McVeigh guilty Jury convicts gulf vet in Okla. blast

Bombing killed 168 in deadliest act of domestic terrorism

'We got the right verdict'

Survivors elated, emotional after 4 days of waiting anxiously

June 03, 1997|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

DENVER -- In a courtroom filled with tension and tears, Timothy J. McVeigh stared stonily yesterday as a federal jury found him guilty on all counts in the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building -- the nation's deadliest act of domestic terrorism.

Outside the federal courthouse, there were whoops and cheers from a crowd that had assembled as news of an imminent verdict spread. Some federal workers stood at the windows of the U.S. Customs House, across the street, to applaud as word came just after 1: 30 p.m.

In court, survivors of the attack and relatives of the 168 who died clutched hands and wept silently as the verdict was read -- mindful of Judge Richard P. Matsch's warning against any disruptions in the courtroom. Some people lowered their heads and trembled with sobs.

At least one juror appeared to have tears in her eyes.

McVeigh, 29, a decorated Persian Gulf war veteran, looked neither surprised nor concerned as the judge read the 11-count verdict. Three federal marshals had positioned themselves behind him, but McVeigh, in a button-down shirt and khaki slacks, sat calmly. He did not change his expression.

After 23 1/2 hours of deliberations, the jury had found him guilty of conspiracy, use of a weapon of mass destruction and first-degree murder in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Prosecutors said McVeigh hoped the attack would provoke an anti-government uprising.

The bombing -- which stunned the country, rattled Americans' sense of security and left a city in mourning -- ripped the front from the nine-story federal building. Rescuers spent weeks climbing through twisted metal and moving boulders of concrete to remove the bodies.

Victims' family members, who had waited with increasing anxiety over the four days of deliberations, were elated and emotional when the verdict finally came.

Jannie Coverdale, whose 5- and 2-year-old grandsons died in the Murrah building's day care center, said she sensed their presence in the courtroom. "I just feel like Aaron and Elijah were there and they knew," she said.

"We got the right verdict," said Charles Tomlin, whose son, Rick, died in the bombing. Rudy Guzman, who lost his brother Randy, found himself sobbing as he stood before a television camera. Tomlin put his arm around Guzman.

The government's lawyers, all beaming, left the courthouse to find themselves cheered as heroes.

Prosecutor Patrick Ryan, the Oklahoma City U.S. attorney, tipped his cream-colored cowboy hat to the crowd.

Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler drew hollers and applause as the courthouse doors opened and the spectators caught sight of him.

"We're obviously very pleased with the results," Hartzler said. "We always had confidence in our evidence. We're ready to move on to the next stage."

Hartzler thanked the victims for their "patience and dignity." Later, at a gathering of relatives and survivors, he called the case "a labor of love."

Preparing for 'second stage'

Stephen Jones, McVeigh's chief defense lawyer, stood soberly before microphones to say he had visited McVeigh in his holding cell.

As he was escorted out of the courtroom, McVeigh had paused to shake hands with Jones and defense lawyer Christopher Tritico. Another of his lawyers, Robert Nigh, patted McVeigh on the back.

Jones said the lawyers would be returning to McVeigh's cell to work on "the second stage."

The second stage will begin tomorrow, when the same jury begins deciding whether McVeigh should be sentenced to death.

"This is, of course, a solemn question. It must be addressed seriously," Matsch told the jurors. Appeals are automatic in federal death-penalty cases.

Several relatives of victims know what sentence they would like the jury to impose.

"I want him to get the death penalty," Coverdale said. "I'm not asking out of revenge. But I think it's necessary because I haven't seen any remorse out of Timothy McVeigh."

If McVeigh were ever to be freed, Coverdale said, she is certain he would kill again.

But the chances of McVeigh becoming a free man are negligible. Oklahoma authorities are also poised to try him on state charges of conspiracy and murder.

From the day he was assigned the case in December 1995, Matsch took firm control. He moved McVeigh's trial more than 600 miles from Oklahoma City to Denver because he said he did not think it possible for an impartial jury to be assembled in Oklahoma.

The judge has kept the names of the jurors secret, using a complicated process of numbering to identify them during the selection process. To protect their identities still, he removed the jury foreman's signature from the official verdict form before it was filed in the clerk's office yesterday.

McVeigh's sentencing will not end the case. Terry L. Nichols, charged as a co-conspirator, will be tried this summer.

April 19, 1995

Pleased as they were with yesterday's verdict, some survivors said it could not end their sorrow. The bombing, they say, changed them forever.

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