Most Oklahomans to be shut out of bomb trials Only dozen seats will be set aside for victims in court

November 04, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Hurt, angry and grieving, thousands of victims of the Oklahoma City bombing soon will get the trial they have long prayed for. But most of them probably will not be there.

With separate trials now ordered for the defendants, starting probably next year, the victims must decide whether they want to watch the trial as spectators or take the chance of being selected by prosecutors to testify against the defendants, Timothy J. McVeigh and Terry L. Nichols. Those who wish to be witnesses will be barred from watching any of the rest of the proceedings. Those who do not must sit silently as spectators, if they can get into the courtroom at all.

For the spectators, just to get to the building where the trials will be held means they will have to leave work and home and travel to Denver. Those who make the trip must compete for the 12 seats that will be set aside in the courtroom for the estimated 2,500 victims and their family members.

If, instead, they want to be in the audience for a special closed-circuit TV transmission of the trial to Oklahoma City, they must participate in a public lottery or stand in long lines with hundreds of others. Even after that, they still will not have guaranteed seats.

In fact, even to qualify as "victims," they have had to describe all over again for federal officials the pain they suffered when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed a year and a half ago.

Prosecutors must make equally difficult decisions about which of the vast pool of victims will get the opportunity to testify against the defendants. The large group is allowing prosecutors to take the voluntary approach to recruiting witnesses.

U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch, who consistently has ranked a fair trial for the defendants as more important than accommodating the victims, keenly is aware of the mounting frustrations for Oklahomans whose lives were forever marred by a 4,000-pound bomb on April 19, 1995.

"So much affects the lives of the people who have had their lives shattered by this," he said from the bench earlier this month, describing his ruling -- for the second time -- to bar victims from watching the trial if they are going to testify.

His concern is that hearing the evidence and watching the defendants would unfairly darken the victims' testimony against McVeigh and Nichols.

Pub Date: 11/04/96

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