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Final Arguments Put Bombing Case in Jurors' Hands

Courts: Prosecution, defense cite scripture, law in swift trial of McVeigh, accused of killing of 168 in Oklahoma City blast. Panel is to begin deliberations today.

May 30, 1997|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DENVER — Quoting scripture, citing law and referring to some of the world's great writings, opposing lawyers in the Oklahoma City bombing trial argued Thursday over whether Timothy J. McVeigh was guilty of killing people he thought were part of "an evil empire" or has been wrongly accused in the nation's worst case of mass murder.

Their voices sometimes strong, sometimes faltering as they presented their final arguments, the attorneys sought to convince a jury of seven men and five women that their side should prevail when the panel begins its deliberations here this morning. U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch sequestered the jury Thursday night, the first time that he has done so during the trial.

Prosecutor Larry Mackey mocked McVeigh's self-importance as a modern patriot bent on fomenting a new American revolution. He said that the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building employees and visitors and little children attending a day-care center there did not comprise the "evil empire" that McVeigh had come to call the federal government.

Nor, Mackey said, were any of the 168 people killed the Gestapo-like police that McVeigh was said to believe comprised much of the federal work force.

"The law enforcement officers who died were not treasonous officials, as Timothy McVeigh declared, or cowardly bastards," Mackey said. "The credit union employees who disappeared were not tyrants whose blood had to be spilled. And certainly the 19 children who died were not the storm troopers that McVeigh said must die because of their association with the evil empire.

"In fact, they were bosses and secretaries. They were blacks, whites, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons. They were a community. So who are the real patriots and who is the traitor?"

The closing arguments wrapped up a trial that had been expected to span much of the spring and summer but instead came to an unexpectedly swift end.

In addition to those killed in the bombing, more than 500 people were injured in the April 19, 1995, blast.

Mackey was followed to the podium by chief defense attorney Stephen Jones, a small-town Oklahoma lawyer who began his final argument with a lengthy treatise on the law. Jones said that the monthlong trial was much more than just a criminal case, much more than just a legal wrangle between prosecutors and defense lawyers. This, he said, is "a moment in our history."

Noting that the government presented a tremendous amount of heart-wrenching testimony from survivors, he called on the jury to find a similar sentiment for his client.

"Justice is blind," he said. "Justice does not wear a mourning armband. Justice does not have a tear on its face."

Jones made an indirect reference to the controversial not-guilty verdict in the O.J. Simpson murder case in Los Angeles as he implored the McVeigh jury not to be swayed by sympathy for the bombing's victims.

"If we let sympathy overcome reason, then sympathy becomes to this case what race was to another case," Jones said.

He charged that the 29-year-old McVeigh was "convicted in the court of public opinion" within minutes of being identified as the chief suspect in the case.

In urging a not-guilty verdict for McVeigh, he noted there was no direct evidence that his client had mixed the bomb or driven the truck to the front of the Murrah building. "There is no dispute that the Murrah building blew up, and there is no dispute that these victims died," Jones said. "But it does not establish who committed the crime."

The government put 137 witnesses on the stand to draw a detailed timeline of McVeigh's movements over the six months leading up to the blast. The prosecutors said that he and co-defendant Terry L. Nichols, who will be tried later, spent $4,457.80 to acquire ammonium nitrate and nitromethane fuel oil and to lease storage sheds, pay for a telephone debit card and rent a 20-foot yellow Ryder truck.

The defense called just 25 witnesses in less than four days. They focused on contamination problems at the FBI crime laboratory that they said could have been the reason explosive residue was found on McVeigh's clothing when he was arrested.

They also raised questions about a second man, known as John Doe No. 2, who some witnesses said was seen renting the truck with McVeigh, and about a mysterious leg found in the Murrah building rubble that, they said, could have belonged to the true bomber.

The closing arguments from both sides were elegant, detailed and rich in passion.

Mackey described the blast at 9:02 on a Wednesday morning. "America stood in shock," he said. "Who could do such a thing? Who could do such a thing?

"It's a question that began to ripple across this country, coast to coast. And finally it came to rest here in this courtroom. The answer is Timothy McVeigh."

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