On May 8, 1995, Oklahoma attorney Stephen Jones walked over to Timothy McVeigh, extended his hand to him and told him that he would be representing him in court.
Decades have passed since McVeigh went to trial for perpetrating the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people and injured over 680. However, on Thursday, Oct. 3, Jones visited the Ardmore Public Library to retell his experience at the Ardmore Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution’s monthly meeting.
Ardmore Chapter DAR Regent Royce Groeschel welcomed Jones following routine chapter procedures, noting that Jones had been involved in many controversial cases throughout his career.
The story of how Jones came to represent McVeigh began with a phone call that was “a bit out of the ordinary,” Jones said. United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma David Russell left a message at Jones’ law office asking for him to give him a call.
After leaving Judge Russell a voice message, Jones said the judge returned his call around 9 p.m. on a dark, stormy night. “Well, I guess you know why I’m calling,” Jones said the judge told him. Judge Russell explained that he had met with several other judges and they had decided to ask Jones a question.
“The question is, ‘If asked, would you agree to represent an individual who has been charged or will be charged in the Oklahoma City bombing’,” Jones said the judge told him.
After pausing for a second, Jones said, “Well, I don’t have a professional problem with it, I understand what you’re trying to do. And certainly I’ve been involved in controversial cases before. But I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in one in which my wife and my children and my home and my legal associates and even the building in which we practice law could be at risk.”
Judge Russell gave Jones until 6:30 p.m. the next day to confer with his family and friends and come to a decision. “I sat there for about 25 minutes to an hour lost in my own thoughts and then the door opened and my wife came in,” Jones said.
Jones and his wife talked it over until around 2 a.m. and the next day Jones said he spoke with officials at his daughter’s school to ensure her safety and spoke with several people whose judgement he respected. At 6:30 p.m., Jones said he called the judge to tell him the answer was yes.
On Monday, May 8, 1995, Jones said he traveled to Oklahoma City with a few colleagues and parked his car next to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building, which was still standing with fences around it with patrol from the National Guard and OKC Police Department surrounding the area.
“Inside the fence, the chief medical examiner was removing bodies and body parts and the FBI was searching for evidence,” Jones said. “At night, the lights stayed on so that the dead would not be left in the dark.”
After signing paperwork at the U.S. Court House, Jones said he went to meet McVeigh at the facility where he was being held in El Reno. Jones introduced himself and asked McVeigh to tell him about himself, which he did for around 20 minutes.
The next day, Jones said he went to visit McVeigh for a second time and told him to begin wherever he wanted. Jones said he was there for around 12 hours that day. “He told me how he had constructed the bomb and he went into minute detail,” Jones said.
McVeigh quoted Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, the Declaration of Independence and some of the prominent figures in the Scottish Enlightenment from memory, Jones said.
“I simply listened to him. And as I listened to him, the image in my mind was of people falling through the building,” Jones said. “Most of the people who were killed died of traumatic injuries, rather than the bomb itself.”
During the two and a half years that Jones represented McVeigh, he traveled across the world to confer with experts and 16 other lawyers. Jones said he was aware that McVeigh was lying to him about most everything, but he kept looking for the truth.
“I don’t know that I ever felt that I could get the truth, but I thought it was reasonable that I could find out what didn’t happen,” Jones said.
Jones said he had his assistant compile all of the transcripts and notes from his talks with McVeigh and asked her to forget everything she knew about the bombing and concentrate on what McVeigh had said.
It took about three weeks for his assistant to complete a document analyzing the meaning of McVeigh’s words; however, the document led Jones to believe that there was more than one person involved in the bombing, he said.
McVeigh, however, was sticking to his story. At one point, Jones said McVeigh looked out the window and asked him how the truth would help him.
“I made a mistake. I answered the wrong way,” Jones said. “I said ‘I don’t know, but it will’.” Instead, Jones said he wished he would have reminded McVeigh of a line of scripture written above the doors on both the main building at the University of Texas and the Central Intelligence Agency, reading “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
“He took the answer I gave him and said ‘I don’t have anything more to say.’ I said ‘fair enough, we won’t discuss it again’,” Jones said.
That night Jones said he reread his assistant’s document and found what he still believes to be a glimmer of truth in the next to last paragraph. “Who wants to go out as a little player when they can go out as the mastermind of it all?” Jones said to the crowd at the DAR meeting.
McVeigh was executed by lethal injection on June 11, 2001, 90 days before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Jones said in conclusion.