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McVeigh trial recesses after emotional week

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Defense to resume Monday

June 7, 1997
Web posted at: 2:08 p.m. EDT (1808 GMT)

DENVER (CNN) -- The penalty phase of the Oklahoma City bombing trial of Timothy McVeigh recessed for the weekend, bringing an end to an emotional week that began with McVeigh being found guilty, moved into the penalty phase and included harrowing testimony from victims' relatives, rescue officials and survivors of the blast.

On Friday, McVeigh's attorneys pleaded with jurors to spare his life. The defense said McVeigh is neither "a monster or a demon" but a young man who "could be your brother, your son, your grandson."

At one point in court, defense attorney Richard Burr held up McVeigh's medal-bedecked military uniform and reminded the jury he had been a model soldier during the Gulf War.

Burr explained that McVeigh was deeply upset by the U.S. government's role in the deaths of 80 Branch Davidians during the fiery siege in Waco, Texas, and that "the fire did keep burning in Mr. McVeigh."

Burr said the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, that killed 168 people and wounded 500 -- exactly two years after the Waco assault -- should be viewed through "two realities."

The first, he said, was McVeigh's background as a stellar soldier who helped his comrades and even drove them home when they were drunk. The second, Burr said, is "the reality of what Mr. McVeigh believed happened at Waco."

Burr said McVeigh turned to videotapes and publications from the far-right to learn more about what happened in Waco. He concluded that the government had murdered women and children there, and was a threat to everyone.

Defense urges: 'See through the stereotypes'

Burr quote

"These realities are clearly connected," Burr said. "There is violence, there is death and tremendous suffering. There is also a person at the center whom you will not be able to dismiss easily as a monster or a demon, who could be your brother, your son, your grandson."

Burr asked the seven men and five women on the jury who must decide whether to sentence McVeigh to death or to life in prison to "see through the stereotypes, which were made due to a lack of information."

"When you sift through the realities," Burr said, "you will come to the conclusion that the right sentence is a life sentence."

Burr described McVeigh as smart, serious-minded, dedicated and committed. "He wasn't a partyer. He was quiet, socially awkward. Sometimes he said the wrong things to women he desired to have relationships with."

Burr also noted McVeigh's interest in guns and the reputation he built during his military career as a warrior who could be trusted to protect his men.

McVeigh called 'an outstanding soldier'

McVeigh, who had stared stonily throughout most of the trial, sat up in his chair and smiled when he saw his old uniform. He was also pleased to see four former Army comrades testify on his behalf.

Jose Rodriguez Jr., McVeigh's sergeant, referred to him as "an outstanding soldier who stood above his peers, and I remember he was one of the best gunners."

Rodriguez said he trusted McVeigh so much he considered asking him to be his son's godfather. Under cross-examination, Rodriguez said McVeigh kept several personal firearms, because he was afraid of an uprising.

He also said that McVeigh, like himself, had been taught the rules of engagement for war. "You were told never to kill noncombatants -- women and children? Is that something every soldier learned?" asked prosecutor Beth Wilkinson.

"Yes," he replied.

Another Army friend, Royal Witcher Jr., said he lived with McVeigh in a house near Fort Riley in Herington, Kansas, after the war when McVeigh was trying to get into the Special Forces. Witcher noted McVeigh didn't own much furniture, and recalled the Garfield the Cat sheets on his bed.

'I can't imagine him doing anything like this'

McVeigh chuckled along with jurors when a boyhood neighbor, Jan McDermott, recalled how a young McVeigh would "eat us out of house and home." But he flushed a deep red when McDermott suddenly said in a choked voice: "I can't imagine him doing anything like this. I can't."

As a teen-ager, McVeigh baby-sat for McDermott's children, ages 7 and 2. McDermott's wife Elizabeth said, "I love him," before choking up herself.

McVeigh's sister Jennifer, who testified against him during the trial, was sitting in the front row of the gallery during Friday afternoon's opening defense statements and testimony.

When asked by CNN if she expected to testify on her brother's behalf, she said, "I can't tell you." But sources say her presence during the testimony of other witnesses precludes her from taking the stand.

Father delivers message for his son

Earlier, in a compelling finale to their case for McVeigh's execution, prosecutors presented testimony from a tearful father who had struggled to explain to his son why the boy's mother was gone.

"I have to look for answers and it's tough sometimes," said Glenn Seidl. His wife -- the mother of now-9-year-old Clint Seidl -- was killed in the blast. "I deal with Clint's hurt all the time. We try to live a normal life, but this isn't a normal situation."

Browning quote

The boy had been scheduled to testify, but U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch excluded him, ruling the account would be inflammatory.

Instead, the father read the jury a message from the son.

"I miss my Mom. We used to go for walks. She would read to me. We would go to Wal-Mart," the boy wrote. "I will still make my mother Mother's Day and Valentine's Day cards like the other kids."

Several jurors cried, and lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler wiped his eyes with a blue handkerchief.

The jurors also heard Oklahoma City police Officer Donald Browning describe his recurring nightmare since the weeks he and his search dog, Gunny, combed the remains of the building and found many bodies, including those of babies.

"I dream that I'm crawling through the rubble. It's dark. I can hear children crying from in front of me and to my right," Browning said. "As I crawl towards it, I begin to feel the ground tremble underneath me. I turn and run and the kids quit crying; and I feel very guilty that I didn't get to them."

Defense resumes presentation Monday

The jury was dismissed an hour early for the weekend recess after the defense ran out of available witnesses. The defense will resume its presentation Monday.

The jury convicted McVeigh last Monday on 11 counts of murder, conspiracy and blowing up the federal building. Co-defendant Terry Nichols, 41, will stand trial later.

 
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