Key Players: The Accused
Timothy McVeigh | Terry Nichols | Michael Fortier
Timothy James McVeigh was born on April 23, 1968 in Lockport, New York to Mildred "Mickey" and William McVeigh. The second of three children, McVeigh's upbringing, though troubled, was not extraordinary. McVeigh has an older sister, Patty, and a younger sister, Jennifer. McVeigh was raised in Pendleton, NY, a conservative, almost exclusively white community. The marriage between McVeigh's father, a "loyal union man" who worked nights at an automotive plant, and his restless mother was not a happy one. In 1978, when McVeigh was 10, his mother left the family. The children stayed with their father.
McVeigh built a skateboarding ramp in his driveway, invited everyone to shoot baskets in his hoop, created a haunted house in his basement and held weekend casino fairs, acting as dealer. McVeigh became interested in guns at age 10. At 14, McVeigh said that he was a survivalist, stockpiling food, camping equipment and weapons "in case of a nuclear attack or the communists took over the country," recalled a neighbor.
Few of McVeigh's former teachers at Starpoint High School remembered him as a student. McVeigh did not miss a day of classes from seventh through twelfth grade. During McVeigh's senior year, his standardized test scores earned him a State Regents scholarship. McVeigh's high-school yearbook entry in 1986 listed no organized activities (he omitted the track team), rather: "staying away from school, losing sleep, finding it in school." Under future plans: "Take it as it comes, buy a Lamborghini, California girls." Classmates say McVeigh never had a girlfriend in high school and seemed uninterested in dating. McVeigh graduated from Starpoint High School in 1986
More than 90 percent of McVeigh's classmates went to college, but not McVeigh.
At age 18, McVeigh enrolled in a computer school in nearby Buffalo, NY, only to drop out after just 3 ½ months. McVeigh remained a quiet, introverted person into adulthood and rarely spoke of his feelings toward his family. McVeigh's friends believed he was very attached to his younger sister Jennifer, but seemed to harbor a significant resentment toward his mother.
McVeigh: Army Life
For about two years after dropping out of school, McVeigh worked a series of odd jobs. While working as a security guard, McVeigh startled some of his colleagues by waving a large pistol out of his car window and showing up for work wearing crossed bandoliers of ammunition. McVeigh also worked briefly as a gun salesman at a large sportsmen's shop with guns lining most walls. In January 1988, McVeigh bought 10 acres of thickly wooded land southeast of Buffalo with a high-school friend, David Darlak. McVeigh later told his Army friends that the land was to be a survivalist bunker.
In May 1988, McVeigh enlisted in the United States Army. In basic training, he met and befriended recruit platoon leader Terry Nichols, who would later be indicted with McVeigh as a co-conspirator in the bombing of the Murrah Building. Former army associates spoke of McVeigh and Nichols as having been very attentive to the details of army life: relishing the duties of polishing their boots, keeping their uniforms immaculately pressed, and cleaning the company commander's vehicle.
McVeigh was also seen as a loner who rarely spoke of his personal life, had never had a girlfriend, and devoted his spare time to target practice and reading gun magazines. Fellow soldiers said McVeigh was extremely uncomfortable around women. McVeigh's sister Jennifer was the only female McVeigh mentioned fondly, other soldiers said. At first, McVeigh functioned well in the structured environment of army life and was promoted to the rank of sergeant, while those with whom he'd enlisted were still privates.
For his service with the 1st Division in the Persian Gulf War, McVeigh was awarded a Combat Infantry Badge and a Bronze Star. McVeigh manned a 25-ton Bradley Fighting Vehicle during the Persian Gulf War. McVeigh was unsuccessful, however, in his attempt to join the elite corps of the Green Berets. In April 1991, McVeigh went to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for the 21-day assessment and selection course, but "washed out" after the first day.
McVeigh walked away from his Green Berets tryout when the Army put him on a forced march without a destination. McVeigh and the other candidates were issued 45-pound backpacks, put on a trail and told they were going to be judged on how far they could march. In a written statement to the Army, McVeigh said: "I am not physically ready, and the rucksack march hurt more than it should." His disappointment at Fort Bragg seems to have been a turning point for McVeigh, who sought a discharge and returned home before his army re-enlistment period ended.
