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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (April 20, 1998)
does not regret
Editor's note: This ston'provides the account
of the Oklahoma City bombing trial from the point
of view of Timothy McVeigh's attorney Stephen
Jones, based on an interview with the Daily
Nebraskan. All statements of fact have been veri
fied, but the opinions are his own.
By Michael Warren
Tliree years ago, the nation was rocked by the
devastating blast of the Oklahoma City federal
For many, April 19. 1995 will live on through
the memories of its 168 victims.
For Stephen Jones, the day is a remmder of his
client Timothy McVeigh and the two-month-long
trial that led to a conviction and death sentence.
It's been more than 10 months since the trial
ended, and Jones refuses to state his beliefs on
McVeigh's guilt or innocence.
What he does believe, though, is that an incident
like Oklahoma City can happen again. Citing specu
lation surrounding the trial and initial suspicions of
the bombing, he urges a re-exammation of America's
judicial system and law enforcement agencies.
“In Oklahoma, it had such a devastating impact
that it has sort of a Pearl Harbor standard. It is the
standard by which all time is measured." Jones
said. “People remember where they were on April
Jones was in his 1 lth-floor law office of
Broadway Towers in Enid, Okla., when he heard
about the bomb in Oklahoma City, 84 miles away.
He and attorney Mike Roberts watched the events
unfold on television as media from across the state
converged on the demolished building.
About 80 miles north, and 90 minutes later, 26
year-old Timothy McVeigh was being pulled over
on Interstate 35 near Perry, Okla.. for not having
license plates on his vehicle. When an officer
approached, he noticed McVeigh was carrying a
concealed weapon and issued an arrest.
Hours before McVeigh was expected to post
bail on the firearms charge in Perry, he was arrest
ed by federal authonties based on a resemblance to
composite sketches of suspects in the federal
It wouldn't be for another two weeks that Jones
and McVeigh would meet.
Take the stand
Jones said that on May 5,1995, he received a call
from Chief District Judge David L. Russell of the
federal court in Oklahoma City asking him to repre
sent McVeigh. The original public defender with
drew because her office was damaged in the explo
sion, he said, and the lawyer she appointed asked to
withdraw because he had received death threats.
Jones told the judge he would need 24 hours to
decide. He had to consider the possible risk to his
family, business associates and property, he said.
His family understood his obligation as a trial
lawyer, he said, and knew he had a professional
obligation to see that McVeigh had a fair trial.
He called Judge Russell back and agreed to
take McVeigh - the man who many Americans
already were directing their disgust at - as a client.
“I've always been a strong believer that a lawyer
has a duty to take on controversial or unpopular
clients,” he said. “I felt it would be a black mark on
Oklahoma if they couldn't find a single lawyer in
Oklahoma willing to defend (McVeigh).”
Jones met McVeigh for the first time in the fed
eral prison in El Reno, Okla. Jones said his meetings
with McVeigh were always cordial and businesslike.
“He was much different than what I had seen
on television,” he said. “That particularly didn’t
surprise me. He was very extroverted, outgoing.
He had a sense of humor. Looked you straight in
the eye. Shook hands... firm handshake... friend
ly. And obviously very intelligent.”
His demeanor, Jones said, was contrary to his
stoic and stone-faced portrayal in the media.
“I’ve represented all kinds of people who have
committed, or have been accused of committing,
all kinds of crimes,” he said. “I know that one
human bemg is capable of doing anything.
“So 1 don’t ever think to myself, ‘Does this
look like the type of person who could do that?'
Certainly, looks are no match.”
Nothing but the truth
An engraving over Jones' fireplace reads: “The
justice of a society is measured not by how it treats
its best citizens, but how it treats its worst.”
And Jones hoped this would be the justice to
In the public's eye, it may have seemed
McVeigh already was tried and sentenced. But
Jones thought a hung jury or an acquittal was still
possible. Even with the publicity surrounding his
client, Jones said he thought McVeigh could get a
fair trial in Denver.
A fair trial was at the top of Jones' goals. He
also wanted to make himself av ailable to the press
so the public would know what was happening.
.And he didn’t want to leave a trail of conspiracy
theories in the trial's wake.
Jones did interviews with the media and
allowed television cameras into the defense's
offices on one occasion.However, it was an action
by the press, Jones said, that made his first goal
almost impossible. On Feb. 28,1997, a story ran in
the Dallas Morning News referring to a confession
of guilt by McVeigh.
Jones said the confession was fake. He said
someone on his staff helped steal more than
100,000 documents from the defense's computer
banks. The defense team did not know about the
article until it ran, he said, and it wasn’t until the
following day that it discovered how the newspa
per received its information.
The story ran 30 days before the case was to go
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moved to a different city was denied.
