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McVeigh's prosecutor to leave the spotlight behind


MS Man of the Year goes home to Illinois

June 12, 1997
Web posted at: 9:37 p.m. EDT (2137 GMT)

From Correspondent Susan Candiotti

DENVER (CNN) -- Shortly after Joseph Hartzler got the nod to prosecute Timothy McVeigh, he had this to say about the Oklahoma City bombing:

"Those who committed the crime, regardless of what we do, are destined for a life ever-after in hell. So what can we do? All I'm hoping to do is prompt the delivery."

logoVXtreme streaming video of Susan Candiotti report as seen on CNN

After helping deliver a guilty verdict, Hartzler and his team of federal prosecutors were warmly applauded outside the courthouse in Denver.

Hartzler took the opportunity to thank the survivors of the bombing "for their patience and their dignity through this long ordeal."

"He is a caring person," says Jannie Coverdale, a woman whose two grandchildren died in the April 19, 1995, explosion that killed 168 people. "He comes into the courtroom, and he'll speak to us, ask us how we're doing."

That, say friends, is vintage Hartzler. And so was his good-natured way of fending off persistent reporters.

Stopping on the way into the courthouse one morning, he turned to reporters and said, "Never bet on Taiwan in the Little League World Series. That's the tip of the day."

'The conductor of the symphony was Joe Hartzler'

Hartzler family

"The prosecution team was kind of like a symphony," said former colleague James Ferguson. "But the conductor of the symphony was Joe Hartzler."

Hartzler has multiple sclerosis, and even before he was named to this case Hartzler had been named the Man of the Year by the Multiple Sclerosis Society. He and his family were honored at the White House, where they met with President Clinton.

Last year, he was similarly honored in Oklahoma. "MS does not define me," he said during his speech that night. "I am defined by my strengths."

His strengths include convincing a jury to convict Timothy McVeigh in a case that was the defining case of his career.

"The pressure and the stress is monumental," says former federal prosecutor Henry Hudson. "After all, if he had lost this case, his career probably would have been ruined."

Hartzler's success has been tempered by disappointment, however. Just before the trial ended, he learned that he had been passed over for a position as a federal judge.

But as he makes his way back home to his wife and three sons in Springfield, Illinois, there are no apparent regrets. The next trial, that of co-defendant Terry Nichols, along with the media spotlight, will land on someone else.

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