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Report: FBI lab botched Oklahoma bombing evidence

OKC bombing March 22, 1997
Web posted at: 9:28 a.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department inspector general's office has determined that the FBI crime laboratory working on the Oklahoma City bombing case made "scientifically unsound" conclusions that were "biased in favor of the prosecution," The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

The still-secret draft report, obtained by the paper, also concludes that supervisors approved lab reports that they "cannot support" and that FBI lab officials may have erred about the size of the blast, the amount of explosives involved and the type of explosives used in the bombing.

According to the Times, the draft report shows that FBI examiners could not identify the triggering device for the truck bomb or how it was detonated. It also indicates that a poorly maintained lab environment could have led to contamination of critical pieces of evidence, the Times said.

FBI quote

The final draft of the report is expected to be released next month and will likely include FBI responses. The FBI has refused to comment until then.

Forensic evidence is an important element of the case against Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, accused in the April 1995 bombing that killed 168 people and injured more than 500. McVeigh is scheduled to go on trial March 31.


Tightly sealed document

The draft is so tightly held that U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch last month signed a written order strictly prohibiting either side from discussing the report or providing it to others, the paper said. He also ruled lawyers could not use the report in pretrial hearings or during the McVeigh trial "in any form or for any purpose whatsoever."

The Times did not disclose how it obtained the draft report.

The investigation into the crime lab practices began in 1996 following complaints from FBI chemist and whistle-blower Frederic Whitehurst that the lab was not living up to its once-vaunted reputation. Although the report confirms many of Whitehurst's accusations, it also refutes a number of his charges.


"We conclude that Whitehurst's numerous other contentions lack merit," the Times quoted the report as saying.

Whitehurst may appear as a witness for McVeigh during the upcoming trial.

Justice Department 'troubled' by report

The draft report's harshest criticism was of David Williams, a supervisory agent in the explosives unit, the paper said. The inspector general's office said his analyses "are scientifically unsound, are not explained in the body of the report and are biased in favor of the prosecution."

It was particularly critical of his September 25, 1995, report on lab tests of Oklahoma City evidence.


"We are deeply troubled by Williams' report, which contains several serious flaws," the report said. "These errors are all tilted in favor of the prosecution's theory of the case. We conclude that Williams failed to present an objective, unbiased, competent report."

Those flaws reportedly include the basis of his determination that the main charge of the explosion was ammonium nitrate. The inspector general called such a determination "inappropriate," the Times said.

The draft report says FBI officials found a receipt for ammonium nitrate at defendant Nichols' home and, because of that discovery, Williams slanted his conclusion to match the evidence.

"He acknowledged that he reached his conclusion, in part, because Terry Nichols ... purchased ammonium nitrate and diesel oil prior to the bombing," the Times quoted the report as saying.


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