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McVeigh Jurors Cry as Agony of Blast Is Recalled

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Six jurors cried. An elderly woman in the front row choked and fought for great gasps of air. Prosecutors bowed their heads. Patrick Ryan, the U.S. attorney from Oklahoma City, kept wiping at his right eye.

Defense attorneys stared vacantly. Reporters sunk their faces low into their notebooks. The faces of visitors, most of them victims themselves, turned red as they wept. Even Judge Richard P. Matsch was affected. He seldom looked at those testifying just a few feet from him on the witness stand.

Timothy J. McVeigh, however, did not cry.

He did not flinch. He did not fidget on the first day of proceedings that will determine if he is to be put to death.

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As the penalty phase of McVeigh’s capital murder trial opened Wednesday, the judge was mindful of the raw, jagged, hurtful emotions that will be exposed in his courtroom this week.

He has ordered that dignified demeanor be observed. He has announced that there will be additional recesses to allow jurors, attorneys and spectators time to compose themselves. And he has disallowed some of the government’s more tragic testimony and evidence, declaring that he will not turn the sentencing of the 29-year-old former Army tank gunner into a public “lynching.”

“We’re not here to seek revenge on Timothy McVeigh,” Matsch said. “We’re here to consider these lives and what happened to these people. And, as you’ll see later, his life.”

Probably by sometime next week, after defense attorneys have had a chance to rebut the government and show mitigating factors about their client, the jury of seven men and five women will retire once again to deliberate.

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This week the jury found McVeigh guilty of the worst domestic terrorist act in American history. The Oklahoma City bombing killed 168 people, including eight federal law enforcement officers, and injured more than 500 others.

The jurors must reach a consensus on how McVeigh should be punished. If he is to be sentenced to die, they must all agree. If they cannot reach that unanimous verdict, McVeigh will spend the rest of his life in prison with no parole.

To prosecutors, death is the proper answer.

“It is the only verdict that justly fits the crime,” Ryan told the jurors.

The core of prosecution testimony is coming from bombing victims, family members, rescue workers, doctors, counselors and others--all describing how the explosion at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which shattered America’s belief in its invincibility from terrorism, also had a heart-wrenching impact on thousands of lives.

Ryan described the vast swath of death that reverberated from the corner of 5th and Harvey streets in downtown Oklahoma City.

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“The defendant killed many husbands,” he said, giving the tiniest of eulogies to those lost forever on April 19, 1995.

“The defendant killed many wives,” he said. “The defendant killed many grandchildren. The defendant killed many grandparents.”

Some women were pregnant. “The defendant killed three unborn children.”

He said that a 10-year-old boy will read a statement he wrote about losing his mother. “The defendant killed many mothers,” Ryan said.

He spoke to the jury with grace and emotion. He wore a classic gray suit to match his silver hair and a bright red tie. When he sat down and the jury was excused for its first break, McVeigh’s lead attorney, Stephen Jones, quietly walked over and commended Ryan on his moving remarks.

Then it was the victims’ turn to speak.

And that is when it became so difficult to sit unmoved inside the courtroom.

Even before then, Joseph Hartzler, the chief prosecutor, had warned the victims stuffed into the back rows to grit their teeth and bite their tongues. “On the day of the verdict, those were tears of joy,” he told them. “This is going to be a lot tougher.”

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It was.

Pamela Whicher took the stand and talked about the loss of her husband, Alan, a Secret Service agent.

Their son, Ryan, pretends that his father is on a business trip, she said. Once he started to grow a beard, he slammed his fist and said: “Well, who’s going to teach me how to shave it?”

Their daughter, Melinda, wrote a letter in high school about how “I never knew such a dark horrible place existed and I’m clawing my way out the best I can.”

“She has learned to hate,” Whicher said. “Which is a horrible thing to hear coming from your 16-year-old baby.”

Diane Leonard also lost her husband, Donald R. Leonard, a Secret Service agent.

