Journalism and Justice in the Oklahoma City Bombing Trials

Journalism and Justice in the Oklahoma City Bombing Trials

Journalism and Justice in the Oklahoma City Bombing Trials

Journalism and Justice in the Oklahoma City Bombing Trials

Synopsis

Nye examines the fair trial/free press issues in one of America's most infamous criminal cases - the Oklahoma City bombing. The trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were the first, and to date only, federal criminal trials conducted with live, closed-circuit cameras in the courtroom. More than 2,000 national and international journalists covered the trials through a media consortium. Through interviews with the lead attorneys for both McVeigh and Nichols, Nye exposes the difficulties defense attorneys faced defending their clients in the courtroom and also in the court of public opinion. He concludes that to truly understand this trial and its final outcome, one must understand the role of fair trial/free press issues.

Excerpt

On Thursday, April 24, 1997, Special Prosecutor Joseph Hartzler addressed a panel of 12 jurors and six alternate jurors in Denver, Colorado’s Byron G. Rogers Federal Building. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” Hartzler said. “April 19 1995 was a beautiful day. The sun was shining. Flowers were blooming. It was springtime in Oklahoma City.” With those words, the federal bombing trial of Timothy McVeigh began. In many respects, this was a trial like no other before or since.

Hartzler made his remarks in a packed courtroom. Reporters from across the United States and from around the world took up 10 rows of reserved media seating in the courtroom. Many more reporters listened to a live audio feed of Hartzler’s statement in an adjacent courtroom set aside by the court to provide for the anticipated overflow crowd. Outside the Byron G. Rogers Federal Building, the remainder of the 2,000-member press corps stood watch in a specially designed media area known as the “bullpen.” Five hundred miles away in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 150 bombing victims watched and listened to Hartzler’s statement via a closed-circuit broadcast of the proceedings fed live to the Federal Aviation Administration’s facility at Will Rogers World Airport. The closed-circuit broadcast made the McVeigh trial the first federal criminal trial in U.S. history with any type of live camera presence.

The prosecution of the Oklahoma City bombing defendants, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, was a unique journey to justice in many respects. The crime itself was unprecedented at the time it occurred. The bombing on April 19, 1995, killed 168 people and injured many more. The victims, including family members of those killed and injured in the blast and people who suffered property damage . . .

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