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Grand Jury Charges Two With Bombing

By Pierre Thomas and George Lardner Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 11, 1995; Page A01

A federal grand jury in Oklahoma City yesterday accused Timothy James McVeigh and Terry Lynn Nichols of conspiring to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building there last April and said it was convinced that others, as yet unidentified, had taken part in the plot.

The 11-count indictment alleged the defendants plotted "together and with others unknown," but it made no reference to the role these others might have played.

Attorney General Janet Reno said at a news conference here, "We will pursue every lead based on the evidence. But we have charged everyone involved that we have evidence of at this point."

While prosecutors suggested they had "probable cause" to believe other suspects might turn up, the indictment issued yesterday against McVeigh and Nichols outlined a closely held conspiracy among two friends who concocted a bombing plot that was surprisingly cheap to finance and simple to carry out but deadly in its result.

A friend and onetime Army buddy of the two main defendants, Michael Fortier, was charged in a separate indictment with knowing of their plan and concealing it from law enforcement authorities. He was also charged with lying to the FBI and with involvement in a robbery that helped finance the terrorist attack. The April 19 bombing killed 168 and injured hundreds more.

Fortier struck a deal with Justice Department prosecutors earlier this week and is expected to testify against McVeigh and Nichols. What he has to say could provide the government with the most direct information to date in a case thus far built largely on circumstantial and forensic evidence.

Defense attorneys for McVeigh and Nichols attacked the prosecution case as a rush to judgment and said they would press to have the trial held outside Oklahoma.

"Terry Nichols is not guilty of the allegations of which he is charged," said Nichols's chief defense lawyer, Michael Tigar. He denounced the government's case as flimsy, saying "everything in this indictment has already been leaked and played in the national media."

U.S. Attorney Pat Ryan said in Oklahoma City prosecutors will seek the death penalty against McVeigh and Nichols. Reno, who is supposed to have final say on sentencing in capital crimes, announced shortly after the bombing that the death penalty would be sought against those responsible. Defense lawyers protested again yesterday that Reno had improperly made up her mind in advance and should disqualify herself.

Ryan said after their federal trial McVeigh and Nichols would stand trial in an Oklahoma state court on murder charges for eight persons killed in the April blast who were outside the Murrah building.

Fortier, who formally pleaded guilty to the charges against him yesterday afternoon, faces a maximum of 23 years in prison and fines totaling $1 million.

Asked about the dismembered leg clothed in military garb found deep in the blast site, officials here and in Oklahoma City said investigators are still trying to determine whether it has any bearing on the case. News of the discovery touched off speculation it may have belonged to a man some witnesses said they saw with McVeigh on the morning of the bombing.

The indictment makes no mention of "John Doe No. 2," the elusive individual who became the subject of a nationwide manhunt after some witnesses said they saw with McVeigh when he picked up the Ryder rental truck used in the bombing.

The government yesterday did withdraw all charges against Terry Nichols's brother, James. He had been picked up in Michigan shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing and was held for a month in jail as a material witness before being indicted on three explosives charges. In acknowledging the case against James Nichols had fizzled, U.S. Attorney Saul A. Green said in Detroit said that "additional investigation failed to corroborate some of the important evidence on which the government initially relied."

The first three counts in the main indictment, the result of one of the most exhaustive investigations in the nation's history, charged McVeigh and Nichols with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction to kill people and destroy federal property, with using a truck bomb to kill people, and with malicious destruction of property resulting in death. The conspiracy charge lists by name all persons who died inside the Murrah building in order of their age from 73 years to 4 months.

The other eight counts were brought under a federal statute covering the murders of federal law enforcement officers, one count for each of those killed in the blast.

The indictment skirts the questions of why and just when McVeigh, 27, and Nichols, 40, decided to blow up the Murrah Building, but it lists the first overt act as having taken place on Sept. 22, 1994, when McVeigh rented a storage unit in Herington, Kan., in the name of "Shawn Rivers." In a sparse chronology, the indictment tells of how the two defendants allegedly collected materials for the bomb, stored them and eventually assembled the device that exploded on April 19.

These and many of the other allegations have been made before in early court pleadings, but the indictment adds some new details. It said, for instance, that in late September, McVeigh made telephone calls in an effort to obtain detonation cord and racing fuel and that he and Nichols stole explosives from a storage locker in Marion, Kan.

On Oct. 3, the government charged, McVeigh and Nichols transported the stolen explosives to Kingman, Ariz., where McVeigh rented a storage unit for them. Fortier lived in Kingman.

The indictment said McVeigh and Nichols were involved in the Nov. 5, 1994, robbery of a firearms dealer in Arkansas "to help finance their planned act of violence."

On Dec. 16, 1994, the main indictment adds, McVeigh, en route to Kansas "to take possession of the stolen firearms," drove with Fortier to the Murrah building "and identified the building as the target."

The indictment against Fortier accuses him of conspiring to transport firearms stolen in Arkansas across state lines.

Fortier also was charged with selling some of the stolen firearms and delivering part of the proceeds "to McVeigh for Nichols."

Defense attorneys yesterday assailed Fortier, who is likely to become one of the government's chief witnesses. "If you want to know who's confessed to being involved in the bombing, he's {Fortier} right down the street," said Tigar, Nichols's lawyer. "We do not fear anything Mr. Fortier has to say."

Fortier's lawyer, Michael McGuire, described his client as full of remorse.

"There is no expression of grief or words sufficient to describe his anguish over the responsibility he feels for knowing about the plans to bomb the Murrah building," McGuire said in an interview at his office. "The defining thing that made him want to cooperate was his conscience."

Stephen Jones, McVeigh's chief lawyer, suggested the government's grant of immunity to Fortier's wife, Lori, was a strong factor along with the plea bargain Fortier struck.

"I think any time the government has to give two {potential} co-defendants a pretty good deal, there are weaknesses in the case," Jones told reporters.

He quickly sought to cloud the prosecution's contentions by issuing a statement about a government informant who late last year warned federal authorities of a developing bomb plot against a federal building in a midwestern city.

According to Jones, the informant described the orchestrators of the plot as a "combination of American citizens and, he thought, either Latin Americans or Arabs.

The individuals were identified by Arabic names." Jones said the informant also talked of traveling to Kingman, Ariz. Lardner reported from Washington and Thomas from Oklahoma City. Staff writer Serge F. Kovaleski and staff researcher Roland Matifas contributed to this report.

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