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U.S. Says It Has Key to Truck in Oklahoma Bombing Case

Trial: Prosecutors say it was found in alley where they believe McVeigh sped off in getaway car.

May 14, 1997|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DENVER — The government presented to the Oklahoma City bombing jury Tuesday what it says is the key to the yellow Ryder rental truck--and thus a crucial key element of its circumstantial case against Timothy J. McVeigh.

An FBI agent testified that the key was found in a downtown alley near where authorities believe McVeigh sped off in his getaway car. According to the government, McVeigh tossed the key aside after running from the truck moments before it exploded April 19, 1995, killing 168 people and injuring more than 500.

Dawn Hester, an FBI agent and photographer, testified that she photographed the silver Ford key after it was found in the dirt-and-grass alley four days after the blast. She identified the key when it was handed to her on the witness stand by prosecutor Beth Wilkinson.

The key was traced to a truck rented from a Junction City, Kan., outlet after it was matched with special key-cutting codes kept on file by Ryder.

Hester was the first witness to follow Michael Fortier, the government's most important witness against McVeigh. In a crucial part of his testimony, Fortier said that he and McVeigh--former Army buddies--visited the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building months before the bombing and that McVeigh showed him the alley and the spot where he planned to leave his getaway vehicle.

The alley is behind a large Young Men's Christian Assn. building. Fortier said that McVeigh chose that location so he would have extra protection from the force of the blast.

Stephen Jones, McVeigh's lead defense attorney, sought to show Tuesday that Fortier had fabricated much of his testimony and that he attempted to fold his story into what he was reading and hearing about the FBI's theory of the case in the first weeks and months after the bombing.

But under additional questioning Tuesday by chief prosecutor Joseph Hartzler, Fortier said he did not learn beforehand that the key had been located.

"Did you know at that time that the FBI had found the key to the Ryder truck in that alley?" Hartzler asked him.

"I didn't know that," Fortier responded. "This is the first I've heard."

Also testifying Tuesday was Charles Edwards, a lock-and-key designer from Tennessee who used Ryder code numbers to re-create the truck's door and ignition locks. He said that he then inserted the key into the locks. "And it worked," he said.

Prosecutors presented further evidence from a Regency Towers apartment surveillance camera near the Murrah site.

According to the government, the camera twice captured a truck passing by on the street that appears similar to the one owned by Terry L. Nichols, who will be tried in the bombing after McVeigh's trial is completed. This is considered crucial to the government's case because the filming allegedly occurred three days before the bombing, when Nichols followed McVeigh to Oklahoma City to give him a ride back to Kansas after leaving the getaway car there.

The camera also allegedly caught a Ryder truck passing by just moments before the explosion ripped apart the Murrah building.

McVeigh has pleaded not guilty.

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