Attorneys for Timothy J. McVeigh asked a U.S. District Court judge Friday to dismiss the indictment against their client in the Oklahoma City bombing case, contending that a federal grand juror has illegally broken his silence and that the government shielded the grand jury from potentially crucial evidence.
Attorney Stephen Jones said the grand jury was deprived of evidence that more suspects than McVeigh, 27, and his co-defendant, Terry L. Nichols, might be responsible for the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building here.
"During early grand jury proceedings," Jones said in his legal brief, "members of the grand jury became apprehensive and concerned that the government, through the FBI and the prosecutors, was not exploring a possible broader conspiracy."
Instead, Jones said, the government "was directing the grand jury to focus only on Terry Nichols and Tim McVeigh."
In an interview after filing the legal challenge, Jones said he could not predict how successful he might be in getting the indictment dismissed. "But either way," he said, "it's going to cause some indigestion in high places."
Steve Mullins, an assistant U.S. attorney who is the chief spokesman for the government's case, declined to address Jones' allegations. "We're basically studying it now and we should be filing a response pretty quick," he said. "Probably next week."
The situation is highly unusual because Jones based his argument on a tape-recorded interview with one grand juror conducted by an Indiana-based magazine called Media Bypass, which caters to right-wing militant groups.
Federal grand jury proceedings are strictly confidential. It is illegal for a grand juror to discuss any aspect of a case and, officials said, it is equally illegal for a member of the public to attempt to solicit information from a grand juror.
Nowhere in the voluminous court filing is the grand juror's name mentioned. But sources here have said for several weeks that the grand juror was disgruntled about how government prosecutors presented the case in the grand jury room. In addition, a federal judge here learned about the grand juror's unhappiness and at one point apparently sent FBI agents to his home to seize a notebook the grand juror had kept about the secret proceedings.
Jones learned of the situation after Lawrence W. Myers, a Media Bypass reporter, provided him with unedited audio tapes of Myers' interview with the grand juror.
According to a transcript of the interview that Jones then filed in support of his motion, the grand juror said Nichols, 41, should not be held as responsible for the April 19 bombing as his former Army buddy, McVeigh
The grand juror said it was apparent to him that Nichols tried to back out of the bombing conspiracy that ultimately left 169 people dead and 600 others injured.
"Nichols got charged with everything McVeigh did and he shouldn't have," the grand juror said. "He was an unwilling accomplice in the end. He didn't want to do it. . .. He backed out. . . . He refused, at one point, to help McVeigh build the bomb."
But the grand juror added that "there was testimony" that "Nichols didn't have a problem with him blowing up the building."
And he said: "My guess is that neither one of them knew there was a day-care nursery in that building." Had they known that, he said, "they wouldn't have blown it."
The grand juror said it was wrong to force McVeigh's sister, Jennifer, to testify against him. He said he and other jurors were disgusted with the tough questions put by prosecutors that led to Jennifer breaking down in tears in the grand jury room.
But he said he and others were most perturbed that no evidence, testimony or conclusion was given by prosecutors to clear up the mystery of whether another suspect, known only as "John Doe No. 2," assisted McVeigh in allegedly building and delivering the bomb to Oklahoma City.
"That's one of the big questions that needs to be answered," he said. "John Doe 2 is the $64,000 question all the way around everything. He's really the only person in here that is obviously significant that was ignored."
Nevertheless, the grand juror said, "I'm satisfied that I know the government knows who he is."