More than anything,
the trial of Timothy McVeigh is a stunning illustration
of the elaborate tapestry of people that make up our country. Just as the
bomb that blasted open the Murrah building killed people as diverse as
seasoned federal agents and innocent newborn children, so have the events
leading up to the fatal April 19, 1995, bombing revealed a cast of
characters to rival any novel by John Steinbeck -- and they haven't all been
The cab driver who was alleged to have driven Timothy McVeigh (a.k.a. Bob Kling) to rent the Ryder truck is described as a mumbling loner who has cruised for fares on the dusty streets of Junction City, Kan., for more years than McVeigh's been alive, straining to talk through his speech impediment about John Wayne, should anyone care to listen. Across town, the owner of the Hunan Palace, a Chinese woman with a degree in physics who dutifully carries home the daily delivery receipts in brown paper bags, struggles to keep a full staff of delivery drivers, mostly GI's from the nearby Fort Riley Army base. And in Kingman, Ariz., a veteran once stationed at that same base, whose best job after the service was as a bookkeeper at the local Tru-Value hardware store, sits in his trailer all night on the edge of town smoking crystal methamphetamine with a neighbor who likes to keep double sidearms strapped to himself at all times. For "a little adventure," the two would break into airplanes at the local airport and set off homemade PVC pipe bombs in the high desert.
The thing all of these diverse people have in common is that they're all tied, in one way or another, to Timothy McVeigh, the decorated Gulf War hero who eventually turned against the flag he fought under in the deserts of Kuwait. Today, McVeigh, looking for all the world like someone's gangly older brother who could never find a date, sits at a wooden defense table in Denver federal courtroom C-204 waiting to see if he will die for his alleged actions against the federal government.
But these are hardly the only people who know McVeigh -- in fact, there are several other characters in this drama who know him as well as Michael Fortier, the drug-smoking petty thief from Arizona, other people who had a hand in destroying the Murrah building.
At this point in the trial, more than 100 witnesses have been called by the government, each one adding to the now-overwhelming amount of evidence implicating McVeigh in the bombing. There seems to be little real hope of the defense making a convincing argument that McVeigh had nothing to do with the plot. Indeed, perhaps the only hope his attorneys have of keeping his bloodstream free of lethal drugs is to convince the jury that he and co-defendant Terry Nichols were not acting alone, that there are other members of a "leaderless cell" of federal enemies who were also involved, anti-government zealots as dangerous as either McVeigh or Nichols still cruising the midnight highways through the heartland, their souls full of rage, hatred and anger.
It shouldn't be a hard argument to make.
Sometime in late summer 1994, Tim McVeigh and Michael Fortier stood out by the front fence surrounding Fortier's trailer home in Kingman. Overhead, a flagpole flew the American flag and another one that warned "Don't tread on me" to the vast desert around them. Fortier knew that McVeigh and Nichols had decided to take "some sort of offensive action" against the government in retaliation for the raid and eventual deaths at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, a year and a half earlier. Out by the fence, McVeigh got more specific: "He and Terry were thinking about blowing up a building," Fortier told a Denver courtroom Monday.
Fortier was invited to participate, an invitation he says he declined. Not yet, he told McVeigh. The time for offensive action hadn't yet come; not until there was a United Nations tank parked on his front lawn, he told his friend.
Later, Fortier testified that McVeigh went into even further detail. In October of that year, as they lounged in Fortier's living room, McVeigh told Fortier that he and Nichols had chosen the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City because they believed that the orders to attack the Waco compound had been issued from the ninth floor offices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in the building.
"He also told me that he had figured out how to make a truck into a bomb," Fortier told the jury "He explained to me how he would arrange the barrels, 55-gallon drums in the back of that truck to form something he was calling a 'shape charge.'
"He told me about the ratio of S fuel to ammonium nitrate S that that's how he would make an explosive. He told me that he would use the explosives that he had stolen from the quarry (as boosters). He had drew on a piece of paper -- he diagrammed the truck and the barrels, and he diagrammed how he would fuse the bomb from the front of the cab into the back area of the truck."
Over the course of the next several months, Fortier testified that McVeigh showed him a number of explosives in Nichols' truck, in his cinder block rental house over the mountain range from Kingman and in a rental storage shed in town. He testified that McVeigh took him to Oklahoma City and showed him the Murrah building, stating at one point that he thought he might have to stay inside the truck to make sure the bomb went off as planned, sacrificing his own life so that his mission would be a success.
McVeigh wanted to "cause a general uprising in America," Fortier continued, "to knock some people off the fence to take action against the government."
