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McVeigh's penalty phase to start Wednesday

McVeigh In this story: June 2, 1997
Web posted at: 10:32 p.m. EDT (0232 GMT)

DENVER (CNN) -- Just hours after guilty verdicts were handed down against Timothy McVeigh, survivors and family members of those killed and wounded in the Oklahoma City bombing gathered Monday night to remember the victims.

McVeigh faces a possible death sentence after being found guilty Monday on all charges related to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, the deadliest act of terrorism ever on United States soil.

Relief eases grief of survivors, victims' relatives

That attack killed 168 people and injured more than 500.

at bomb site

In the Oklahoma twilight, those whose lives were most traumatized by the events of two years ago gathered at the bomb site, beneath a tree that miraculously survived the blast.

They took bottles of water and poured part of it into the soil at the base the tree, symbolizing how Monday's verdict has allowed them to pour out some, but not all, of their grief.

"We're going to keep that portion of this bottle that we know we're going to have to keep with us forever," said Paul Heath, who lived through the bombing and heads a support group for the survivors.

"And from time to time, ladies and gentleman, you may want to fill your bottle back up, because you're life may be filled up with grief. But you can then take out that bottle and pour it out on any living thing."

Verdict after four days of deliberation

After five weeks of testimony and nearly 24 hours of deliberation over four days, a federal jury in Denver found McVeigh, a 29-year-old Army veteran, guilty of 11 counts related to the bombing.

The defendant had watched jurors as they came into the courtroom, but they did not look back at him.

As the verdicts were read, McVeigh, who fought for his country in the Persian Gulf War but later expressed bitter disillusionment toward the government, sat with his chin resting on his hands, which were clasped in front of him. He showed little emotion as U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch pronounced him guilty.

Three marshals led him out of the courtroom after the verdict was read.

The tense courtroom was quiet throughout the proceedings. Some family members of victims quietly wept.

"It's happy but sad. Your stomach just kind of turns up in knots. It's some justice for what happened to us," said Charles Tomlin, the father of a bombing victim.

In Oklahoma City, an emotional crowd gathered at the site of the bombing to hear the verdict. People clapped and cried and hugged each other as the jury's decision came across television.

"It answers who did it and possibly why they did it, and to that extent, there is closure," said Heath.

Penalty phase will include impact testimony


McVeigh was found guilty of eight counts of first-degree murder for killing federal law enforcement agents, and of using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. He was also found guilty one count of using an explosive to destroy a federal facility.

The seven men and five women on the jury return Wednesday morning for the next phase of the trial -- the penalty phase -- during which they will decide whether McVeigh will be sentenced to death.

Prosecutors are expected to present testimony from 40 to 50 survivors and family members of victims about the impact of the bombing. The defense team will likely present evidence of mitigating factors to support their contention that McVeigh's life should be spared.

Oklahoma prosecutors say they plan to file 168 state murder charges against McVeigh and to seek the death penalty. His alleged co-conspirator in the bomb attack, Terry Nichols, also faces a federal trial.

The defense spent about $10 million trying to clear McVeigh. Jones has estimated the cost of investigating the bombing and prosecuting McVeigh at $50 million.

News of verdict came just after noon

Word that a verdict had been reached came about 12:45 p.m. local time (2:45 p.m. EDT). Over the next 45 minutes, defense lawyers, prosecutors and family members of the victims began returning to the federal courthouse in downtown Denver to hear the jury's decision.

A crowd of onlookers gathered on the streets around the courthouse, and a cheer went up when news of the verdicts spread. A short time later, as prosecutors left the courthouse, the crowd offered them a round of applause.


"We thank the victims for their patience and dignity throughout this long ordeal," said lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler. "We're obviously very pleased with the result. We've always had confidence in our evidence, and now everyone else can have confidence in this evidence and this verdict."

Survivors and family members of victims steamed out on the courthouse, some in jubilation, some in tears. One woman gave a thumbs up to the crowd and exclaimed, "We got him."

Lead defense attorney Stephen Jones also spoke very briefly after the verdict, congratulating the prosecutors but saying very little about the verdict or McVeigh's reaction to it.

"We have visited with Mr. McVeigh. We are going to work with him today, tonight and tomorrow for the second stage on Wednesday," Jones said. "I can't say anything more at this time."

Survivor: 'Everybody just wanted to burst'

In Oklahoma City, at a special venue set up for bombing victims and family members to view the trial, people began to gather after hearing the news that a verdict had been reached. After hearing the first guilty verdict, one survivor said he "had a feeling everybody in the room just wanted to burst."

Before the verdict, Matsch cautioned people inside the courtroom that he would not tolerate any outbursts. He read the verdict himself.

The jurors had been sequestered during their deliberations. Matsch announced they would not be sequestered during the penalty phase, but he ordered them to let him know immediately in anyone attempted to contact them.

Prosecution lined up friends, family, evidence

In the well-disciplined court of Matsch, the prosecution presented a streamlined case, calling 137 witnesses over 18 days. They argued that McVeigh spent months planning the bombing to avenge the government's deadly 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.

The Oklahoma bombing happened two years to the day after the Waco raid.

Hartzler and his team interspersed technical testimony with the emotional recollections of rescue workers and survivors. On several occasions, some jurors cried after hearing the harrowing tales of survivors.

Friends and family members took the stand against McVeigh. His sister Jennifer and old friends Michael and Lori Fortier testified of McVeigh's transformation from a decorated Gulf War veteran into an extremist with a deep hatred for the government.

The Fortiers, under a plea bargain, testified McVeigh told them of his plans to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City about six months before the Murrah building blast.

Jennifer McVeigh, 23, described increasingly fatalistic letters she received from him, including one saying, "Something big is going to happen," shortly before the bombing.

The prosecution also introduced a letter purportedly written by McVeigh in which he wrote that his mindset had shifted from the "intellectual ... to the animal."

Charred pieces of the Ryder truck that prosecutors said was used to carry the explosives -- including a 250-pound mangled axle -- were hauled before the jury. FBI witnesses said explosive residue was found on a truck fragment and even on the clothes McVeigh was wearing when he was arrested, shortly after the bombing, near Oklahoma City.

Defense kept its case short, focused

The defense took just four days to call 25 witnesses. The scaled-down approach came after Matsch refused to allow theories of a larger conspiracy.

McVeigh did not take the stand in his own defense. Jones suggested the real bomber was killed in the blast, and he suggested the evidence was contaminated in the much-maligned FBI crime lab.

Jones was restrained by Matsch's stipulation that all testimony about the lab be directly related to the bombing case. Matsch refused to allow into the record most of a Justice Department report critical of the FBI crime lab.

The defense also attacked the Fortiers' credibility, forcing Michael Fortier to admit to drug use and to lying to the FBI. The jury heard FBI wiretap recordings of him telling friends he could make money selling his story.

Correspondents Tony Clark, Susan Candiotti, Charles Zewe and Roger Cossack contributed to this report.


OKC Trial Special Section

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