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Fortier Says He Was Asked to Join McVeigh, Nichols in Plan of Action

Michael Fortier
Michael Fortier.
(File Photo)
By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thurs., Nov. 13, 1997; Page A10

DENVER, Nov. 12A key prosecution witness in the Oklahoma City bombing case today testified that convicted bomber Timothy J. McVeigh had once asked him if he wanted to join McVeigh and co-defendant Terry L. Nichols in their plans to take "positive offensive action" against the government.

Michael J. Fortier, 28, told a riveted federal jury here that he first received a letter from McVeigh in the late summer of 1994 about McVeigh's and Nichols's plans. Fortier said that McVeigh subsequently went to his house in Kingman, Ariz., and spelled out what he meant as the two stood in Fortier's yard.

"He told me . . . that they were planning on bombing a building," Fortier said. When asked by a prosecutor who was the "they" that McVeigh was referring to, Fortier replied, "He didn't say specifically."

McVeigh was convicted and sentenced to death in June for the April 19, 1995, truck bombing of Oklahoma's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in which 168 people were killed. Nichols, 42, is standing trial on identical murder and conspiracy charges.

During his testimony last May at McVeigh's trial, Fortier directly connected Nichols to the conspiracy. "Tim told me that him and Terry were thinking about blowing up a building," he told the court then.

Fortier, who met Nichols and McVeigh in the Army at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1988, also testified today that in the fall of 1994 the men took him to a storage shed in Kingman, where McVeigh showed him explosives. But Fortier said that he only saw Nichols handling a tire, not the explosives. "He was loading stuff from the storage unit into his truck," Fortier said of Nichols.

In exchange for his testimony, Fortier has pleaded guilty to four lesser counts of trafficking in stolen firearms, lying to the FBI and misprison of felony, knowing about the crime and failing to report it. He will be sentenced by a Kansas judge at the end of this trial and could face 23 years in prison for his role. His wife, Lori, who received full immunity, also will testify in this case.

As he had for the McVeigh trial, Fortier looked dramatically different from the time of his arrest two years ago when he showed up on national television with scraggly hair, an earring and a sleeveless T-shirt. Today, his hair was short and he wore an olive-colored suit and tie.

Prosecutors have alleged that McVeigh used Kingman -- where the Fortiers live -- as his base of operations as he planned the bombing.

Fortier took the stand late in the day for about 45 minutes. In his opening statement last week, Nichols attorney Michael Tigar promised a vigorous challenge to Fortier's testimony, which may come Thursday when Fortier resumes testifying. Tigar called the Fortiers drug users and liars, and emphasized that "all they know is what Tim McVeigh told them."

"The evidence will be that what Tim McVeigh told them was a series of lies," Tigar stated.

Fortier spent most of the day in a holding cell in the downtown courthouse as jurors listened to hours of tedious testimony about 687 calls made on a prepaid telephone card in the name of Daryl Bridges. The government claims McVeigh and Nichols bought the card and continued to pay on it in order to locate materials to build the 4,000-pound truck bomb that ripped open the Murrah building.

Witnesses suggested that McVeigh used the card to call Nichols on April 14, seconds before McVeigh placed a call to rent the Ryder truck he ultimately detonated in front of the federal building. Fred Dexter, an FBI computer specialist, told jurors that numerous calls were made on the card to Kansas distributors of fuel, chemicals and plastic barrels, all components allegedly used to build the bomb.

During the more than five hours of testimony on the phone records today, many of the jurors looked bored, glanced around the room and slouched in their chairs. At one point U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch assured them they would not be quizzed on the testimony.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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