But at the time, Fortier says he was happy on that fence. Though he believed, as McVeigh does, that the U.N. was conspiring to implement a one-world government (he and McVeigh even went so far as to break into the nearby National Guard Armory to scout for U.N. vehicles), and he believed in what he himself termed "conspiracy theories," he wasn't the type to take action -- at least not of the scope of blowing up a building on American soil.
That Fortier was actually opposed to the bombing at the time was never made clear. He asked McVeigh about killing innocent people in the building, but never actually tried to dissuade him until McVeigh started talking about going up in flames with the building himself. Fortier didn't alert the authorities to what he knew. At best, Fortier was a passive participant in the deaths and injuries that resulted from his inaction -- at worse, he actively participated in the bombing plans with Nichols, McVeigh and others, agreeing to testify only because he knew he was doomed to be on trial as well if he didn't.
That's certainly what the defense would like the jury to believe, and it's not an unlikely scenario: according to Robert Hardaway, a professor at the University of Denver College of Law, "The basic (defense) strategy seems to be, up to this point, that each of the witnesses against Timothy McVeigh, particularly Fortier, is exaggerating McVeigh's role and minimizing their own role to get protection from the government. The defense theory is going to be that they (those involved to some degree in the plan) have motives to lie, that they are in fact exaggerating (the degree of McVeigh's involvement)."
The picture painted of Fortier by lead defense attorney Stephen Jones is unflattering, to say the least. By all indications, he was an unemployed, drug-addicted loser -- white trash of the more dangerous breed with one thing in mind: self-preservation. Immediately after the bombing, his natural reaction was to lie to everyone who asked him anything about McVeigh. His false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the news media, family and friends were not orchestrated to sow doubt about McVeigh's guilt for McVeigh's sake; instead they were to keep him and his wife (who also had prior knowledge of the plan) from being implicated in the murderous plot themselves.
One can hardly imagine the type of paranoia that must have manifest itself inside the Fortier home between the time of the bombing and the time he decided to cut a deal with the government. Adding to his already conspiratorial view of the world is the fact that he and his neighbor Jim Rosencrans often stayed up into the morning hours getting high on crystal meth -- a drug that likely honed that paranoia to a fine edge. Still, there was a self-serving silver-lining to the ominous cloud hanging over his head. Shortly after the bombing, the FBI wired the Fortier trailer from end to end with listening devices and the recorded conversations reveal a true weasel beneath the man who claims to be speaking truthfully now for the "good of the people of Oklahoma." The destitute Fortier, who lost his job at the hardware store during a dispute over a $50 Christmas bonus and who received a meager $86 a month in VA benefits, was hoping to get rich off his involvement in the bombing plot. He spoke with friends on the phone about holding out for movie contracts, "where the big money is," touring the talk show circuit and selling photos of himself to tabloid newspapers for $50,000.
But finally, after watching armor-clad ATF storm-troopers surround James Nichols' Decker, Mich., farmhouse and hearing that Terry Nichols had been indicted with McVeigh in the bombing, Fortier began to wonder when his time would come. Feeling the walls close in, he cut a deal with the government shortly before he was to testify before the same grand jury that indicted his two Army buddies.
He pled guilty to four counts, including having knowledge of the bombing and failing to do anything about it. Though he's been incarcerated for nearly two years, he has yet to be sentenced. It's entirely up to the prosecution whether he gets the full 23 years he faces or receives far less time in exchange for his damning testimony.
Regardless of Fortier's degree of culpability in the bombing, there are undoubtedly others who were involved as well. Even the grand jury that indicted Nichols and McVeigh names "others unknown" as being responsible. And during jury screening, the government's prosecution team made sure to ask potential jurors if they would be able to convict McVeigh and sentence him to death even if they believed that there were other people, who haven't yet been arrested, involved in the bombing.
The case that others were involved has been painstakingly and thoroughly documented by Denver Post reporters Mark Eddy and Steven K. Wilmsen, who spent countless hours poring through 10,000 pages of court documents and phone logs in a six-month investigation last year. The result of their arduous work is the undeniable conclusion that the "others unknown" certainly exist and will probably never have their dress and mannerisms molded for the witness stand like Fortier's.
In the summer of 1994, a blue truck with Michigan plates arrived at the small shack outside Kingman where McVeigh was living. McVeigh's neighbor at the time, Robert Gohn, recalls that two men and a young woman in her early 20s were the truck's occupants. Gohn says that one of the men looked like Terry Nichols and that the other man was short and muscular "like a weight lifter." He didn't recognize the woman. About the same time as this visit, the feds say that McVeigh left a message addressed to "S.C." attached to a utility pole near Kingman. The note read, "seeking fighters not talkers." It's unclear who S.C. is. If McVeigh did leave this message, he must have felt he needed more people to accomplish his goal.
