Interview With The Grand Juror Who Wouldn't Shut Up: The Oklahoma City Bombing Case
BY JON RAPPOPORT
Author of Oklahoma City Bombing - The Suppressed Truth
In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing tragedy on April 19, 1995, independent researchers have begun to lift the lid on very troubling details of the crime. As in the JFK assassination, disturbing evidence of a different sort of murder scenario from the official version has emerged; and typically it has been relegated to the "conspiracy file" by the mainstream press. Very serious questions about bombs other than the ammonium nitrate truck bomb have surfaced. McVeigh himself in some eyes begins to appear as the dupe, the patsy left holding the bag. Key stories about federal law enforcement agencies having advance warning of a bombing in Oklahoma City are gaining credibility. Researchers on the scene in Oklahoma City are talking about the FBI intimidating witnesses and thereby shaping a false version of events. The Grand Jury itself which has brought indictments against Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols has come under fire for ignoring other potential suspects.
Are we being treated to what is basically a gigantic government press release, a foreshortening and distorting of the case?
On December 14, 1995, I interviewed Hoppy Heidelberg, a grand juror in the Oklahoma City case. Several months earlier Heidelberg had, off the record, engaged in a conversation with Lawrence Myers of Media Bypass magazine. Subsequently thrown off the Grand Jury by Judge David Russell for allegedly going public in the subsequent Media Bypass article, Heidelberg is very critical of the government's refusal to pursue murder suspects beyond Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols. Which suspects? Start especially with the notorious John Doe 2.
Grand jurors are not permitted to reveal details of legal proceedings on pain of contempt-of-court citation and imprisonment. Heidelberg has now risked being accused of this, because he feels his Grand Jury was steered away from evidence that could implicate the government itself in the bombing.
Has such a straightforward rebellion by a grand juror ever taken place before in a high profile American trial? After the Media Bypass article appeared, the major media gave the Heidelberg story one or two days and passed on to more routine matters: car accidents, murders, storms and potential medical breakthroughs.
Meanwhile Heidelberg has wrestled with his discovery that grand juries are basically run by the prosecuting attorneys who herd jurors like sheep in bringing indictments. (Indictment being the end product of a grand jury, the defendant is then bound over for trial.)
However, with a little research Heidelberg has also discovered that grand juries are potentially vital bodies in which jurors are legally permitted to actually bypass prosecutors and question witnesses directly, find and call witnesses and in general investigate the crime at hand.
Such a citizen-body, if honored -- not sidetracked and intimidated by prosecutors and judges -- would, of course, add a whole new dimension to the American legal scene. In practice though, these grand juries are never allowed to exercise their legally endowed powers. This was the very personal discovery of Heidelberg and it has obviously made him more determined to expose what he considers gross shortcomings in the legal system.
Across the U.S., several million, yes million, people are plugging into very active underground networks of news composed of faxes, videos, internet groups, alternative newspapers and magazines and self-published literature -- all of which present challenging and unofficial scenarios of the federal building bombing.
Heidelberg has formed his own unofficial perceptions close up to the action in the Oklahoma case and that is what we discussed in our interview.
There were at least five men ID'ed by witnesses as being on the scene the morning of the bombing. Actually, more than five.
Yes, or in the key vehicles everybody's pointed to as probably involved in the bomb plot. The yellow Mercury Marquis. The brown Chevy pickup and the Ryder truck. Actually there may have been two Ryder trucks.
They kept promising and promising to answer all my questions, but ultimately they stalled me. I was had.
It was a green governmentissued handbook. It said a grand juror could cross-examine witnesses directly. But they wouldn't let me do that. They said I'd have to get the prosecuting attorney's okay for each question I wanted to ask. But you know, in dialog one question leads to another right away, so you can't cross-examine that way. But I did get to ask some questions of witnesses.
I began to feel that way, yes. But, of course, all through the trial the prosecution insisted that John Doe 2 was the Ft. Riley soldier Todd Bunting who served in the Army with McVeigh.
That's right. And he didn't really look like the FBI artist's sketch of John Doe 2 and he wasn't with McVeigh when McVeigh rented the Ryder truck. The actual John Doe 2 did rent the Ryder truck with McVeigh. The whole thing was ridiculous.
A couple of weeks after the indictments of McVeigh and Nichols were brought in. I couldn't shut up. I didn't want other suspects to walk and kill more people.
Yes. John De Camp, for First Amendment purposes, to advise me on what I could and couldn't say.
