Report of McVeigh's remarks raises fair-trial concerns 'Worst-case scenario,' jury specialist says

March 02, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Lawyers preparing for the Oklahoma City bombing trial and other experts following the case are concerned about the potential effect on the jury of a newspaper report that defendant Timothy J. McVeigh told his lawyers that he had driven the truck used in the bombing and that he had decided on a daytime attack to ensure a "body count."

The article, published yesterday in the Dallas Morning News, first appeared on the newspaper's World Wide Web page Friday, the same day that questionnaires mailed two weeks ago to hundreds of prospective jurors were due at the U.S. District Court in Denver. The full text of the article also appeared yesterday in both daily newspapers in Denver.

"It's a worst-case scenario," said Jeffrey Abramson, a professor of politics and legal studies at Brandeis University and a jury specialist. "At the witching hour, but before people have been isolated from pretrial publicity, you get explosive evidence, exactly the kind of thing that makes it very difficult for a defendant to think he hasn't already been tried in the press."

McVeigh's lawyer, Stephen Jones, visibly angry, went to federal court shortly after learning of the article Friday afternoon, to meet with prosecutors and Judge Richard Matsch, who will begin jury selection for McVeigh's trial March 31. McVeigh's co-defendant in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, Terry L. Nichols, will be tried after McVeigh.

After the meeting in the judge's chambers, Jones, trying to minimize the damage, called the article a hoax and said he would wait to see what impact, if any, it would have on jury selection.

The article quoted a source from McVeigh's defense team, saying that person had interviewed McVeigh at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma between July and December 1995.

One of a series of incriminating statements reported in the article was a response to the view of an anti-government activist that McVeigh would have been a hero if he had bombed the building at night, when fewer people might have been killed. As it was, 168 people died in the blast, and 800 were injured.

"McVeigh looked directly into my eyes and told me: 'That would not have gotten the point across to the government. We needed a body count to make our point,' " the defense staff member wrote in his notes of the interview, the newspaper reported.

Pub Date: 3/02/97

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