Thursday, April 19, 2007

My Oklahoma City Bombing Story

(Because it has been 12 years since the Oklahoma City bombing, my memory is starting to fade. But I believe that the facts in this post are a fairly accurate representation of my experiences during that period in time.)

I started to think about this as I went downtown to see the Lincoln exhibit at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. In order to get to the Lincoln exhibit, you have to go through the memorial. (As an aside, I am a descendent of Abraham Lincoln's family. Specifically, my great-great-great-great grandmother was President Lincoln's mother's sister.)

April 19, 1995

It was a beautiful spring morning. The sun was shining. The skies were clear blue. At about 8:45am, I walked over to the law school and down to the basement to get some breakfast and crack open my book to bone up for that day's Legislative Seminar class. I was to argue for a mock proposed bill that every Oklahoma student learn a second language fluently.

About 9:20am, I heard a TV blasting very loud upstairs. My first thought was: "Anita Hill must be giving another press conference." The TV continued to clamor for another 15 minutes. I finally decided to go upstairs and find out what was going on.

When I got upstairs, the TV showed the image of a helicopter circling a building with black smoke coming out of it. It was apparent that there had been some sort of explosion. "Isn't that Oklahoma City?" I asked. "Yes, it is" someone told me. "Was it a natural gas explosion?" I asked in response. A few years before, I remembered that we had had a natural gas explosion in downtown Oklahoma City, and so I naturally thought it was just a repeat. A law school classmate from my section, Glen Dresback, was right behind me as I asked the question. "No," Glen said, "that's a bomb." "Are you sure?" I replied. Just then, Robert Warren walked up. "Here's the guy we need to ask" Glen said. Glen explained that Robert was a munitions expert when he was in the military. "Rob, isn't that a bomb explosion?" "Yeah, that's a bomb." Robert replied. "Why would anyone want to bomb Oklahoma City?" I asked. "I don't know" Robert said.

Robert Warren was my trial team partner in law school in our Practice Court class. We were supposed to put on a mock trial later that week. Our trial involved a fictitious murder case with a gun. In a way, we were a true Odd Couple. When it came to the issue of gun control, we were almost polar opposites. Robert, who was a student representative for the Gun Owners of America, was an expert in guns. Naturally, he was opposed to gun control. I took, and still take, the position that the 2nd Amendment is one sentence, not two. The clauses are separated by commas, not semicolons or periods. Therefore the sentence expresses one thought. But this post is not meant to be an exegesis of my reading of the 2nd Amendment. I'll cover that in another post as the shooting at Virginia Tech has reignited the debate about gun control.

When I saw Robert before class later that day, he first raised the possibility that the Oklahoma City bombing might be the result of domestic terrorism. His reasoning? "April 19 is a significant date for revolutions in America" he said. "Several uprisings started on April 19." He then was able to rattle off several rebellions that had started on April 19th throughout American history -- particularly early American history.

Later that night, I called Robert to discuss our upcoming mock trial. We both admitted that we had been glued to the TV, mesmerized by that morning's event and wall-to-wall coverage by the local and national media. We discussed the breaking news that some men of Middle Eastern descent had been captured down in Texas. "Yeah, I heard that too" Robert replied. I told Robert that we needed to get ready for the trial. He told me that if I were to look at the photo of the bullet, that it was clear that it could not have been the bullet that had killed the victim (it was completely mangled and looked it had melted like a candle). I told Robert that the problem was that we couldn't call any expert witnesses per the rules of the class. "I know" he said, "I think I can handle them on cross-examination."

I had also tried to call Floyd Zimms' house most of the day. Before attending law school, I had gone to church with Floyd. The phone had been busy all day. I finally got through late that night. When I finally got through to his wife, she told me that she had been on the phone all day trying to locate Floyd. "He was supposed to be at the Murrah building at 9am" she told me. "He was supposed to make a deposit at the credit union first thing this morning. I finally got a hold of him this afternoon. Thank God he is still alive. It turns out that on the way downtown he got a call from the office telling him they needed him to come in for something; otherwise he would have been there and most likely would have been killed."

A few days later, when the smoke cleared and it was clear that the FBI was looking for two white men, they had a break in the case. It turned out that, by a stroke of luck, they had captured one of the suspects. Floyd was the first one to question Timothy McVeigh. Floyd walked into the cell holding McVeigh and said: "you may have some information about the bombing - I'm going to read you your rights." At that point, McVeigh demanded an attorney.

I tried uploading the photo, but it doesn't seem to be taking. You can see it here about halfway down the page. Floyd is the one in the lower right with the bald head and facial hair.

Soon after that, McVeigh was moved from the jail in Perry, Oklahoma, to a cell at Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, a suburb of Oklahoma City. Floyd featured prominently in the photo which was on the front page of every newspaper, magazine and television news report in the country -- perhaps the world. Prior to this, Floyd had been an undercover agent for the FBI. He often played the bad guy making large drug buys. He had darkened eyes and was able to look sinister. Needless to say, after his face was shown front-and-center on so many publications, his cover was blown. No more undercover work for him.

I later saw Floyd and asked him about John Doe #2. I seem to remember him telling me that they knew who it was (I think he even told me his name). What I also seem to recall is that they were able to identify him from his tattoo. What I seemed to remember was that he was ruled out as having anything to do with the bombing. However, the Wikipedia entry on the Oklahoma City bombing indicates that John Doe #2 was never identified, so that makes me doubt this part of the story more than other parts.

Never would I have thought that my trial team partner, Robert, would also be seen on a news report carrying the axle from the Ryder truck into the Denver courthouse. (I haven't been able to find the photo online, but I remembe seeing it.) It was at that point that I found out that Robert went to work for Stephen Jones after law school. He is shown in the trial transcripts at Timothy McVeigh's trial as one of McVeigh's attorneys. Given his expertise in munitions, bombs and such, it is not surprising that he got such a plum job after law school.

I haven't seen Floyd or Robert since the trial. I don't know where either one of them are now. But it was interesting to have friends who played a role on both sides of such a significant historical event.


Teri said...

Tinker Air Force base is not in Midwest City, unless my memory is totally gone. My grandfather worked there when we were growing up. We lived over on the SW side of town (3217 S Dumas Lane to be exact). I did live in Midwest City at one point but that was in the other direction from the air field. Feel free to correct me as it's been a very long time since I've lived out that way.

OkieLawyer said...

Yes, it's Midwest City. It has it's own zip code, but I am pretty sure the mail goes to Midwest City. It starts from SE 29 & Douglas Blvd and goes south to SE 59, and east to Sooner Rd (which is where Del City starts).

OkieLawyer said...

Make that west to Sooner Rd.

Anonymous said...

Here is an interesting BBC Show about the Oklahoma City Bombing. Please watch and then pass link along to friends.

Marc said...

Thanks for your account of that dreadful day. I went to the Oklahoma City National Memorial yesterday for the first time. My wife and I spent the weekend in OKC for just a quick weekend get away because it's just a short distance from Dallas and we've both never been. I've always wanted to visit the memorial and got my chance.

She is two years younger than me and didn't really remember the bombing, but I do. I was a Freshman in High School and it had such an impact on me about how evil can even live on our own soil.

Seeing the memorial was very moving and wonderfuly memorialized those we have lost. My wife was even speachless even though her knowledge of the event is limited.

Thanks again for your story.