Also, Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch
would not allow' what Jones said was key evidence
into testimony. For instance, Jones said he wanted
to use testimony of those who said they warned the
government of the bombing ahead of time.
At that point, Jones thought a fair trial was
impossible. All they could hope for then was to
start building a case for appeal, he said.
‘‘We went through the motions. We did everything
we could,” he said. “We were very aggressive. We were
very zealous. But we were not very optimistic.”
His third goal of not leaving any conspiracies
behind also failed. There are numerous theories as
to the actors and the methods surrounding the
bombing. Jones is still pursing that goal in his to-be
released book “Others Unknown,” which refers to
the federal grand jury indictment that named
McVeigh, his associate Terry Nichols and “others
unknown” as defendants.
Jones said that when losing a trial, the feelings
of disappointment depend oh the circumstances.
“My opportunity to be Tim McVeigh’s lawyer
in an hour of great need was one of the highlights
of my life and professional career,” he said. “I don’t
regret it. I don’t wish him ill. I hope that he finds
peace, the faith of his fathers and that his legal
appeals are successful.”
In McVeigh’s trial, Jones said he was satisfied
with how hard the defense team worked to defend
McVeigh in the
face of adversity in
the courtroom and
with the public.
The guilty ver
dict in the
trial had wide pub
lic acceptance, he
said. It wasn't as
divisive as the not
guilty verdict in the
O.J. Simpson trial,
he said, and proba
bly would not have
an impact on
changes in the judi
It will have an
impact on people in
the federal govern
ment, he said, after
the case revealed
the undercurrent of
Two prior cases
tied to the
bombing from the
PHOTO COURTESY OF KATHY ROBERTS
ABOVE: ATTORNEYS ROB NIGH (left) and Jones (right) met with McVeigh
(middle) many times to gather information prior to the trial.
TOP: STEPHEN JONES, the lead defense attorney for Timothy McVeigh dur
ing last summer’s Oklahoma City bombing trial, lives with his family in
Enid, Okla., where he continues to practice law. Sunday was the third
anniversary of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing that killed
During the sen
tencing phase, the bombing was discussed in the
context of tire 1992 FBI shootings at Ruby Ridge,
Idaho, in which anti-government activist Randy
Weaver’s wife and son were killed. A greater
emphasis was made to April 19,1993 - exactly two
years before the Oklahoma City bombing - when
the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' raid
on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco,
Texas, resulted in more than 80 Davidians’ deaths.
The tie to the Waco raid was one of Jones’ first
suspicions on the day of the bombing.
“I knew there had been just a phenomenal
amount of dislike, hatred and mistrust of the feder
al government in the Midwest,” he said.
Flaws in America’s law enforcement and judi
cial system were revealed to Jones through the
trial, he said.
In law enforcement, he said, the police will
help a case along by leaning on witnesses or tam
pering with evidence. The problem is that someone
will find out about it. Jones said and the nerson
who was accused will eventually go free.
“They put a thumb on the scales ofjustice, and
they do something to make the case stronger,” he
said. “That’s obstruction ofjustice. That's not what
law enforcement is about, and that’s not what due
process of law is about.
“It has an inherently corrupting influence on
law enforcement, and so, incrementally, it dam
ages all of our freedoms. That’s where the real risk
is, and that is what we must be on guard against.”
These incidents may have already had an
impact. The government settled the claims of
Randy Weaver for $3.1 million. Congress
reopened hearings on Waco and Ruby Ridge,
which led to the FBI’s decision to replace its shoot
ing rules of engagement with a uniform policy that
encourages all federal agents to use an alternative
to deadly force, if possible.Many analysts say the
reforms were tested March 25, 1996, when mem
bers of the Freemen right-wing extremist group
holed themselves up on a 960-acre Montana ranch.
They were accused of threatening to kill a federal
judge and circulating millions of dollars in bogus
checks, and faced criminal charges.
According to a report by The Associated Press,
the FBI used third-party negotiators for months,
did not try to forcefully enter the compound and
did not shut the compound’s power off until June 3,
the 71st day of the standoff. On June 13, the
Freemen surrendered ending the 81 -day standoff
without bloodshed. Federal agents checked them
for weapons but did not handcuff them as they
were taken into custody.
Jones said “I think (the FBI) realized they
couldn’t go on like they had done at Waco and
From all these incidents, Jones said lessons
must De learned.
“The lesson is that if police kill people under
inflammatory circumstances where there is a seri
ous open question as to whether it is justified or
not, and it is not thoroughly and independently
mvestigated and seen to be fair, that you invite acts
“And I think it’ll happen again.’’
Staff photographer Michael Warren wrote this
account after a trip to Enid, Okla., to visit with
Stephen Jones. Warren s bmther, Robert Warren, a
defense attorney in Enid, was appointed as a co
counsel for McVeigh during the Oklahoma City
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