Oklahoma City Bombing – Timothy McVeigh

timothy mcveigh arrested

On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh detonated the homemade high powered bomb at the Federal building in Oklahoma City. FBI, ATF, and local law enforcement were central figures in building the case and apprehending Timothy McVeigh and his accomplice, Terry Nichols. This is a case where our criminal justice system was effective at working together in an efficient and effective manner. Take a look below at how the various critical roles in our criminal justice system worked together to locate suspects, build a solid case, and convict.

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Local Law Enforcement’s Role

About sixty miles north of the federal building, State Trooper Charles Hanger pulled McVeigh over for a missing license plate. McVeigh had a gun in his pocket and the trooper noticed the bulge. When Hanger removed McVeigh’s jacket to remove the gun, he noticed a tattoo that read, “Thomas Jefferson: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time by the blood of tyrants and patriots.” Hanger, following his instincts, took out his gun, demanded that McVeigh get against the car, and arrested him for driving without a license plate and carrying concealed weapons. McVeigh was taken to the county jail and Hanger began searching the vehicle. The vehicle contained a pair of gloves, a toolbox, ear plugs, a cardboard sign to prevent the car from being towed, and a stack of papers.

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Forensic Psychology Role

The contents of the vehicle alone provide solid clues that build the case; however, the radical philosophical views held by McVeigh and the evidence supporting this radical mental disposition cemented the knowledge that McVeigh played a role in the bombings. First, the tattoo points to a justification of murder in the service of ideals. While Jefferson’s quote has philosophical value in a revolutionary context, McVeigh has used it for justification of mass murder of the innocent. Also found in McVeigh’s vehicle were papers including the Declaration of Independence and quotes he had handwritten from other political philosophers. Another quote that raised red flags was by philosopher John Locke which states that it is lawful to kill those who would take away your liberty. Later, a copy of The Turner Diaries was found at McVeigh’s sisters residence, which is a novel about overthrow of government and a race war where non-whites and jews are exterminated. All the clues pointed to a volatile, extremist mentality capable of such a crime.

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FBI and ATF Role

The FBI began developing possible profiles. They suspected it was either an international terrorist operation, South American drug cartel, or a radical extremist group. They began locating a man by the name of Ibraham Ahmad, who was an Arabic teacher in the area, as he fit the description by witnesses who saw three Middle Eastern men driving away just before the blast. Meanwhile, another group of agents were investigating a moving truck captured on security videos. The VIN# was located in the blast and the vehicle was traced to Elliots Body Shop in Junction City. In addition, a call was made to a hotline set up to report suspect activity and information. The caller named McVeigh as a possible suspect, explaining that he had a fervent hatred of the federal government and might be capable of such an act. The clues began building and when ATF and FBI agents were searching Terry Nichol’s brother’s farm, they found ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel, which was known to be used in the bombing. Investigators also searched McVeigh’s sister’s home where they found extremist documents that she was burning including a copy of The Turner Diaries.

The Court’s & Legal System Role

The trial was carried out in eleven weeks and the prosecution was able to build a solid case against McVeigh. The most compelling testimony came from McVeigh’s sister and Mike and Lori Fortier, who were also radical thinkers. Lori Fortier described how McVeigh would show her the bomb configuration using soup cans to illustrate his points. McVeigh’s sisters told the jury how he would write letters explaining that something big would be happening and what to do if investigators came to question her. McVeigh was found guilty and was sentenced the death penalty.

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