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McVeigh's Sister Tells of Pressure by FBI to Testify

May 07, 1997|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DENVER — On her second and last day on the witness stand, Jennifer McVeigh broke down in tears.

But she did not cry Tuesday for Timothy J. McVeigh, her brother, the accused bomber of the Oklahoma City federal building. She cried for herself, and for what the government was threatening to do to her if she did not cooperate.

She described being interrogated by FBI agents at their Buffalo, N.Y., field office just days after the April 19, 1995, bombing. Her brother had been arrested and the FBI was pressuring her to implicate him in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.

"They told me he was guilty and they said he was going to fry," she said.

The agents pressured her to talk to her brother "on their behalf," she said. But she resisted, unwilling to betray him.

The tears came when Jennifer McVeigh recalled looking around the FBI interview room, especially at the walls. In letters from her brother, she said, he had warned her to beware of the "G-men." And there, plastered on the wall of the FBI room, she recalled, was her photograph, taken from her kitchen and enlarged. There were also two separate timelines--one for her brother, the other for her. And there were copies of federal criminal statutes.

Suggesting that she may have helped her brother in the bombing conspiracy, one statute dealt with anyone who "commits an offense against the United States, or aids, abets, counsels, commands or induces its commission."

The punishment was scratched out. In in its place, agents had written: "DEATH."

A statute dealing with treason against the United States also was posted on the wall. The punishment was also scratched out. In its place: "Penalty--Death."

The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building killed 168 people and injured more than 500. The blast occurred on the second anniversary of the fiery FBI raid near Waco, Texas, in which about 80 people died.

Jennifer McVeigh, now 23, was vacationing in Pensacola, Fla., that day. Two days later, while driving with a friend, she heard on the radio that her brother, who is six years older, had been arrested. She immediately thought of the FBI.

"I was scared," she said. "I heard Tim's name announced, so I figured they would come around sooner or later."

They drove to her friend's home. She said that she went to the laundry room and immediately burned a number of clippings that her brother had sent her. Many of them were pages from The Turner Diaries, a far-right adventure novel about a group of underground guerrillas who firebomb FBI headquarters in Washington.

The book was Timothy McVeigh's prized possession. In the months before the bombing, he had been encouraging his sister to read it. He also was sending her letters, many in code, hinting about a coming cataclysmic event.

On Tuesday, Jennifer McVeigh sat across the courtroom from her brother, testifying under a grant of immunity, and told the jury that he had indeed written these letters.

In one letter, he instructed her to write him back only in secret handwriting, not her own, for fear it could be traced.

"Sign normally," he told her. "Just flow it. . . . Just flow it. If you go too slow, it will look forged."

She testified that she also found a message written on her word processor at home, at a time when her brother had been visiting.

The message was titled "ATF, Read." It said:

"All you tyrannical [expletives] will swing in the wind one day, for your treasonous actions against the Constitution and the United States. Remember the Nuremberg War Trials. But . . . but . . . but . . . I was only following orders. . . . Die, you spineless cowardice bastards!"

She later confronted him about that message. "I asked him if he wanted to leave it on there," she said. "He said something to the effect of, 'Just leave it there.' "

In early 1995, several months before the blast, McVeigh sent her a box. Inside were the highlights of his young life, his high school yearbook, his Army records. There were copies of his military certificates, including the Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal, all from his service in the Persian Gulf War.

Jennifer McVeigh said that a second letter arrived just 25 days before the bombing. It referred to the astrological sign of Taurus the bull, which she said runs from April 20 to May 20.

"Something big is going to happen in the month of the bull," she said her brother wrote.

She said that he did not say what would happen or whether he would be involved. But he suggested that she stay "a little longer" on her vacation to Florida in April. The letter upset her. She said that she went to her garage and burned it.

Another letter came about the same time, she said. In it, McVeigh was inquiring whether she had received the one about "the month of the bull." He seemed worried that his earlier letter might have fallen into the wrong hands.

"Jenny," he wrote. "I'm still waiting on your letter as to whether you received my last one about being a rock. That's what 'certification of receipt' means.

"That had a lot of sensitive material in it so it's important to know if you received it or if it was interrupted, either by G-men or dad.

"Also, did dad get the VHS tape and did you get Vampire Killer 2000? [an anti-government videotape] Please respond ASAP. Only one letter. If one is already en route, don't send any more after the 1st of April. Even if it's an emergency, send no more. The G-men might get it out of my box."

The day before Jennifer McVeigh left for Florida, she separated his correspondence into two boxes. In one box, she placed his personal items. In the other, she put potentially incriminating items, such as his letters and the far-right political propaganda he had sent. She gave the second box to a friend. "I asked her to keep it for me while I was on vacation," Jennifer McVeigh said. "From what had been indicated, I thought something might happen while I was on vacation."

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