Oklahoma City Bombing

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On the morning of April 19, 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed. By official figures, 168 people died[1]Until the September 11th attacks in 2001, this was the deadlist terrorist incident in the United States. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were convicted for their parts in the bombing, and Michael Fortier pled guilty after cooperating with the prosecution.

The Bombing itself

On the days leading up to April 19th, McVeigh and Nichols filled a rented Ryder truck with approximately 5000 pounds of a fuel oil and fertilizer mixture. On the morning of April 19th, Timothy McVeigh drove the truck into downtown Oklahoma City, parking it directly in front of the Murrah Federal Building. At 9:02 am, the bomb detonated, collapsing the front facade of the federal building and severly damaging several surrounding buildings. The explosion could be heard and felt several miles away.

As emergency teams responded, it was not immediately clear whether the explosion was accidental or deliberate. As the day went on, there was conflicting evidence pointing at both domestic and international terrorism. On one hand, it was the anniversary of the burning of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas as well as the scheduled execution date for a convicted White Separatist. On the other hand, the first be on the lookout announcement was for a brown pickup truck driven by an Arab-looking male.

As the day progressed, the brown pickup truck was apparently found and cleared, and an additional set of sketches were released, of Johns Doe #1 and #2. These sketches were apparently based on witness reports from the Ryder shop where the truck was rented; the truck had been identified by its VIN found on an axle.

Arrests

Ninety minutes after the explosion, Timothy McVeigh was pulled over by an Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer for driving a car without a license plate. During the stop, a weapon was discovered, and McVeigh was booked into jail on a weapons charge. Before he was released, he was identified as John Doe #1 in the sketches and was taken into federal custody. Terry Nichols, a known friend of McVeigh's, turned himself in soon afterwards.

Charges, Trials, Convictions, and Punishment

McVeigh was charged in Federal court with 8 counts of murder of federal officers, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, use of a weapon of mass destruction, and destroying government property via explosive[2]. To avoid a contaminated jury pool, the trial was held in Denver. On June 3, 1997, McVeigh was convicted of all charges.[3] He was sentenced to death and the sentence was carried out on June 11, 2001 by lethal injection in Terre Haute, Indiana[4].

Terry Nichols was convicted of Federal charges of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction and 8 counts of involuntary manslaughter of federal officers. He was sentended to life without the possibility of parole. In 2004, he was found guilty on state charges of 161 counts of first degree murder, but the jury deadlocked on sentencing. The judge imposed 161 a sentence of 161 consecutive terms of life without the possibility of parole.

Micheal Fortier testified against McVeigh in exchange for a light charge and sentence; he pled guilty to a single charge of failing to warn authorities about the attack and was sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined $200,000. In January 2006 he was released into the Witness Protection program. Others Unknown: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing Conspiracy by Stephen Jones and Peter Israel

John Doe #2 has never been officially identified; the current FBI theory appears to be that he was an unrelated person who happened to be at the Ryder office about the same time McVeigh was.

Memorial

The site of the Murrah building was converted into a memorial for those who had died. Its most striking feature is 168 chairs, one for each of the deceased.


References

  1. There's an open question about a possible 169th victim. See Others Unknown.
  2. http://www.oscn.net/applications/oscn/DeliverDocument.asp?CiteID=151372
  3. http://www.rickross.com/reference/mcveigh/mcveigh14.html
  4. http://www.newsok.com/article/701218/

Sources and additional reading

The Daily Oklahoman's archive of their coverage The decision in McVeigh's appeal The memorial