McVeigh requested an early discharge when a reduction-in-forces order came down in late 1991. McVeigh was discharged from the Army on December 31, 1991. A December 1991 Army evaluation released by McVeigh's lawyer, Stephen Jones, rated him "among the best" in leadership potential and an "inspiration to young soldiers."
McVeigh returned to Pendleton, NY and enlisted in a New York National Guard unit, and served from January 1992 to June 1992, when he received an honorable discharge. McVeigh headed a four-member anti-tank missile squad in the Guard.
McVeigh: After Leaving the Army
His former co-workers from before his army stint remembered McVeigh as looking "like Rambo," but his supervisor at the security firm he worked for after the army recalled most vividly his thinness and bad posture. His supervisor felt she could only trust him posted "at the back door," due to his lack of initiative and tendency to become too aggressive when people were uncooperative. McVeigh by now was railing at virtually every aspect of American government.
McVeigh wrote letters to the Lockport Union-Sun and Journal in February and March 1992. The first of these letters bewailed rising crime, "cataclysmic" taxes, politicians serving only themselves and the disappearance of the "American Dream . . . substituted with people struggling just to buy next week's groceries." Just as communism failed, he said, democracy "seems to be headed down the same road. No one is seeing the big picture . . . AMERICA IS IN DECLINE." He closed: "Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system? I hope it doesn't come to that! But it might."
The second letter extolled the moral superiority of hunting one's own food rather than buying it. Animals raised for slaughter live and die in misery, McVeigh said. Those shot by hunters live blissfully. "Would you rather die while living happily or die while living a miserable life?" he wrote.
In the summer of 1992 McVeigh made his first extended visit to Terry Nichols at the northeast Michigan farm owned by Nichols's brother James. From early 1993 until shortly before the bombing, McVeigh moved between Kingman, Arizona and northeast Michigan, two centers of burgeoning interest in paramilitary, anti-government organizations. In between working odd jobs, McVeigh hovered on the edges of the gun show circuit in Arizona and Nevada, using "Tim Tuttle" as his business name. McVeigh conducted much of his gun business by mail, and once advertised an anti-tank missile launcher in the far-right national newspaper The Spotlight, which has been criticized by Jewish groups as being anti-Semitic. McVeigh dropped out of the National Rifle Association in 1994, saying the group was soft on defending assault weapons.
McVeigh: Extremist Interests
McVeigh developed a fascination for the ideology of paramilitary groups, whose numbers were growing throughout the United States. In addition to gun magazines like Soldier of Fortune and Guns & Ammo, McVeigh started reading newsletters like that of the overtly anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby and Christian Identity's The Patriot Report
The Patriot Report later printed the view that the Oklahoma City bombing was actually a plot by "the real hate groups," namely the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, to crack down on paramilitary groups.
McVeigh also apparently became obsessed with various novels and films that featured such themes as the lone soldier betrayed by his corrupt government (the "Rambo genre"), or apocalypse survivors left to rely solely on their wits and salvaged weapons.
McVeigh's favorite movie was Red Dawn, a 1984 film about a group of small-town teenagers who engage in guerrilla warfare against invading Soviet troops. Another McVeigh favorite was the novel The Turner Diaries, which was widely disseminated over the Internet among paramilitary groups. The Turner Diaries, written by an American Nazi Party official, features a hero who packs a truck with a bomb made of fertilizer and fuel oil and then detonates it at FBI headquarters.
McVeigh's favorite works had a common theme: revolution against a government that would deprive private citizens of their right to own guns and protect themselves. Incidents at Waco and Ruby Ridge and gun control legislation further turned McVeigh against the government. Many right-wing dissidents were angered by the passage of legislation restricting the purchase of firearms. On April 19, 1993 the inferno near Waco, Tex., consumed about 80 followers of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, and deeply radicalized many pro-gun forces. McVeigh wrote more than 20 letters to his sister Jennifer expressing his anti-government views and saying that war had been declared. McVeigh became fascinated by the significance of April 19, the date of both the Waco attack and the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775, which opened the American Revolution. The 51-day Waco siege, covered nightly on television, further turned McVeigh against his government. McVeigh traveled to Waco to witness part of the standoff.
