McVeigh Trial in Jury's Hands Now

After only 3-1/2 days, defense passes speedy trial off to jury - which could deliberate through the weekend

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Did the defense do enough?

As 12 Coloradans consider the compelling and tightly scripted testimony and evidence connecting suspect Timothy McVeigh to the Oklahoma City blast, legal experts wonder if the defense raised enough doubts to get an acquittal.

Jurors saw a parade of more than 160 witnesses over nearly a month of testimony, including dramatic accounts by those who survived the bombing that killed 168 people in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. If jurors conclude that the prosecution proved their case, Mr. McVeigh could face death by lethal injection.

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Some legal analysts say the defense didn't give jurors much to work with, calling it lean to a fault.

In its 3-1/2-day case, the defense attempted to punch holes in the prosecution's case only by playing up a handful of mysteries and inconsistencies: Was a Ryder truck parked at the Dreamland Motel the day before the government says McVeigh rented it? Could a stray leg found at the bomb scene represent remains of the "real bomber?" Why aren't McVeigh's fingerprints on the Ryder truck key, rental receipt, or truck rental counter?

But these questions may not be enough to plant reasonable doubts in the minds of jurors. And the speed of the defense's case is seen as one of the potential problems for McVeigh.

"I think it sends a message to the jury, 'Hey folks, this is all we've got. We give up,' " says Andrew Cohen, a Denver trial lawyer and media legal consultant. "I think it looks bad - the jury knows this is a huge case."

While legal analysts say lead defense attorney Stephen Jones may have gained ground with concurring eyewitness accounts of John Doe 2 - a dark-haired, olive-skinned man reportedly seen with McVeigh on several occasions - and with criticism of testing procedures at the FBI forensics lab, the absence of any evidence to show McVeigh's innocence is sure to give jurors pause.

"The fact that you haven't tried to prove he's innocent is a big problem," maintains Mr. Cohen. "Jurors will remember that Jones said the words 'innocent' and 'alibi' at the beginning [of the trial], but never delivered on the promise. If the defense had evidence of an alibi, we would have heard it."

STILL, none of this guarantees a conviction, Cohen quickly adds. "All you need to do is resonate with one juror to get a reasonable doubt." The best hope for justice now may be simply for jurors to take their time deliberating, he says - rather than follow the pace set by prosecution and defense teams. "You'd like to think they'll take their job seriously. I would hope they'd take some time."

To a certain extent, the spareness of the defense case was out of Mr. Jones's hands: US District Judge Richard Matsch - who was unconvinced of defense claims that an international conspiracy was at play in the deadly Oklahoma City blast - refused to admit witness testimony to support the theory. As a result, the roster of defense witnesses was trimmed from an expected 40 to 25.

In a broad sense, the defense was beset by a lack of convincing material, says Christopher Mueller, a University of Colorado law professor. "The defense just hasn't had very much to work with. Meanwhile, the government case is an extremely strong case."

Some observers say the government's testimony worked like a knockout punch on the defense. "I think the prosecution came out swinging, and the defense just didn't expect it," says Denver defense attorney David Japha.

Moreover, despite the bold assurance from Jones in his opening statements that "my client is innocent," the contention was never backed with testimony or a convincing alibi. And the one glaring hole in the government case - that no one ever saw McVeigh build or detonate the bomb - was largely ignored by the defense.

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