They had been married 20 years. They had three almost-grown sons. Donald Leonard was a native of Oklahoma City, born at St. Anthony’s Hospital just blocks from the Murrah building. Two days after the bombing, his body was taken there.

That night Jason, the middle son, could not sleep.

“He came to me at 3 o’clock in the morning and he was crying very hard,” Leonard said. “He said, ‘I want my dad back. I want him to see me graduate from college. I want him to meet my wife someday. I want him to be at my wedding someday. I want him to hold my first child.’ ”

Crying, she went on. “Jason is getting married next month,” she said.

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April 19 is David Klaus’ wedding anniversary. It also became the day he lost his only daughter, Kimberly Ruth Burgess. Now he and his wife celebrate their marriage on a different date, he testified.

So much has changed. He has lost 25 pounds. He has suffered from hepatitis, pneumonia and two episodes of bronchitis. He is being treated for depression.

“I feel like I’ve aged 10 years in two years,” he said. “I just feel so much older. There is just this huge heart that is never going to get filled up now.”

Alan A. Prokop, an Oklahoma City police officer, testified about rushing to the blasted Murrah structure. Inside, he said, “it was strangely quiet. Except for the moans and cries in the building.”

Near an elevator shaft he spotted a woman’s hand waving back and forth, the rest of her body trapped under the rubble. He held the hand.

“The hand was warm,” he said. “She was clutching my hand. I held it and squeezed and I could hear muffled moans.”

Water was filling the area. The woman feared she was drowning. Then Prokop and other rescuers realized that it wasn’t water at all. It was blood.

“Her hand began to get still and very cold,” he said. “I checked for her pulse and there was none.” Prokop continued to search for victims. He found two infants side by side near crumpled insulation and heating and air-cooling ducts. “He appeared to have a piece of brick sticking out of his head,” the officer said of the young boy. “He was holding a toy block.”

He ran outside with the child. He spotted an ambulance pulling away and kicked at its side until the vehicle stopped and he could help the child inside.

Now he has nightmares. “I see people coming toward us wanting help,” he said, “and there are not enough of us.”

Kathleen Treanor’s 4-year-old daughter, Ashley Megan, and her husband’s parents, Luther and LaRue Ann Treanor, were killed while visiting the building’s Social Security office.

Authorities recovered what was left of the little girl’s body. Then they called Treanor a second time. “They found a portion of her hand,” she said.

Oklahoma City Police Officer Jerry Flowers helped rescue several victims. He also came across the dead. He found a small foot in a pink sock sticking out of the debris. “We dug savagely,” Flowers said, but when the debris was removed, the child was already dead.

He found another child under a blanket. “I remember when I opened up the blanket, I looked at this little baby,” he said. “He was a little boy. He was about 5 years old and he had a little teddy bear on his shirt. And his face was gone.”

Flowers said that he walked outside and leaned against a restraining wall, the dead and dying covering an emergency triage area nearby. When he drove home, he thought of his friend, Henry Biddy, whose wife, Oleta, had not yet been recovered. She would later be found dead.

“Henry embraced me and I started crying and I looked at Henry and I apologized,” Flowers said. “I said I was sorry I couldn’t find his wife.”

Tillie Westberry described the impact of the death of her husband, Robert Glen Westberry, on their little grandson, David, who was 4 when his grandfather, a Defense Investigative Services agent, died in the Murrah building.

After the bombing, David insisted on seeing the Murrah site, so he would know for sure that the grandfather he called “Poppa” wasn’t just at work.

David still misses his grandfather. At school, he sometimes holds his hands over his ears and asks his friends to be quiet. He worries that someone might blow up the school. In the car, he asks his mother to run red lights so they can crash and he can die. “Then I can go and be with Poppa,” he says.

Other times, his grandmother said, the little boy puts messages for his grandfather inside helium balloons and sends them aloft to heaven.


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