In August of 1992, a shootout between federal agents and survivalist Randy Weaver at his cabin in Idaho resulted in the death of Weaver's wife and son. A co-worker said McVeigh also traveled to Ruby Ridge to perform his own inspection after the Weaver shootings. McVeigh returned from Ruby Ridge certain that federal agents intentionally killed Weaver's wife and son. In the fall of 1993, McVeigh moved back to the Nichols farm, joining the brothers whose rage at the government had led them to fight the U.S. tax system, the judicial system, the monetary system, even the postal system. Together the three set off explosives and, according to investigators, formed their own secret paramilitary cell and distributed literature calling for violence to restore American freedoms. Michigan Militia members said the three attended meetings of their group, one of the largest in the paramilitary movement a claim McVeigh denied. For most of 1994, McVeigh was in Kingman, Ariz. with Michael Fortier, a fellow Army veteran.
McVeigh: The 1995 Bombing
McVeigh is believed to have picked April 19 because it was the anniversary of two events: the 1993 Waco raid and the opening shot of the Revolutionary War in Concord and Lexington in 1775. At just after 9:00 in the morning, two years to the day after the Waco standoff, a terrible explosion in Oklahoma City devastated a federal office building and shattered the lives of hundreds of people. Initial televised reports aired a theory that foreign terrorists were responsible and suggested that eyewitnesses had seen Middle Eastern-looking men fleeing the scene.
However, Timothy McVeigh was in police custody within 90 minutes after the blast. Some 80 miles from Oklahoma City, a state trooper happened to stop McVeigh's car on the highway because the license plate was missing and then made an arrest when he determined that McVeigh was carrying a concealed firearm. The T-shirt McVeigh was wearing quoted Thomas Jefferson: "The Tree of Liberty must from time to time be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants." Back at the explosion site, investigators got a lucky break when they found the rear axle of a Ryder truck which they believe was used in the bombing.
Using the vehicle's serial number, the truck rental was traced to a lot in Junction City, Kansas, where the rental agent worked with a police sketch artist to create a likeness of the man who had signed for the vehicle. McVeigh's resemblance to the drawing released by investigators first caused attention to be focused on him as a suspect in the bombing. It was later contended that McVeigh and his army friend, Terry Nichols, had stolen dynamite from a quarry in Kansas, used false names to purchase 4,800 pounds of ammonium nitrate and rent storage lockers (a fingerprint was left on a receipt), and robbed an Arkansas gun dealer at gunpoint.
McVeigh: Trial Before the Nation
After almost two years of investigation, jury selection for Timothy McVeigh's trial began on March 31, 1997. Due to the tremendous amount of pre-trial publicity, the proceedings were moved to Denver, Colorado.
McVeigh's trial, presided over by judge Richard Matsch, lasted only two months. Nearly half that time was taken in jury selection, for which 99 interviews were conducted out of a potential pool of 1,000 people.
On June 2, 1997, after 23 ½ hours of deliberations, the jury found McVeigh guilty of all eleven charges he faced. These charges included conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, the use of a weapon of mass destruction, destruction by explosive, and first degree murder of eight federal law enforcement agents. On June 13, 1997 after listening to testimony from members of McVeigh's family and from relatives of those who died in the explosion, the same jury sentenced McVeigh to death by lethal injection. McVeigh's face was nearly expressionless during the sentencing.
More than one year later, on September 8, 1998, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colo. upheld McVeigh's conviction and death sentence. On March 8, 1999 the Supreme Court refused to hear appeals brought by McVeigh. On Dec. 11, 2000 McVeigh filed an affadavit asking the court to end the appeal of his death sentence and schedule his execution within four months.
