BETTY ANN BOWSER: It was the worst incident of domestic terrorism in the nation's history--168 people dead, hundreds injured. And almost immediately the highest ranking law enforcement official in the country made it very clear what the government wanted to happen to anyone convicted of the crime.
JANET RENO, Attorney General: The death penalty is available, and we will seek it.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Chief prosecutor Joseph Hartzler said he was ready on this snowy Denver morning as he went to court to press the government's case against Timothy McVeigh. Hartzler is a 45-year-old father of three sons who was an avid tennis player and Little League coach until 1991, when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Seated in a motorized wheelchair Hartzler told the jury he will prove without a reasonable doubt that McVeigh hated the government so much he wanted to see blood flow on the streets of America.
Hartzler said McVeigh destroyed the lives of scores of people--ordinary Americans, he said, who were in the federal building on April 19, 1995. And the only reason they died, said Hartzler, was to satisfy McVeigh's own twisted purpose. Throughout Hartzler's opening remarks McVeigh sat quietly, at times frowning in the prosecutor's direction.
STEPHEN JONES: I've waited two years for this morning, and I'm ready.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Stephen Jones, an attorney from Enid, Oklahoma, is McVeigh's lawyer. He is fond of telling people that his hero is Richard Nixon, whom he once worked for. He is known for his tenacious cross-examination style.
In opening remarks Jones told the jury the government got the wrong man. He said just before the explosion a witness saw a short, stock man, with an olive complexion, get out of the truck that contained the bomb; McVeigh is tall and fair. Jones characterized McVeigh's political views as extreme but said they weren't extreme enough to kill 168 people.
Presiding over the case is U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch who, fearing there would not be a fair trial in Oklahoma City, ordered it moved to Denver. In jury selection and pretrial hearings Matsch has exercised tight control over the case. He has imposed elaborate security measures, placed a gag order on all participants, ordered jurors to be known only by number, and ordered construction of a wall in front of the jury box so that reporters cannot see what the jury looks like.
University of Colorado Law Professor Christopher Mueller, who has written five books on federal practice, says there's a good reason for all the caution.
CHRISTOPHER MUELLER, University of Colorado Law School: He's very worried over the course of a long trial in which the jurors will not be sequestered that the jury will be contaminated, and then after a huge effort in trying this case, he's going to wind up having to try it over again, or declare a mistrial. And so he's taking extraordinary measures to keep the jury from having contact with the press.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Jeff Pagliuca is a defense attorney who's tried many cases in federal court. And he says the security is unprecedented.
JEFFREY PAGLIUCA, Criminal Lawyer: It gives it a one in a million jury selection. This is a procedure that has not--to my knowledge--been employed in any federal district court or any state court in selecting a jury in a case, capital or non-capital.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Particularly unhappy with all of this is the media. At least 70 news organizations are challenging the security measures Matsch has imposed. Ironically, as the trial started today, a number of reporters were allowed to sit in seats where they could see the entire jury. Little is officially known about the jury. Lawyers close to the case say it's made up of seven men and five women, and news accounts say there are a Navy veteran, who's a fan of the Grateful Dead; an automobile mechanic; a retired schoolteacher; and a registered nurse, who said she didn't know much about the case, who are members of the jury. But there is one thing known about the jury, one thing they all share in common: in order to qualify for a federal capital case, they all had to tell the court that they could put their personal prejudices aside, keep an open mind, and, if necessary, impose the death penalty. Attorney Pagliuca says that gives the prosecution a slight edge.
JEFFREY PAGLIUCA: What we know from studies of death qualified jurors is that the jury will be more government- or more prosecution-oriented than a non-death qualified jury because statistically people who cannot impose the death penalty are more likely to acquit than those who can impose the death penalty. So we will have a jury that is made up of people who are more likely to vote for conviction than acquittal.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The trial is expected to last at least four months.