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FBI whistleblower takes stand in McVeigh trial

May 27, 1997
Web posted at: 3:12 p.m. EDT (1912 GMT)

McVeigh mug shot

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DENVER (CNN) -- FBI whistleblower and chemist Frederic Whitehurst took the stand Tuesday in the Oklahoma City bombing trial of Timothy McVeigh to bolster the defense contention that the FBI lab that tested evidence was tainted and that a key piece of evidence is unreliable.

Frederic Whitehurst testified that the lab where the bombing evidence was examined was contaminated beforehand with explosives residue.

Whitehurst said he led an examination of the lab before the bombing and "found that there were some places that had four or five, maybe that had some organic explosives (contamination)."

He said contamination was found in the evidence handling and storage areas, where explosives residue later was found on Timothy McVeigh's clothing, knife and earplugs.

Whitehurst sketch

Whitehurst: Contamination possibility serious

The possibility of contamination was serious, yet the FBI to his knowledge conducted no further studies, Whitehurst testified as McVeigh's defense launched an assault on evidence handling in the case.

In April 1995, Steven Burmeister, who testified about finding explosives residue on McVeigh's belongings, kept small containers of explosives in his lab, Whitehurst said.

He said RDX was found on Burmeister's computer keyboard in early 1990, but said he did not know of any other problems with Burmeister's lab.

In May 1995, Whitehurst said, he conducted contamination tests in the receiving area of the FBI crime lab and found traces of the explosives residue PETN. PETN was allegedly found on McVeigh's clothing and earplugs.

The defense is suggesting the evidence may have been contaminated with PETN in the lab itself.

Whitehurst's allegations about shoddy work in the FBI lab led to a Justice Department report that was highly critical of the lab.

Ryder truck panel evidence not reliable?

Whitehurst is also expected to testify that a key piece of the government's evidence, a piece of the panel from the Ryder truck used in the bombing on which ammonium nitrate crystals were found, is not reliable evidence because it was found by a civilian, not the FBI as prosecutors claim.

Earlier Tuesday, the defense called FBI lab scientist David Williams, who was criticized in the Justice Department report for drawing conclusions about the Oklahoma City bombing case, to testify about the Ryder truck panel.

Williams was asked if he ever told Whitehurst that the panel from the Ryder truck was discovered by a citizen and therefore not of evidentiary value.

"I have no recollection of saying that to Dr. Whitehurst," said Williams, an explosives specialist assigned as the crime scene manager an hour after the bombing.

Williams also testified that it was impossible to tell who checked in some evidence early in the investigation because no one's initials appeared to be on the evidence.

Last month, the Justice Department report found some FBI scientists, including Williams, produced flawed work or slanted their findings in favor of the prosecution.

The report recommended censure for Williams for allegedly failing to make conclusions on scientific grounds, and demotion for former chemistry-toxicology unit chief Roger Martz, who actually handled some of the bombing evidence.

The defense has asked U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch to admit the report criticizing the FBI lab.

Judge excludes ATF informant's testimony

Jones photo

Also Tuesday, Match ruled that former ATF informant Carol Howe will not be allowed to testify for the defense.

Matsch ruled in a closed-door hearing that Howe's testimony "lacks relevance to McVeigh's case and could confuse or mislead the jury," according to Clark Brewster, Howe's lawyer.

Howe's lawyer said earlier that she was scheduled to testify Tuesday afternoon, and that her testimony would be "very interesting." She had been expected to testify about audio recordings that she made and handwritten notes she kept about information she received concerning alleged bomb threats, the lawyer said.

Howe was a paid informant for the ATF for more than two years who reportedly said she warned federal authorities four months before the Oklahoma City explosion that 15 U.S. cities would be bombed.

Government sources have questioned her credibility, and Howe is under indictment in a separate case in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for alleged bomb threats and possession of a destructive device.

Trial resumes with meterologist's testimony

The trial resumed after a three day holiday Tuesday with the defense calling a professor of meteorology to the stand to testify about weather conditions on April 17, 1995 -- the day prosecutors allege McVeigh rented the Ryder truck used in the bombing.

Anthony Rockwood testified that based on observation reports from several weather stations, there were constant rain showers in Junction City from late morning until well into the evening during the time prosecutors contend McVeigh walked the mile and a half from a McDonald's to Elliott's Body Shop in Junction City.

Body Shop owner Eldon Elliott, during testimony for the prosecution earlier in the trial, said there was only a light mist that day, and he did not describe the person who rented the truck as being wet.

During cross-examination by prosecutor Joseph Hartzler, Rockwood acknowledged there could have been sporadic interruptions in the showers and that only a half-inch of rain fell in the area during the 12-hour period he researched.

Defense lawyers are expected to wrap up their case this week.

McVeigh, 29, and his alleged co-conspirator Terry Nichols are charged with murder and conspiracy in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more. If convicted, the Gulf War army veteran could receive the death penalty.

Nichols will be tried later.

OKC Trial Special Section

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