Bombing trial shouldn't be in Okla., suspects' lawyers say McVeigh, Nichols can't get fair hearing in state, attorneys contend

November 22, 1995|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Citing the deep emotional and financial toll on this community, as well as enormous pre-trial publicity, attorneys for the two alleged conspirators in the Oklahoma City bombing urged a federal judge yesterday 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 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 in Oklahoma City 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 Mr. McVeigh's attorneys.

Mr. Nigh charged that the task force considers the trial "the final act of this tragedy," -- a statement he said indicates that 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," Mr. 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 Mr. Nichols, sharply attacked Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who has reportedly referred to the defendants as "lousy, stinking individuals" and to Mr. McVeigh specifically as a "creep."

"They got the first creep that did it," Mr. Keating reportedly told an Oklahoma City television station in describing Mr. McVeigh.

Then, when a reporter asked with a chuckle if Mr. 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, Mr. 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.

Mr. 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 Mr. Tigar suggested that Mr. Keating is misreading the deep anger among Oklahomans who believe Mr. McVeigh and Mr. Nichols are guilty.

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