Oklahoma Attorney Remembers Defending OKC Bomber Timothy McVeigh
OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma City bombing is considered one of the most significant acts of domestic terrorism in United States. While many Oklahomans wanted swift justice against the man responsible, Timothy McVeigh was entitled to a defense. Chief Judge David Russell appointed Oklahoma attorney Stephen Jones to defend him.
"He shook my hand and he said 'well Stephen, I hope I haven't signed your death warrant," Jones remembers. "I said well, I can assure you, that makes two of us."
Defense attorney Stephen Jones was working out of his office in Enid when the bomb went off in Oklahoma City. It being the second anniversary of the government siege of the Branch Davidians in Waco, he knew there was a connection.
"I was not surprised that there would be an attack on some unit of the federal government," he said. "I was shocked it was Oklahoma City."
Timothy McVeigh was arrested that day, and charged in the bombing two days later.
"I've been involved in controversial cases but I've never been involved in one that I thought there was some risk to my family or home or business associates," he said.
Jones said when met McVeigh for the first time at the federal prison in El Reno his impression of him was different from what he imagined.
"He had a sense of humor, he had a firm hand shake, he talked," Jones said. "As he talked, I looked at him but in my mind I could see images of the victims falling through the building."
The morning of April 19, 1995, McVeigh drove a Ryder rental truck full of explosives and parked it in front of the Murrah Federal Building. The blast killed 168 people. Witnesses said McVeigh didn't act alone, though, claiming they saw a second suspect. A nationwide search began for the so-called "John Doe #2," but none was ever found.
"The first question I asked him was who was John Doe 2 and he said John Doe doesn't exist," Jones remembers.
McVeigh claimed the bombing was revenge for the events at Waco and Ruby Ridge. He had told Jones he wanted a necessity defense.
"I said tell me why it was necessary to kill Aaron and Elijah Coverdale? I said that won't work," Jones said. "I said you didn't attack the Pentagon or FBI headquarters. You chose Oklahoma City, that's different and furthermore 40 of the people killed were not even government employees."
Jones said the prosecution's case was built around the victims of the bombing.
"Criminal cases are generally won by the side that has the best story, reasonable doubt is not a story," he said.
The trial in Denver lasted nearly two months and in June 2, 1997, McVeigh was found guilty on all eleven counts of the federal indictment.
"We won the legal points, they won the jury verdict," Jones said.
Jurors condemned the 29-year-old gulf war veteran to die by lethal injection. McVeigh was executed on June 11th, 2001.
Kelly Ogle: "Is John Doe 2 still out there and if so, who is he?"
Stephen Jones: "My guess is that he's not out there, I don't know his identity, I think there were two of them at the scene, and I think he was the one that was killed."
Despite representing McVeigh, Jones says he was never stalked or threatened.
"One of my goals was to be seen as doing a good job without any personal consequences," he said. "I wanted my example to be a lawyer can defend a controversial, even hated client and still be a professional and still be a member of St. Matthews Episcopal Church and the Enid Rotary Club.