U community reflects on McVeigh trial, verdict

by Jennifer Niemela

Although it occurred more than two years ago and 700 miles away, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City stirred reaction at the University when Timothy McVeigh was found guilty on Monday.
McVeigh, 29, was tried in federal court in Denver, Colorado, for the bombing, which occurred April 19, 1995, and killed 168 people. He was convicted on eight counts of capital murder relating to the deaths of federal agents, one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, one count of using that weapon, and one count of destruction by explosive.
The jury, which deliberated for four days before reading the verdict, will begin hearing arguments Wednesday about whether to put McVeigh to death. His co-defendant, Terry Nichols, will be tried at a later date.
James Boch, a University Law School student, had followed the trial closely to watch the defense strategy. He said he wasn’t surprised by the verdict but isn’t comfortable with the possibility of McVeigh being sentenced to death.
“The sheer magnitude of the emotions involved in the trial will have too much to do with the decision,” said Boch. “The federal sanction (of the death penalty) is a turn for the worse. It lends credibility to people who want the death penalty (in states that don’t have the death penalty).”
However, University law professor Robert Levy said he would be surprised if the outcome of McVeigh’s sentencing will affect death penalty laws at the state level.
“The pressures for and against (the death penalty) operate irrespective of federal laws,” Levy said, who noted that the death penalty has been outlawed in Minnesota for almost 90 years, and there hasn’t been serious success at attempts to reinstitute it here regardless of legislation at the federal level.
Levy said the interesting thing about the trial wasn’t whether McVeigh was found guilty or innocent, but how efficiently it was handled by the lawyers and U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch.
“Whatever doubts people may have had about whether the system works, this proves it does work,” Levy said. “The test of a well-run trial is not whether there’s a conviction; the test is whether (the jury) thinks there has been enough convincing evidence to make a decision beyond the shadow of a doubt.”
Bill Kern, the father of a CLA junior, David Kern, said he was impressed with the tight control Judge Matsch kept on the media. Video and audio tape were not allowed in the courtroom during the trial, and Matsch went so far as to place a screen between the jurors and the media in the courtroom.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Bill Kern said. “The trial was compact and the verdict came back in a reasonable amount of time.”
Levy noted that another reason for the trial’s expediency was that the lawyers weren’t distracted by too much media attention.
“(The lawyers) were trying the case in a courtroom, not in the media,” Levy said.
Although attention right now is focused on McVeigh and the verdict, CLA student Robert Vellella said the victims of the bombing and their families need to be considered as well.
“They went through a lot,” Vellella said. “I still remember the pictures from the bombing, of them carrying out bodies and body parts. It’s like it was yesterday.”