DENVER -- Images of fire consuming the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas, flashed across courtroom video monitors yesterday as defense lawyers tried to make jurors understand the rage Timothy J. McVeigh felt against his government.
And the court heard part of an essay written by McVeigh in which he said he hoped citizen militias would block "power-hungry storm troopers of the federal government."
It was the third day in the defense's campaign to save 29-year-old McVeigh, convicted last week in the Oklahoma City bombing, from a death sentence.
His attorneys want to show how deeply upset McVeigh was about the 51-day government siege at Waco, which ended with a fire April 19, 1993, that killed about 80 people.
Exactly two years later, 168 people were killed when a truck bomb ripped the front off the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
In the courtroom yesterday, scenes from Waco, where the dead included several children, displaced pictures of Oklahoma City.
McVeigh's lawyers insist that the jury should consider his views about Waco as a mitigating factor when they decide a sentence. But they have yet to say why his anger should matter.
"This provides maybe some explanation of what was going on in Tim McVeigh's mind," said Andrew Cohen, a Denver lawyer who is watching the trial.
"But it's not an excuse for what he did."
Scott Robinson, another Denver lawyer and legal analyst, called the strategy "the Waco-made-him-wacko" defense. "It was the most befuddling, bewildering presentation of nonsense," Robinson said.
McVeigh did not take the stand to explain, but his political views were aired nonetheless.
Some court observers speculated that the Waco testimony was being offered at his insistence -- to allow him a political day in court.
He watched solemnly as jurors saw an hourlong videotape titled "Day 51: The True Story of Waco" and excerpts from another tape, "The Big Lie."
The original purpose of agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the narrator of "Day 51" says, was to collect taxes on liquor, tobacco and guns.
"Today," the narrator says, "their mission is the disarming of the American civilian population."
"No sooner had the dust settled" after fire leveled the complex, the narrator says, "than the ATF began to lie and cover up."
At least one juror appeared to doze.
The defense also called a Fort Smith, Ark., television anchorwoman who, as a student reporter, encountered McVeigh Waco in March 1993.
Michelle Rauch took photos of McVeigh, parked near the Mount Carmel complex, where he was selling anti-government bumper stickers.
One read, "Fear the Government That Fears Your Gun." Another said, "Ban Guns. Make the Streets Safe for a Government Takeover."
Rauch remembered him as articulate and quoted McVeigh in an article she wrote for the Southern Methodist University newspaper.
"I believe we are slowly turning into a socialist government," McVeigh told her. "The people need to prepare to defend themselves against government control."
At gun shows, McVeigh sold materials about Waco, including videotapes and bumper stickers.
James Pate, who writes for Soldier of Fortune magazine, which McVeigh regularly read, said McVeigh's political views were not unusual. Many people who oppose gun control and believe in citizen militias were angered by the Waco raid, he said.
But on cross-examination, Pate acknowledged that his magazine recommends that disgruntled citizens write their senators and members of Congress and demand change.
The magazine does not, he said, advocate violence.
Last week, Judge Richard P. Matsch warned the defense team that he would not allow them to put the government on trial for the events at Waco or at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, where government agents killed the wife and son of separatist Randy Weaver.
Yesterday, he reminded jurors that testimony about Waco was not meant to be used as facts about that event but "for the limited purpose of explaining Timothy McVeigh's view, perceptions and beliefs."
"You're here to decide what relation this information may have as mitigating factors," Matsch said.
The defense presentation is expected to end today, with McVeigh's father, William, a likely witness.
The jury could begin its deliberations tomorrow.
Rage: Defense attorneys use witnesses and videotapes to try to show jurors why Timothy J. McVeigh was so angry over the government siege at Waco.
Waco video: Jurors watch a videotape called "Day 51: The True Story of Waco," which blamed federal agents for firing first at the Branch Davidians, triggering a gun battle that led to the 1993 siege.
Sister: McVeigh's sister, Jennifer, sits on the defense side of the courtroom. She was granted immunity in exchange for testimony against her brother, but she won't be a witness during the penalty phase. "I love him," she said on her way into the courthouse. "I don't want him to die."
What's next: Defense attorneys hope to wrap up their case today with McVeigh's father, William, as their final witness.
Pub Date: 6/11/97