McVeigh's phone calls during the six months prior to the bombing were often to Nichols and Fortier, but he also made a substantial number of calls to James Nichols; Kevin Nicholas, a Michigan man who had worked on the Nichols' farm; and Dave Paulson, an Illinois gun dealer. Paulson told the grand jury that when he met McVeigh, they discussed weapons parts and explosives. Paulson said that a man was with McVeigh at the time and that it wasn't Fortier or Terry Nichols. FBI agents would later find a business card among McVeigh's possessions. The card was for the military surplus store owned by Paulson's parents. On the back of the card was a note that read, "Dave (TNT @ $5/ stick. Need more.)"
Meanwhile, back in Herington, Kan., Terry Nichols had moved into a small house he had purchased. He was new in the neighborhood and had few visitors according to neighbors, so it seemed odd when one night, about three weeks before the bombing, several pickup trucks were parked in front of Nichols' home. One neighbor remembered that one of the trucks stood out -- a full-size American-made truck that was rust-brown in color.
On April 5, two weeks before the bombing, McVeigh was in Kingman. Phone records show that on that day he attempted to reach the National Alliance, a white supremacist organization based in Mohave, Ariz. A few hours later, a call was logged from Fortier's house to a residence in San Jacinto, Calif. On April 7, McVeigh called that same San Jacinto number from his hotel room. A few hours later, a call from the San Jacinto residence was made to Fortier's house. None of this phone activity proves anything. But it may shed light on who was in McVeigh's "cell" at the time of the bombing.
Around noon on April 10 -- a full week before McVeigh was said to have picked up the Ryder truck in Junction City -- Army Sergeant James Sargent went fishing for bass at Geary State Fishing Lake in Kansas, the same lake where authorities claim the truck bomb was assembled. As he stood fishing, Sargent noticed a Ryder truck parked directly across the water in front of him. Before long, says Sargent, a rusty brown pickup pulled up next to the Ryder truck. The pickup matches the description of the truck seen by neighbors in front of Terry Nichols' house a few weeks earlier. Then Sargent noticed another vehicle arriving at the Ryder truck, a white, mid-sized, family-style car. When Sargent went home, the cars were still next to the truck.
The next day, Sargent drove past the lake in the morning and evening: both times the Ryder truck was still at the lake. Another resident in the area, Herington real estate broker Georgia Rucker passed by the lake in the next two days. Rucker claims that she too saw the Ryder truck each time she passed the lake. At the time of these eyewitness accounts of the truck, McVeigh and Fortier were known to be in Arizona and Terry Nichols was known to be in Michigan. The only thing known about the persons seen at the lake is that they are still at large.
According to neighbors, on April 12, a short, muscular man arrived at Terry Nichols house where he stayed for the next two days. Again, Fortier was in Arizona and McVeigh had just begun a 24-hour drive from Kingman to Herington.
On April 15,
four days before the bombing, a man witnesses have identified
as McVeigh used a driver's license in the name of Bob Kling to put down a
cash deposit on a Ryder Truck at Elliott's Body shop. This second Ryder
truck is the one whose twisted axle, with the intact serial number,
eventually landed several hundred yards from the destroyed Murrah building,
propelled by the force of the blast. There is speculation that the first
Ryder truck, the one seen parked at the lake during the previous week, was
used to transport several tons of bomb components from the Kansas storage
units to the lake. On this same day, someone in McVeigh's Dreamland motel
room ordered Chinese food from the Hunan Palace under the name Bob Kling.
Jeff Davis delivered the food to a man standing in the doorway to the room.
Davis told the FBI that the man was short and muscular. Davis claims that
the man was definitely not McVeigh, Nichols or Fortier. This is likely the
third or fourth time witnesses have identified this short, muscular suspect.
On Easter morning, April 16, Dreamland Hotel desk clerk Eric McGown says McVeigh parked a large Ryder truck in front of the motel. During cross examination in Denver, McGown testified that he told the FBI he was pretty sure he saw the truck on Easter Sunday, but that he was never 100 percent sure. His mother, Lea McGown was sure, however; she said the date stood out in her mind because she had just returned from Easter dinner and Easter was only one of two days she takes off each year from working at the motel. She noticed McVeigh behind the wheel because he was having trouble backing the truck. This event is extremely significant because the 16th was the day before McVeigh is alleged to have picked up the Ryder truck that eventually exploded in front of the Murrah building. The truck McVeigh was parking on the 16th was probably the truck which witnesses had been seeing at Geary Lake.
