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McVeigh Described as Dedicated, Disillusioned

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bruce Williams recalled that Timothy J. McVeigh never slung his rifle over his shoulder when he marched. McVeigh told him: “An infantryman always has his weapon in his hands.”

Theodore R. Thorne remembered that McVeigh, as an Army tank gunner, once scored 998 points out of a possible 1,000 during a shooting competition. “That means he missed one target,” Thorne said.

And Army Capt. Jesus Rodriguez said that, among the hundreds of soldiers he has supervised, he has rarely seen one as gung-ho as McVeigh. “He didn’t mind getting dirty,” Rodriguez said.

Trying to save McVeigh’s life, his defense attorneys continued Monday to present a series of witnesses for their client--hometown friends, teachers and Army buddies--in an attempt to persuade a federal court jury here that he should be given a life sentence for his conviction June 2 in the Oklahoma City federal building bombing. The defense effort began Friday.

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Prosecutors are asking for the death penalty, and they earlier elicited testimony from numerous victims, survivors and family members of the 168 people killed in the April 19, 1995, bombing. They argue that, because the suffering was so great in the explosion of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the 29-year-old McVeigh should pay with his own life.

McVeigh has never spoken about the bombing, nor has he testified at his trial. Instead, his lawyers are using others to unveil a portrait of the young man both as a decorated war veteran and, later, as one disillusioned by the federal government’s raid on a religious cult’s compound at Waco, Texas, in 1993 that left more than 80 dead.

Among those testifying Monday were a couple who lived next door to the McVeigh family home in Pendleton, N.Y.

Lynn Drzyzga described how McVeigh grew up around her sons and said he often hung around her home as a teenager. Later, when he was leaving as a young adult for the Persian Gulf War, he became emotional. “He turned around and said, ‘Mrs. Drzyzga, I’m coming home in a body bag.’ I said, ‘No you’re not. You must get those thoughts out of your mind,’ ” she said.

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“I cried, and tears welled up in his eyes. And he hugged me.”

Her husband, Robert Drzyzga, told the jury that he encouraged McVeigh to join the Army after the young man graduated from high school and was uncertain about his future. After McVeigh was discharged, he sent the Drzyzga family a videotape suggesting that federal agents murdered those who perished in the Waco siege.

Robert Drzyzga said that he and his wife watched the video at home and that they found it frightening. He said: “I turned to my wife and I said, ‘What the hell has he gotten into?’ ”

“That just ran chills through my spine,” he added.

Linda Daigler, McVeigh’s cousin and godmother, said that, when he came home from the war, he told stories about the ground offensive in Kuwait, including an incident in which he killed an Iraqi soldier at close range.

“I think he had remorse,” she said. “He wasn’t saying: ‘Yippee, I did it.’ ”

Master Sgt. James D. Hardesty, who served with McVeigh and was wounded in the Gulf War, described the feelings among many returning soldiers who learned that the military was being cut back and that their careers were being terminated.

McVeigh’s lawyers have suggested that his failure to become a member of the elite Green Berets led to his early discharge and inflamed his anger against the government.

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“It does get very discouraging,” said Hardesty. “You sacrifice for your country and you come back and all of a sudden you’re discarded baggage.”

Testimony in the trial’s penalty phase is expected to end later this week, putting the punishment question in the hands of the jury.


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