Jurors Were Swayed By Facts, Not Emotion

Evidence pointing to guilt and a death sentence for Timothy McVeigh was 'overwhelming.'

For jurors in one of the most highly charged trials in US history, emotion sometimes spilled over in tears during deliberation. But it never undermined their determination to judge Timothy McVeigh's fate on the merits of the case.

In the end, it was the flood of circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution, not the torrents of emotion, that made the choice clear-cut.

"I didn't feel any conflict about it," says Fred Clarke, one of the 12 jurors who convicted Mr. McVeigh of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and recommended that he be executed for the crime. Indeed, the jurors had to vote only once to reach each decision.

His comments and those of several other jurors, though circumspect, offer some insight into what motivated the jury in one of the most visible trials in US history.

For Mr. Clarke, there was no single factor that swayed him, no one piece of compelling testimony. It was simply "the overwhelming volume of all the pieces of evidence, and the way they fit together like pieces in a puzzle."

As for his decision to hand down the death sentence - as urged by prosecutors - versus the defense recommendation of a life sentence behind bars, Clarke is matter of fact: "I feel the death penalty is appropriate in certain cases. This just happened to be one of those cases."

While Clarke couldn't help but feel strained at times during testimony - including heart-wrenching descriptions from survivors of the blast that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more - his emotions played no role in his eventual decision, he says.

"Emotionally, some days were harder than others. But I knew I had to keep my emotions in check.... To this day, I don't know that I feel one way or the other toward Timothy McVeigh. I have feelings about his actions, but not about him personally."

After the trial, jurors said the one question they'd like to have McVeigh answer is "why?"

The plain facts

Throughout the trial, jurors were forbidden to discuss the case among themselves or with anyone else. But when they finally convened to review the case together, the facts emerged plainly to each juror, says Clarke, who agreed to an interview the day after the trial's conclusion. "The decision was individual, not collective. It had to be beyond a reasonable doubt for each of us individually."

When their doubts were finally erased after four days of deliberation, jurors took at least an hour to compose themselves before entering the courtroom to deliver their decision June 2. Despite the guilty verdict, Clarke commends not only the prosecution, but also the defense. "For what they had, I think they did everything humanly possible," he says. "I think it was handled well on both sides."

Jurors agreed the defense had little to work with in the penalty stage, and said McVeigh's reaction to the siege at Waco, Texas, in no way justified his action in Oklahoma.

Keeping deliberations secret

Even though jury members - whose identities were kept secret throughout the trial - are now free to discuss the case, presiding Judge Richard Matsch has recommended they remain circumspect about their deliberations. And together jurors have agreed to keep details of the deliberation process secret.

The fact that jurors were sequestered only during guilt-phase deliberations was "the saving grace," Clarke believes. "Just being able to come home was a soothing thing. Being with family and doing mundane things like mowing the lawn seemed to help."

Like many of the remaining jurors, David Gilger, a Denver computer technician, says that with the trial over, he is now looking forward to rest and solitude - not a round of media appearances. "I'm not ready to talk about any of this yet. I'll need some time before I can do that."

Others sent the same message by letting the answering machine or family members take calls. James Osgood, the jury foreman, took it a step further: He didn't return to his Fort Collins home after the trial.

But despite the personal burden of serving as jurors on one of the most prominent - and tragic - cases in the history of US courts, several jurors describe the net experience as positive and rewarding.

"I feel very proud to have served on the jury," says Martha Hite, a Denver teacher.

"It was an honor," agrees Denver resident Tonya Stedman. "I feel confident in the decision we made."

"I have no regrets," says Vera Chubb, of Loveland, Colo.

And Clarke says he would "recommend highly" the opportunity to serve as a juror: "I felt it was very educational. I'd do it again," he concludes. "I've always had faith in the judicial system. But this experience has reaffirmed for me that the system works."

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