Lea McGown went to work early on Monday, April 17. At 4 a.m. she says she saw McVeigh in the cab of the truck he had parked at the motel the day before. At 10 a.m., six hours later, Elwin Roberts passed by Geary Lake. Roberts says he saw the Ryder truck with a brown pickup parked close by. This is the last time anyone saw the first Ryder truck which has never been located by authorities. At 4 p.m., a man identifying himself as Bob Kling and a short muscular companion wearing a blue and white cap picked up the new Ryder truck from Elliott's. Elliott's employees have identified McVeigh as the man claiming to be Bob Kling. The short muscular man became known as John Doe No. 2. This was very likely the fifth time this man was seen. A short muscular man was also with McVeigh when he was in Arkansas inquiring about a remote piece of property that had been advertised as a "perfect hideout."
On the morning of April 19, the day of the bombing, Tulsa banker Kyle Hunt saw a Ryder truck being followed by a yellow car matching the description of the vehicle McVeigh was driving at the time of his arrest, making their way slowly through the streets of downtown Oklahoma City. Hunt thought they looked lost so he pulled up next to the yellow car to see if he could offer directions. The driver of the car, who Hunt later identified as McVeigh, shot him a nasty look so Hunt didn't speak to him. Hunt says there were two men in the car with McVeigh and he couldn't see who was driving the Ryder truck. Fortier and Terry Nichols were both in other states the morning of the bombing.
David Snyder was on a downtown loading dock waiting for a truck to arrive, so when a Ryder truck drove past, he tried to wave it down. Snyder has identified McVeigh as the passenger in the truck. Mike Moroz, a tire store employee, says that a Ryder truck pulled into his store and asked for directions to the Federal Building. Moroz identified McVeigh as one of the men, and claims a short muscular man matching the description of John Doe No. 2 was with him.
Then, of course, there's the matter of Jim Rosencrans, the gun-toting, crystal-meth smoking neighbor of Fortier. When McVeigh was charged with the bombing, Rosencrans hid ammonium nitrate and a rifle Fortier had in his house. When the ATF and the FBI raided Fortier's trailer, Rosencrans confronted them with his trademark sidearms and a rifle. He was in a jail cell faster than he could say "Don't tread on me." Due to the fact that Rosencrans was Fortier's drug connection and partner in crime when it came to petty thievery, it's likely that he and McVeigh spent a substantial amount of time with one another. He may even have considered himself part of McVeigh's Patriot "cell": Rosencrans says McVeigh offered him $400 to drive a vehicle for about 20 hours -- the approximate drive time from Kingman to Terry Nichols' home in Kansas. Rosencrans says that McVeigh never told him the purpose of the trip or what the cargo would be, and he says that he turned McVeigh down. Authorities have speculated that McVeigh may have needed a driver for a second vehicle in order to move bomb components from one rental storage shed in Arizona to others in Kansas. Nichols and Fortier didn't take off from work during this time, so if McVeigh found a driver, it was someone unknown to authorities.
Who owns the brown pickup seen at the lake and also at Terry Nichols' home? Who was driving the white car that Sargent saw at the lake? Who was the man who ordered the Chinese food from McVeigh's room? Who rented and drove the first Ryder truck to the lake at a time when all those now in custody were known to be out of the state of Kansas? Who were the three men seen with McVeigh the morning of the bombing at a time when neither Fortier or Nichols were in Oklahoma? The answers to these questions may never be known. But the existence of "unknown persons" is consistent with every aspect of the anti-government movement.
McVeigh attorneys have already hinted around about these other people through their cross-examination of the government's witnesses and there's no doubt that they will be the focus of their case when the time comes. But there's hardly any hope of proving that the plot to bomb the Murrah building didn't include McVeigh. Says DU's Hardaway: I could see how he (Jones) could say that there are others who were involved -- but how that's going to in anyway exclude the culpability of McVeigh I just have no clue.
"That may be their tactic. They may have decided as a matter of strategy from the very beginning that there's no way they can show that McVeigh was not involved, that he wasn't a part of the conspiracy. They can show that he was an Oswald-type dupe of a larger conspiracy and (think) that the jury would spare him the death penalty on the theory that he wasn't the mastermind behind it."
But, he adds quickly, that probably wouldn't work. "The crime is so horrendous that it's hard to envision where ... a jury that's otherwise inclined to give the death penalty would then not give the death penalty," he says. "In some crimes, yes. But here, if the very best the defense can do is show that McVeigh was not the number one conspirator, maybe he was the number two or number three conspirator, I don't see a jury saying well, we'll just be real lenient on McVeigh because he wasn't the number one person.
"I can't envision that working."
Albion Monitor May 27, 1997 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)
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