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Nichols's Attorney Depicts Fortier as 'Thieving' Liar

By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 14, 1997; Page A03

DENVER, Nov. 13—An attorney for Terry L. Nichols, on trial for the Oklahoma City bombing, today portrayed the prosecution's star witness as a "thieving" liar and drug abuser who cooperated with the government to conceal his own role in the deadly terrorist attack, which killed 168 people.

Under a withering cross-examination, Michael Fortier, 28, admitted that everything he knew about Nichols's alleged involvement in the plot to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, had come from convicted bomber Timothy J. McVeigh.

"Was there ever a time in your life where Mr. McVeigh and you and Mr. Nichols were standing side by side . . . when Mr. McVeigh said: 'My friend Terry and I are going to blow up a building with people in it and kill people?' " attorney Michael E. Tigar asked Fortier.

"No sir," responded Fortier, who on Wednesday testified that McVeigh told him that he and Nichols had decided to take action against the government.

During questioning by the prosecution, Fortier testified that one month before the blast, McVeigh told him that Nichols was trying to back out of the conspiracy. "Tim told me that Terry no longer wanted to help him mix the bomb," said Fortier. "He went on to say that Terry would have to help him because he's in it so far up 'til now."

Fortier, who pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for his testimony, proved to be powerful witness in the trial of McVeigh, 29, who was sentenced to death last summer for the crime and is appealing. Fortier repeated some of that chilling testimony today, quoting McVeigh as describing innocent federal workers in the Murrah building as part of the "evil empire."

But Fortier, who met both men in the Army, was less definitive about Nichols today. He said he saw Nichols, 42, only six times in the two years leading up to the 1995 blast, and never heard Nichols speak of hatred for the government -- a hatred the prosecution contends motivated him and McVeigh to bomb the Murrah building.

During more than three hours of cross-examination, Tigar suggested that Fortier may have been more involved in the bombing plot than he has admitted, because he had extensive contact with McVeigh before the blast and knew of his criminal intentions. Fortier acknowledged that he repeatedly lied to the FBI in the weeks after the explosion.

Tigar played a series of damaging audiotapes from an FBI surveillance operation at Fortier's house in April, 1995, after the bombing, in which the former hardware-store bookkeeper uses vulgar language, says he's going to sell the movie rights to his story and suggests he will lie if called to testify.

To drive home the point about Fortier's regular drug use, Tigar asked the witness to demonstrate for the jury how he snorted methamphetamine. Tigar himself offered a demonstrative snorting sound, causing several jurors to smile.

Fortier confirmed that anti-government literature found in his Kingman, Ariz., trailer was given to him by McVeigh, a point that Tigar may use later to maintain that identical materials found in Nichols home were also left there by McVeigh.

Under direct questioning by a prosecutor, Fortier said he saw explosives in the back of Nichols's pickup truck about six months before the Oklahoma City bombing when Nichols and McVeigh were at Fortier's home. Fortier said McVeigh opened the passenger door of the truck and removed a milk jug filled with ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel -- the same ingredients used later in the 4,000-pound truck bomb.

Fortier also claimed that McVeigh told him Nichols had robbed an Arkansas gun dealer named "Bob," whose real name is Roger Moore. Prosecutors contend the robbery of guns and cash helped finance the bombing, and that some items from it were allegedly found in Nichols's home. But under cross-examination, Fortier again admitted he had no direct knowledge that Nichols had pulled off the robbery.

Fortier has pleaded guilty to trafficking in stolen firearms, lying to the FBI, and failing to report his knowledge about the crime. He is in federal custody, and faces a maximum of 23 years in prison when sentenced at the end of this trial. His wife, Lori, has full immunity and also testified at the McVeigh trial.

Asked by Tigar what went through his mind when he first saw the grim news footage on April 19 about the blast, Fortier said: "Right away I thought Tim had did it."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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