Nichols' lawyers to go all out in Okla. bomb trial Survivors of blast could be cross-examined, defense attorney warns

November 05, 1997|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

DENVER -- In the first full day of testimony in phase two of the Oklahoma City bombing trial, Terry L. Nichols' attorneys served notice yesterday that nothing and no one -- not even those who survived the April 19, 1995, blast that killed 168 people -- would be off limits when it comes to their client's defense.

"We will," Michael Tigar, Nichols' lead attorney, had warned in his opening argument, "cross-examine everyone."

That includes witnesses to the tragedy, whose stories were left unchallenged by the defense during this spring's trial of Nichols' co-defendant, Timothy J. McVeigh.

They provided some of the McVeigh trial's most harrowing moments, and Nichols' lawyers had tried to limit a repeat of that testimony.

But so far in Nichols' case, U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch has allowed the prosecution to pursue the same strategy it did in McVeigh's trial, which ended in a conviction and death sentence: calling a couple of people to testify about technical matters, then questioning a witness who was in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building when a truck bomb blew it apart.

Yesterday, the prosecution called Susan Hunt, who works for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which employed more people -- 124 -- than any other agency in the nine-story Murrah building. HUD lost 35 people in the blast, and 14 others have not been able to return to work.

Hunt told jurors how she had extricated herself and co-workers from debris after the blast -- and how she gently ignored a fellow employee, who complained that she couldn't see Hunt. "I looked at her and saw she had lost an eye," Hunt said.

During the day, Tigar quizzed witnesses about what kind of materials firefighters used to put out the burning cars in a parking lot across the street from the Murrah building.

If it is determined that firefighters used chemicals there, the defense could argue that any key pieces of evidence found there could have been contaminated.

Tigar's associate, Ron Woods, cross-examined the FBI agent who ran the Evidence Control Center in Oklahoma City as to the conditions in that building, a converted warehouse.

Woods recalled that retired FBI agent James Elliott told them that the warehouse was very dirty, and Elliott nodded assent.

Tigar had told jurors that he and Woods would present evidence of FBI procedures so shoddy that they would invalidate key pieces of evidence.

Tigar finished yesterday's session with a gentle cross-examination of the woman who provided the most emotional testimony during McVeigh's trial. Helena Garrett's 16-month-old son, Tevin, died in the day-care center. Yesterday, she sobbed as she described rescue workers bringing out one blood-soaked baby after another and laying them on the glass-littered sidewalk at her feet.

Pub Date: 11/05/97

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