Missing Mcveigh

Article excerpt

MISSING MCVEIGH

Killing McVeigh: The Death Penalty and the Myth of Closure. By Jody LyneéMadeira. New York and London: New York University Press. 2012. Pp. xxvii, 274. Cloth, $65; paper, $24.

Introduction

[O]n the 19th morning of April at 9:02 in the morning, or actually just a few minutes before, Timothy McVeigh parked in front of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. He was in a Ford F-700 truck from Ryder rentals with a 20-foot box. . . . The driver parked the truck and set the bomb to go off.

. . . An explosion as quick as a heartbeat and sadness as long as life.1

These words-from my opening statement in United States v. Nichols- sketch a story that many of us heard and saw in the days following April 19, 1995. The bombing that killed at least 169 people became an event by which time was thereafter measured-at least in Oklahoma.2 Ninety minutes after the bombing, a state trooper arrested Timothy McVeigh on a traffic charge; within hours, he was linked to the bombing, and the legal process began.

Terry Nichols, who had met McVeigh when they were in the army to- gether, was arrested in Herington, Kansas, where he lived with his wife and daughter. Within a few weeks, Michael and Lori Fortier, McVeigh's collabo- rators in Kingman, Arizona, had begun negotiating their plea bargain. Michael Fortier had traveled with McVeigh to inspect the Murrah Building as a potential bombing site. On the kitchen floor of the Fortiers' trailer home in Kingman, McVeigh had used soup cans to show how he would construct an ammonium nitrate-fuel oil bomb with plastic barrels in the back of a rented truck. Fortier and McVeigh were heavy methamphetamine users.

On August 11, 1995, the federal grand jury in Oklahoma City indicted McVeigh and Nichols for conspiracy to commit arson on a federal building and to use a weapon of mass destruction, as well as on substantive counts of arson, use of a weapon of mass destruction, and first degree murder of the eight federal law enforcement officers who died in the blast. The govern- ment alleged that Nichols had worked with McVeigh to plan the bombing and was therefore liable as a conspirator and accomplice, even though he had not been with McVeigh in Oklahoma City that morning. Nichols's de- fense was that his friendship with McVeigh did not include complicity in the bombing and that McVeigh had worked with others to plan and carry out the bombing.

District Judge Alley denied a recusal motion; his chambers had been damaged by the bombing, and he knew many victims and potential wit- nesses.3 On mandamus sought by Nichols's counsel, the Tenth Circuit or- dered all Oklahoma district judges recused.4 The Tenth Circuit chief judge designated Richard Matsch,5 chief judge for the District of Colorado, to pre- side over the case.

Judge Matsch came to Oklahoma City, where he heard-and on Febru- ary 20, 1996, granted-a motion to change venue to Colorado.6 In later hearings, he granted McVeigh and Nichols separate trials.7 McVeigh's case went to trial in Denver on March 31, 1997. The jury found him guilty on all counts on June 2, 1997,8 and after the penalty phase, it decided on June 13 that he should receive the death penalty.9

Voir dire for Terry Nichols's trial began on September 18, 1997.10 On December 23, the jury found him guilty on the conspiracy count, not guilty of arson, not guilty of use of a weapon of mass destruction, not guilty of first degree murder, not guilty of second degree murder, and guilty of involun- tary manslaughter.11 Judge Matsch held that this verdict required a penalty trial, which began after a few days' recess for the holidays. On January 7, 1998, the jury announced that it could not agree on the threshold issue of whether Nichols had a culpable intent with respect to resulting death.12 On June 4, 1998, Judge Matsch sentenced Nichols to life without parole.13

In an effort to get a death verdict, the Oklahoma County district attor- ney's office filed first degree murder charges against Nichols for victims other than the federal law enforcement officers. …