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McVeigh defender notes duty, stress of role

The lead defense attorney who represented Timothy McVeigh provided a behind-the-scenes look last night at defending the Oklahoma City bomber during a speech at the University of Toledo.

Stephen Jones began his story in May, 1995, on the night when he was asked to defend McVeigh. It was the night he told his wife, who had a premonition: “The call that you were afraid would come has come.”

After hours of consulting family, friends, and colleagues, and of remembering haunting events in his life when he had faced terror, Mr. Jones said he decided to accept the task of defending the most hated man in America at the time.

“It was my duty to defend him,” he told an audience of about 100 people in the Driscoll Alumni Center.

Mr. Jones will speak at 9 a.m. today at the UT law school specifically about the legal defense of McVeigh.

McVeigh was accused and later convicted of bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. The attack killed 168 and injured more than 500.

McVeigh's trial began in 1997 and he was executed this year.

His defense, which required sifting through 30,000 witness statements, 150,000 photographs, and 7,000 pounds of debris and cost taxpayers $15 million, wasn't easy, Mr. Jones said.

“I slept for 21/2 years with a shotgun under my mattress ... and a loaded pistol in my desk,” he said.

He lived a life of motion detectors and alarms. He was followed by helicopters from television stations, gave up his other clients, and stayed in hotels under assumed names.

Mr. Jones said he had his assistants interview McVeigh constantly to try and catch him in a lie. Part of the strategy, he said, was not providing him with any opportunities to refresh his memory or straighten his story during hours of repetitive questioning.

“If he wants to go to the bathroom, make him beg,” Mr. Jones said he instructed his assistants.

Mr. Jones said he can say so much about his dealings with McVeigh because his client waived attorney-client privilege.

The experience taught Mr. Jones, the author of a book on McVeigh and the bombing called Others Unknown, lessons that resonate strongly in the wake of last month's terrorist attacks.

At the time, the Oklahoma City bombing was the largest act of terrorist violence on U.S. soil in the country's history. That was before thousands of people were killed Sept. 11 in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“His historical act became a footnote,” Mr. Jones said.

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