Terry Nichols was born on April 1, 1955 in the small town of Lapeer, Michigan. He was one of four children of Robert and Joyce Nichols. The children did farm chores from an early age. In high school, Nichols was a shy boy, earning mostly Bs and Cs, with electives in such subjects as crafts and business law. He graduated in 1973 from Lapeer High School with a 2.6 grade-point average.
He attended Central Michigan University for one semester, receiving Cs in biology, chemistry and trigonometry, a B in literature and an A in archery. Nichols quit college in 1974 after about one year, around the time his parents divorced, and returned home to help with the farm.
In 1981, Nichols married Lana Walsh, a real estate broker in the Decker area of Michigan. Their son Joshua was born in 1982. Nichols worked in carpentry, sold life insurance and real estate, and managed a co-op grain elevator
Nichols enlisted in the Army in May 1988 at age 33. At basic training, Nichols forged a close friendship with Timothy McVeigh, founded on shared conservative political views and survivalist beliefs. Nichols became a driver for his commanding officer at Fort Riley, Kansas.
Nichols' wife filed for divorce in October 1988. In May 1989, Nichols was granted a hardship discharge so he could care for his son. Nichols registered with a mail-order bride service in Cebu City, Philippines, and married Marife Torres on Nov. 20, 1990. Torres was 17. When Torres joined her husband in the United States, she was six months pregnant with another man's child. The boy was born in September 1991, but suffocated in an accident on Nov. 22, 1993. Nichols went on to have a daughter and a son with his second wife. Over the next few years, the Nichols family drifted between Michigan and the Las Vegas area, where young Josh lived with his mother
In April 1992, Nichols renounced his citizenship.
Nichols wrote to a Michigan agency: "I am stating that I no longer am a citizen of the corrupt political corporate state of Michigan and the United States of America ... I am a 'non-resident alien.' " In 1992, Nichols wound up in court because of credit card debt. He claimed the judge had no jurisdiction over him. After McVeigh was discharged from the Army, he and Nichols grew even closer, working off and on at the Michigan farm. Nichols and McVeigh eventually went into business, selling military surplus at gun shows. On April 19, 1993, Nichols and McVeigh were in Michigan, watching television when government agents raided a Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, killing about 80 people.
Nichols and McVeigh spent months on their plans financing their efforts through a robbery, purchasing and stealing the ingredients and constructing the bomb. Nichols was at home with his family in Herington, Kansas when the bomb went off on April 19, 1995. On April 21, 1995 Nichols surrendered in Herington after he learned that police were looking for him. On May 10 he was formally charged in the bombing. In Dec. 1997 he was convicted of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter of eight federal agents.
Prosecutors asked the court to impose the death penalty on Nichols, but a federal jury failed to reach a consensus on whether Nichols should face execution. On June 4, 1998 he was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. On February 26, 1999 the federal appeals court upheld his conviction and life sentence. On March 29 Nichols was charged in Oklahoma state court with 160 counts of first-degree murder. On March 22, 2001 a judge let the Oklahoma charges stand, ruling that Nichols was not being charged twice for the same crime.
Michael Fortier served in the Army at Fort Riley with Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. After leaving the Army, Fortier returned to his hometown of Kingman, Ariz. and married his high school sweetheart. McVeigh was best man at Fortier's wedding.
Fortier worked at a hardware store and was known locally for weekly gun-control protests. He said he drove with McVeigh to Oklahoma City to check out the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building before the bombing. He told authorities that during the trip, McVeigh confided he was going to detonate a bomb.
Fortier first defended McVeigh and Nichols, then pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for testimony against the two men. He testified at both the McVeigh and Nichols trials that he was aware of a bombing plot involving the men months before the April 1995 blast. Fortier had a history of drug use and lying to federal officials, and became the target of McVeigh's lawyers. In 1998 Fortier was sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined $200,000 for failing to warn authorities about bombing plans. This sentence was overturned on June 30, 1999, and he was resentenced using more lenient guidelines. On October 8, 1999, however, Fortier was again sentenced to 12 years in prison.