Well, can an ammonium nitrate bomb cause the pattern of destruction that occurred in the federal building? I looked at that building and the idea of one explosive charge coming from one location doesn't fit. Pillars closer to the truck bomb survived the blast and columns further away went down. That's impossible unless the building was constructed very inconsistently with some pillars and sections put up quite well and others very poorly. Let's get the answer . . . Let's get the architects and engineers who built the building in there and question them.
Of course! I demanded bomb experts all along. And engineers and geologists. They said -- do you want to know what they said? They didn't have the money! I said I'd go down to the University of Oklahoma and bring some geologists back myself for free. They wouldn't let me.
ANFO (Ammonium nitrate plus fuel oil) is very symmetrical in the damage it does. You look at what happened to the federal building. That isn't symmetrical. You can judge the power of the explosion from the crater left under the Ryder truck. The crater tells you everything you need to know. The truck bomb explosion wasn't powerful enough to take out 25% of the building. That's why they covered up the crater, filled it in so quickly. ANFO is great for moving dirt in mining, but it's no good for knocking down buildings.
I think you're right. Yes.
They didn't need anything! People down in Oklahoma City say, "I know McVeigh and Nichols did it alone because I've seen the building." Building blew up therefore McVeigh and Nichols acted alone. You don't need a jury for that kind of non-logic.
No. You're off base on that.
That's not it.
Let me put it this way. If I had been Fortier's attorney, he would have walked. He wouldn't have given a statement and he would have walked.
There's a lot you need to know about Fortier.
Tremendous pressure. They brought 24-hour-a-day pressure on him for several months at great expense. They were on him at his job in Kingman, Arizona, and because of that he was fired. They were on him at home at his trailer, too.
Do you see?
It has to do with the sheer amount of pressure over that period of time.
He had no attorney.
He had no attorney.
For that whole period. And he wasn't under arrest either.
He was pressured for 24 hours a day and he had no attorney. He's a kid. He's not smart enough to understand what's going on.
To realize the FBI had nothing on him. He had no one to advise him.
They didn't want to arrest him.
Because if they did, they'd have to appoint a lawyer for him. It was months before he was arrested.
He got conned.
You're missing it.
You're missing it.
Let me ask you something. What's the fastest way to get from Kingman, Arizona, to Southern Kansas?
They'd go through Oklahoma City.
It's somewhere in between.
Something like that.
You need to read Fortier's confession. It was printed in the Daily Oklahoman.
Not even close.
No, they can use him. What he has to say won't make an impression on some jurors, but it could tip the scales for other more gullible jurors.
That's very important because you see, obviously that was the best they could do. They stayed with him so long because they had nothing better. Fortier's involvement in the bombing was so minimal it was a waste of time. If I was the FBI man in charge, I would have made one run at Fortier and then forgotten all about him.
Something like that.
They had nothing better.
Yes, I do. But the FBI relied on a man, Fortier, who really couldn't provide anything important to them. You need to remember that. That's important. There's more to this.
(Laughs) All this from an artist's sketch before they even arrest McVeigh?
Yes. A psychic.
That's right and that's the whole point. For example, the various surveillance videotapes of the bombing, tapes from, say, Southwestern Bell and the Journal Record Building across the street, we don't know that they showed all the details of the bombing, including the perpetrators, but it's possible. None of this material was shown to us in the Grand Jury.
That's what I'm saying.
The FBI must have gotten to him. You know, the FBI has been able to get witnesses to shut up about important things they know. We've talked to some of these people. In certain instances the witnesses believe that concealing evidence is the right thing to do. They really believe it. The FBI has sold them a bill of goods about national security or something like that. In other cases the FBI has used straight-out intimidation on witnesses. They size up people. On one witness they'll use something like national security. On another, they'll go for intimidation.
Before my second conversation with Heidelberg on December 16, 1995, I reviewed material on Michael Fortier's indictment. Fortier will apparently be the state's star witness against McVeigh. He's a very shaky star.
Reading through the plea-bargained charges finally drawn against Fortier which were formally filed on August 11, 1995, it's clear that he never told the FBI he and McVeigh "cased the federal building" just prior to the April 19 bombing. Fortier said that he and McVeigh simply drove through Oklahoma City on their way to Kansas and passed the federal building. The Daily Oklahoman states that McVeigh at this point "pointed to the . . . building as the bombing target." That remains to be seen. At any rate, this car trip to Kansas actually took place on December 16, 1994, four months before the bombing.
