may have been responsible for the bombing.

In one report, the staffer described Mr. McVeigh's reaction to a witness who claimed knowledge and provided diagrams of a bombing plot involving, among others, Middle Eastern terrorists and Black Muslims.

"Mr. McVeigh stated that he could not make heads or tails of the diagrams," adding that he had never heard of the witness. "Mr. McVeigh states that [the source] appeared to be a 'bullshit artist' and that there would probably be more theories by many other people as the days continued."

Mr. McVeigh undermined a popular conspiracy theory involving a German ex-soldier, Andreas Strassmeir. He confirmed the story told by Mr. Strassmeir, who insisted his only meeting with Mr. McVeigh was at a Tulsa gun show where they swapped some Army surplus goods.

Mr. Strassmeir, who has not been charged or linked by prosecutors to the bombing, has been the focus of various conspiracy theories because he lived at Elohim City, a white-supremacist religious compound in eastern Oklahoma that Mr. McVeigh allegedly called two weeks before the bombing. There are no further details of that phone call in the reports.

The New York Times reported the month after the bombing that Mr. McVeigh acknowledged responsibility for the blast to two people - not named in the article - who had visited him in prison.

In published interviews, Mr. McVeigh has avoided directly answering the question of his guilt or innocence.

"The only way we can really answer that is that we are going to plead not guilty," Mr. McVeigh was quoted as saying in July 1995, after Newsweek magazine reporters asked him, "Did you do it?"

Reminded that he had an opportunity to flatly deny his guilt, Mr. McVeigh said, "We can't do that."

In the same article, Mr. Jones, Mr. McVeigh's lead defense attorney, said of his client, "He's innocent."

Legal ethics experts said a defense attorney who knows his client is guilty can still put on a vigorous defense. But, they said, the defense lawyer cannot present false arguments or testimony in court and cannot encourage or allow his client to take the stand and lie.

Though Mr. Jones has described his client as "all-American" and Mr. McVeigh has said he is not racist, the documents say Mr. McVeigh once sought to join the Ku Klux Klan.

Mr. McVeigh told the defense staffer that while in New York in 1992, he filled out an application to become a member of the Arkansas-based Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The reports don't describe any other Klan involvement by Mr. McVeigh.

Mr. McVeigh also said he bought a "White Power" T-shirt from the person to whom he had sent his Klan membership application. He said he sold the T-shirt to Mr. Moore, the robbery victim, with whom he associated at gun shows. The reports say Mr. McVeigh smiled and raised his fist when he was shown a photograph of a Confederate flag in front of a friend's house.

Also, Mr. McVeigh said that he had slept with Mr. Nichols' wife, Marife, in the summer before the bombing.

"Mr. McVeigh stated that they had sex during the times that Terry was at work," the defense staffer wrote. ". . . He told me to just mention his waterbed when I spoke to her, that she would know what it meant."

© 1997, The Dallas Morning News

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