Oklahoma bombing victims to sue government agencies
March 19, 1997
OKLAHOMA CITY (CNN) -- Attorneys Wednesday filed "intent to sue" papers against federal government agencies on behalf of 34 victims in the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.
The move paves the way for multi-million dollar lawsuits against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and other agencies for allegedly failing to take appropriate measures to protect people in and around the building.
In announcing the filing, attorney Richard Bieder of Connecticut argued the head of the ATF has acknowledged that his agents were on a heightened state of alert April 19, 1995 for right-wing demonstrations. That was the anniversary of the fiery conclusion of the government's raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.
"I've seen my share of demonstrations," Bieder said. "And the weapon of choice for terrorists is not picketing -- it's car bombs."
Bieder says U.S. marshals and other personnel could and should have set up barriers around the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building "to blockade traffic coming up as close as that Ryder truck came up that morning." Bieder had a saw horse barricade with him to demonstrate his point.
He said such barricades were up at a Connecticut courthouse that day and "if the sheriff's department in Hartford, Connecticut knew enough" to take extra precautions, "is it too much to ask that federal authorities with a lot more information should have put up a device like this?"
Bieder was quick to point out, however, that he does not claim the government knew of a specific threat to the building, or that it warned some people and not others.
"That is not a claim that I have ever made," he said. But, "knowing what the government knew, it should have done more to protect citizens in and around the Murrah building."
Victim speaks out
Edye Smith, who lost two children in the blast, was among the clients at the news conference. She expressed skepticism and anger about the government's actions -- or lack thereof.
"The government knew there was going to be danger and they should have warned people," she said. "None of the people in the volatile law enforcement agencies on the 9th floor had their children in that day-care center. I don't know if it's just a coincidence or not, but they knew it was dangerous and we should have been warned.
"I'm more angry at the government than I am at [suspect] Tim McVeigh. McVeigh was going to do what he did regardless. He was out to kill people. But when someone in our government knew, they could have said, 'hey, you may want to keep your kid out today, something might happen,' or tell us they'd have the bomb squad there... it bothers me and I am angry, very angry." (29 sec. / 314K AIFF or WAV sound)
The bombing at the Murrah building killed 168 people and injured more than 500.
McVeigh faces charges of terrorism, murder and conspiracy. Nichols is to be tried separately later in the year.
Both could get the death penalty if convicted.
Jury selection for McVeigh's trial begins on March 31 in Denver, Colorado. But the weeding out process is already under way. Potential jurors gathered at a fairgrounds outside Denver Wednesday to answer questions from the trial judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Last month, jury summons and preliminary questionnaires were sent to a thousand people stretching over 23 counties of Colorado.
Wednesday's meeting was an attempt to weed out those who can't or shouldn't be considered when jury selection begins.
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