Federal prosecutor Joseph Hartzler, according to the Daily Oklahoman (August 11, 1995) "noted that Fortier was not charged as a conspirator in the bombing and said the government has no evidence that he participated in that conspiracy."
So what was Fortier charged with? Having knowledge of the McVeighNichols bomb plot before and after the fact. He was also charged with keeping that knowledge from the FBI. He was also charged with helping to transport stolen firearms (not bombs) across state lines.
Heidelberg had said that in arriving at a plea bargain FBI investigators had put "huge 24-hour-a-day pressure on Fortier for several months, during which time Fortier had no attorney and no one to advise him. Fortier could absolutely have walked if he were more experienced," said Heidelberg.
It does appear possible that Fortier's admission of the charges finally filed against him by the government was not a compromise downward in his favor, but instead the result of pressure exerted upward, so to speak, toward more culpability on his part.
If Mr. Jones, McVeigh's attorney, has a real desire to represent his client, Fortier looks like he could come apart under cross-examination. Why? Because if these charges filed against Fortier are made out of scare tactics and forced exaggerations by the FBI, that can be dissected on the stand. Fortier, the so-called star witness, could admit that his "prior knowledge of the bombing plot" was really non-existent. That, for example, in reality he had only heard conversation from McVeigh about "possibilities," not a definite plot.
If Fortier does come apart under cross-examination, that could create a psychological window of opportunity for the in-court or even out-of-court introduction of evidence showing a wider conspiracy in which McVeigh is the patsy, the dupe.
But Mr. Jones does not seem like the lawyer to risk his career on a fully armed defense of his client, McVeigh. As usual, that leaves outmoded objectives, like honesty, questioning authority and digging for the truth up to private citizens. Welcome to America, 1996.
Obviously, Heidelberg was leading me to a conclusion about what kind of
evidence the FBI was using in this case and what kind they were ignoring. He
seemed to be saying that the FBI used the thinnest of pretexts to get an
indictment on McVeigh and Nichols while holding back other kinds of evidence
which could implicate the government in the bomb plot. I had some of that nailed
down from the first interview, but I felt there was more to grasp here. Maybe it
was just too simple and I wasn't seeing it. We started off the second
conversation talking about McVeigh's sister, Jennifer, and I hoped that we would
get to a more stark understanding of what the FBI and the prosecution were
really up to with their manipulation of evidence. Eventually, we did. And as
simple as the truth was, it was quite a shock.
The FBI sat on both McVeigh's sister and his mother. My impression is the FBI took them somewhere to pressure them. McVeigh's sister is a nice person. So FBI pressure was effective. She has a conscience. You can turn around a person with a conscience.
Not exactly. She said something like that.
Yes. But more than that.
He won't talk. I don't know if he's happy to be a martyr or he's confident he won't get convicted. He doesn't seem to be terribly worried. Seems possible he thinks he was working for the government and that therefore he won't be convicted. That's a speculation.
He does have druggy-type friends but there's no particular evidence that he's an addict. He does have a lot of druggy friends, though.
Even if all McVeigh did was deliver the Ryder truck and if he didn't think the destruction to the building would be significant -- if he was conned -- still it's enough to convict him. There was a chance while the remainder of the building was still standing after the bombing that you could prove it was really destroyed by demolition charges placed on the interior columns . . . but now there's no forensic evidence left. [The government demolished the rest of the federal building on May 23, 1995.] Now it would be a big job to sell the multiple bomb theory to the jury. The public aren't bomb experts. If they were, they'd understand the pattern of damage couldn't fit with one bomb.
If McVeigh didn't know the extent of the damage that was to be done and he's taking all the heat, you'd think they would have killed him by now because he's too dangerous to them, because of possible revelations at the trial.
Yes. And this exclusion was pointed out to them!
Eventually, they brought one in. They didn't count on the fact that anyone on the Grand Jury could spot this guy as a CIA type operator. I found out later he was CIA although he had lots of impressive credentials. His testimony was very effective, but the whole thing was bogus. A dog and pony show. Now this is hypothetical. If you want to convince someone that ANFO [ammonium nitrate plus fuel oil] is powerful, show a film of a truck and blow the hell out of it and then say you used only five pounds of ANFO to do it. But how could the grand jurors be sure that it was only five pounds? All the demonstrations the prosecution used were like that. Obviously to dupe an unsophisticated audience [the Grand Jury]. But it's easy to see through this.
