Bomb Suspects’ Lawyers Urge Trial Far From Oklahoma : Courts: McVeigh, Nichols attorneys point to deep emotional toll on local area. They say nearly every potential juror thinks defendants are guilty.
Citing the deep emotional and financial toll on this community, as well as enormous pretrial publicity, attorneys for the two alleged conspirators in the Oklahoma City bombing urged a federal judge Tuesday to move the trial as far away from this state as possible.
Defense lawyers said almost every potential juror in Oklahoma--if not every person in the six states of the 10th federal judicial circuit--already is convinced that Timothy J. McVeigh and Terry L. Nichols are responsible for killing 169 people and injuring more than 600 others in the bombing. The attorneys suggested that a fair trial might be had only in places as distant as San Francisco to the west or Charleston, W. Va., to the east.
The attorneys came to the U.S. District Courthouse here pulling pushcarts and metal dollies carrying thousands of pages of exhibits and documents. They filed volumes of detailed poll data and newspaper tear sheets showcasing the extensive statewide media coverage of the April 19 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Their studies highlighted the more than $650 million in economic loss from the blast. And their research described the extensive psychological trauma in a state where the local Department of Mental Health has determined “it is difficult to not know someone who was killed, injured or at the bombing site when the explosion occurred.”
To further their arguments, defense lawyers also questioned the motives of the people of Lawton, Okla., where the federal judge assigned to the case wants to hold the trial. Tuesday night, Lawton town leaders established a volunteer organization to help the community stage such a major trial. They named it “Task Force 169" in memory of the Oklahoma City dead.
“The name of the task force serves as a reminder of the victims,” said Rob Nigh Jr., one of McVeigh’s attorneys.
Nigh charged that the task force considers the trial “the final act of this tragedy,” a statement that he said indicates the people of Lawton believe guilty verdicts are a “foregone conclusion.”
But Bob Payton, co-chairman of Task Force 169, said the organization was set up by local volunteers to help with the logistics of putting on such a major event.
“The name was proposed as a remembrance of those who lost their lives,” Payton said. “It has no bearing on the ability to hold a fair trial in Lawton and southwest Oklahoma.”
Michael E. Tigar, the lead attorney for Nichols, sharply attacked Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who has reportedly referred to the defendants as “lousy, stinking individuals” and to McVeigh specifically as a “creep.”
“They got the first creep that did it,” Keating reportedly told an Oklahoma City television station in describing McVeigh.
Then, when a reporter asked with a chuckle if Keating could give “that creep” a fair trial, the governor said with a smile that in his past work as a federal prosecutor, “I gave a lot of creeps a fair trial.”
Nevertheless, Keating has said publicly that he is confident a fair trial can be held in Oklahoma City. He also has maintained that local citizens have the right to have the trial at least somewhere in the state, where many of the victims and their families would be able to attend the proceedings.
“Every community has a right to try those responsible for crimes committed in their community, no matter how awful the crime,” he said in September, a month after McVeigh and Nichols were indicted in the bombing.
Keating is backed by federal prosecutors here and in Washington who believe the trial should remain in Oklahoma, primarily to give easy access for witnesses and survivors. Officially, the government has three weeks to respond to the defendants’ motions.
But Tigar suggested that Keating is misreading the deep anger among Oklahomans who believe McVeigh and Nichols are guilty. And Stephen Jones, McVeigh’s lead counsel, said his poll numbers showed that throughout the 10th circuit--which also includes Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming--623 of 650 people with an opinion about McVeigh found him guilty.
In the Lawton area, 70% of those surveyed have some close personal tie to the victims, according to the poll Tigar cited. In addition, 96% of those in Lawton who have formed an opinion believe McVeigh is guilty.
“Objectively speaking,” Jones said, “Lawton would be one of the last places to consider holding the trial and not the first. It is too small, too influenced by prejudice, too unsafe and too inconvenient for everyone.”
Tigar said Lawton is not alone in its bias against the defendants. He argued that throughout the state, countless people are still suffering in the bombing’s aftermath, and still unable to put away their feelings and judge McVeigh and Nichols fairly.
He said rescue workers, doctors, firefighters, construction workers and others came from throughout Oklahoma to help those hurt in the bombing.
“They gave blood, food, water, supplies, teddy bears, flowers, poems, prayers and hugs to support and aid rescue and relief workers, and to share their sympathies with those whose loved ones were killed or injured,” Tigar said.
“They brought steel-toed boots for rescue workers, baby booties for the rescue dogs. They brought their professional services to provide everything from haircuts to mental health counseling to legal and financial advice.
“The people of Oklahoma are, by definition, neither disinterested nor dispassionate as to the outcome of this case,” he said.