By Andy Rieger
NORMAN — The lead defense attorney for Tim McVeigh believes others were involved in the federal building bombing on April 19, 1995, and his client protected them to the end.
“Several other people who were never arrested, never charged and never stood with Tim were involved,” Enid attorney Stephen Jones told the Norman Rotary Club Thursday. “I believe Tim McVeigh acted to shield the others.”
Jones’ comments came two weeks to the day before the 17th anniversary of the bombing that killed 168 Oklahomans, including 19 children and 8 law enforcement officers.
“It is the Pearl Harbor Day of Oklahoma. All Oklahomans know where they were on April 19, 1995,” he said.
He shared his perspective on being appointed and some insight on the strategy to save his client from execution. The defense took about two and a half years, involved 17 lawyers and cost taxpayers $20 million.
Federal Judge David Russell appointed Jones to represent McVeigh. He allowed him time to consult with his wife who had a premonition he would be asked, his children and legal associates before accepting. “I hope I haven’t signed your death warrant,” Jones recalls the judge telling him.
“A lot of what I did was controversial. My client was described as the most hated man in America,” he said.
Jones said McVeigh did not want to live out his life in prison. “Tim did not want life. If he was going to be convicted, he wanted death,” Jones said.
The second stage of the federal trial involved sparing him from execution. In a federal proceeding, only one juror had to vote against the death penalty for his client to get life in prison.
“The government had to convince 12 people. I only had to convince one,” he said.
Jones recalled listening on a Sunday morning after the Denver trial started when the local Catholic churches rang bells 168 times on the bombing anniversary. He counted them on a legal pad.
“Let me tell you, it was the most deafening sound I’ve ever heard,” he said.
McVeigh, who was executed in 2001, wanted to use a defense strategy that the bombing was in revenge for the government’s assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas on April 19, 1993, that killed 76 people. Jones’ alternative was that “mercy is a greater virtue than justice.”
Jones said he worked through the Catholic Church in Denver, the Polish government and the Vatican to get Pope John Paul II involved in commuting the sentence to life in prison.
Two weeks before McVeigh was executed, a hand-written letter from the pope was delivered to President Bush asking him to commute the sentence.