I didn't go in trying to cause trouble. I tried to get along. I wasn't wanting to be kicked off the Grand Jury. I wanted to hang in there longer. As it turns out I wouldn't have heard more about Oklahoma City, anyway. They were done with that.
Everybody's interviewed me. But they want me to turn out to be a nut. When I don't come off that way, they don't print the interview, they don't do the story.
The New York Times. I've had contacts with them. And with Time, Newsweek, CBS. They don't want to give me any stature. I was supposed to do 20/20, Dateline, a whole bunch of them. But after my appearance on Good Morning America and The Today Show, they ignored me. Even my own governor in Oklahoma [Frank Keating] was calling me a nut for a while. Then that didn't work because people know me. So he invited me to his mansion, but I didn't go.
It would seem to me that those rescue workers who found unexploded bombs in the federal building . . . there's got to be somebody who knows that -- it wasn't a hoax. They found two more bombs that didn't explode in there. Somebody somewhere can verify this. "Yeah, we found those bombs and reported it and gave them to whoever."
Yeah. Even with the Grand Jury witnesses, you could see they didn't remember everything they remembered. Their memories had deteriorated. (laughs) The FBI does this to people. "Your remembering would be counter-productive to the investigation. It's your patriotic duty to forget." I got to hear tape interviews with secret witnesses occasionally [witnesses already influenced by the FBI]. It takes a tremendous amount to get them to tell what they really know because they think that they'll screw up the government's investigation. But when some real witnesses the media found who had ID'ed McVeigh at the bombing scene didn't show up at the Grand Jury . . . How do you explain their absence? It was a dog and pony show. The prosecution spent a lot of money bringing in witnesses who knew nothing about the bombing. How many witnesses do you need to bring in to say that McVeigh was at gun shows. Not ten witnesses! That's irrelevant! Many people go to gun shows and don't blow up buildings. They [the prosecution] had this Grand Jury to the point where jurors were asking "How can gun shows be legal in the U.S.?" These witnesses were used to get across the idea that McVeigh, because he went to gun shows, was a bad guy. But we heard nothing from real witnesses who saw McVeigh at the crime scene. Isn't that amazing? You can get most people to buy a story without one bit of evidence. Just on association alone. You can get them to believe what you said he did. The witness testimony we got was pretty much all baloney. Why didn't they give us the real stuff they had, the real witnesses?
That's right! And why do you think that was. Because those witnesses saw other people with McVeigh and those other people might have been able to tie the crime to the government because some of those other people were --
You know, there's a saying among lawyers, "You can get a ham sandwich indicted." The ham was probably a little sour, so the guy in the restaurant died. He must have eaten the sandwich and been poisoned. You never tell the Grand Jury he died in a car accident after he left the restaurant. You just bring in lots and lots of witnesses who saw the ham, tasted the ham and say the ham was a little bit funny. The color wasn't quite right. It tasted a little weird.
But it isn't. They had to keep some evidence out of it. That's what you have to understand. And you have to ask yourself why. Why would they present the most stupid form of non-evidence to gain an indictment against McVeigh and keep the good stuff out? You have to ask yourself that over and over, and then you'll see what's going on here.
Can you think of another reason why the prosecution would withhold the most persuasive witnesses? People who were really on the scene at the bombing?
McVeigh is not cooperating with his lawyer.
He's not saying who the other people are who were involved with him.
Well, I think it's more than five, actually. From witnesses' reports, we can count two men in the pickup, three men in McVeigh's car and maybe even two more in the Ryder truck. And then there's the possibility there were two Ryder trucks.
He's the good soldier. I think he's willing to take the fall.
I think they're holding his sister Jennifer over him. If he talks something bad will happen to her. I also suspect he thinks he's working for the government.
Yeah, that would work on McVeigh. The flag and apple pie business.
I don't know. That license plate on his Mercury Marquis -- the car he was
arrested in. The license had fallen off. He has to wonder about that, about
someone loosening the nuts on those bolts. That's why the Oklahoma highway
trooper stopped his car in the first place. That's how it all unraveled. McVeigh
has to be wondering about that.
Jon Rappoport is the author of Oklahoma City Bombing - The Suppressed Truth. A candidate for U.S. Congress in 1994, he hosts the weekly Free Form Radio on KPFK in Los Angeles. An investigative reporter for fifteen years, he has written articles on politics, health, and media for newspapers and magazines in the U.S. and Europe. His book on the Oklahoma City bombing can be ordered by phoning (213) 243-9005.