The McVeigh Trial: After 28 days of 'overwhelming evidence,' the jury speaks: Guilty
DENVER (CNN) -- With a no-nonsense judge keeping a close eye on proceedings, Timothy McVeigh was found guilty in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. During a separate phase of the trial, jurors condemned the 29-year-old Gulf War veteran to die by lethal injection.
McVeigh was deemed responsible for a blast that killed 168, including 19 children -- the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil. It was a case fraught with pitfalls and tough decisions for U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch, who maintained strict control in his Denver courtroom.
From the onset, it was clear that prosecutors would have to overcome reports of evidence contamination and bungling in the FBI's crime lab. Then there was the intense media scrutiny that threatened to bring a circus-like quality to the case.
Moreover, Matsch faced an impossible task reconciling the heated emotions of bombing victims with the defendant's right to a fair trial.
The judge moved decisively to maintain order, banning cameras and narrowly limiting the scope of comments by attorneys outside the courtroom. That a verdict was reached barely two months after the trial began surprised most observers.
Matsch gave the trial a green light despite a request by the defense for a delay due to negative press coverage about McVeigh. And when McVeigh's attorneys pressed arguments against his decision to deny admission of a report critical of the FBI's lab, Matsch didn't waver. "If this be in error, so be it," he said of the decision.
Since the sentencing, McVeigh's lawyers have been staking out grounds for an appeal of his conviction, although authorities in Oklahoma have said they will try him for mass murder on state charges.
McVeigh was convicted only in the deaths of eight federal agents. His friend Terry Nichols also is charged in the blast and his trial is expected to start later this year.
In McVeigh's case, federal prosecutors, led by Joseph Hartzler, pursued a two-pronged strategy of calling survivors to recount the horror of the scene, while paring down its case to the least impeachable testimony and evidence.
Although much of the evidence was circumstantial, it added up to a compelling argument against the 29-year-old Gulf War veteran. The prosecution case moved swiftly, riveting jurors with tales of conspiracy and terror.
"We went over the evidence piece by piece," juror Ruth Meier said after the trial. "We read papers and re-read papers. We handled the evidence, and the more we handled it and the more we saw it, the more sure we were we had to come up with a guilty plea."
"We were overwhelmed with the evidence," added juror Roger Brown. "That was the most shocking thing to me. It was, 'Yeah, he's guilty.' It just hit home."
According to testimony, McVeigh made a fake driver's license in the name of Bob Kling, the same name used to rent the Ryder truck that destroyed the federal building.
Prosecutors also found McVeigh's fingerprint on a receipt for 2,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate, an ingredient used in the bomb. And explosives residue was detected on his clothing at the time of his arrest when he was pulled over 75 minutes after the bombing headed north -- away from Oklahoma City.
Dramatic testimony against McVeigh was provided by friends and family members, most notably his sister Jennifer. She calmly told jurors about her brother's rage against the government for the 1993 siege near Waco, Texas, and his vows to avenge the deaths of 80 or so Branch Davidian members who were trapped when fire consumed their compound.
And McVeigh's former Army buddy Michael Fortier and his wife Lori also portrayed the defendant as the bomber. Lori Fortier described how McVeigh, using soup cans, constructed a model of a bomb. And Michael Fortier told of casing the doomed building with McVeigh, who described it as an easy mark.
The defense made headway on cross examination by casting doubt on the credibility of the Fortiers, who testified under immunity from prosecution and admitted to abusing drugs during their time of association with McVeigh.
But the defense, led by Stephen Jones, had limited options due to the restrictions imposed by Matsch.
During the sentencing phase, the defense resorted to an odd strategy of recounting conspiracy theories about Waco in an apparent attempt at justifying McVeigh's actions.
At the same time, prosecutors called more survivors and family members of victims who gave chilling accounts of how their families were destroyed by the blast and of how their lives were rendered hollow by McVeigh's cruelty.
In the end, jurors found the government's arguments overwhelming and they chose to send McVeigh to death by lethal injection.
"I think we can all sleep better at night, knowing the system does work," jury foreman Jim Osgood said.
T H E B O M B I N G / C N N S T O R I E S / L I N K S
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