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Witness says he saw McVeigh in Ryder truck

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Latest developments:

May 8, 1997
Web posted at: 11:15 p.m. EDT

DENVER (CNN) -- For the first time in the Timothy McVeigh trial, a witness testified he saw McVeigh behind the wheel of a Ryder truck like the one used in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Eric McGown, whose mother owns the Dreamland Motel in Junction City, Kansas, testified that McVeigh was registered there in the days leading up to the bombing. McGown said McVeigh had a car at the start of his stay, but near the end was driving a Ryder truck.


McGown said that on one occasion he asked McVeigh to move the truck because it was blocking the door of a guest.

"He was really polite about it and said, 'Yes,' and moved it right away," said McGown.


McGown is the first witness to say he saw McVeigh in the same kind of truck used to transport a large fertilizer bomb to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. The blast killed 168 and wounded 500.

McVeigh, 29, is charged with murder and conspiracy in the bombing. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

McGown underwent an intense grilling by defense lawyer Stephen Jones, a verbal assault that the relative of one bomb victim called "bullying."

Court observers say it was a rare victory for the McVeigh defense team, although maybe a small one when weighed against the other testimony presented against McVeigh in the first two weeks.

Prosecution lawyers were visibly rattled -- one so shaken he interrupted Jones and was scolded by the judge -- as their young witness was subjected to heated questioning by Jones.

Jones suggested that McGown had changed his story to get reward money. Noting a discrepancy in McGown's testimony, Jones asked what the prosecutors said about it.

"They called it to your attention?" Jones said.

"Briefly, yes," McGown responded.

"Did they discuss how to answer this question?"

"Yes, they told me to answer it honestly."

McVeigh letter: 'Rip the bastards' heads off'

Earlier in the day, prosecutors introduced a rambling letter written by McVeigh two months before the bombing in which he wrote, "My whole mind-set has shifted from intellectual to animal."


He also wrote that he had "militant talents that are in short supply and great demand," and summed up his new attitude in the letter as: "Rip the bastards' heads off ... I'll show you how with a simple pocket knife."

The letter was introduced during the testimony of Kevin Nicholas, a friend of McVeigh's from Michigan. It was sent to Gwen Strider, one of Nicholas' in-laws, and Nicholas said he read it when Strider showed it to him after the bombing.

'It's better to burn than rot away...'

McVeigh's attorneys tried to block the letter, which also criticizes the FBI's shooting of a white separatist's family in Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

In the letter McVeigh wrote that he expected his health to start deteriorating in a year or two, adding, "I might as well do some good when I can be 100 percent effective."

"Hell, you only live once," he wrote. "I know and you know it's better to burn out than rot away in some nursing home."

Nicholas testified that McVeigh lived with him for awhile in Michigan and used the alias Tim Tuttle at gun shows. He also said that McVeigh urged him to read "The Turner Diaries," a book prosecutors say was the blueprint for the bombing.


And Nicholas said that he saw two packages in McVeigh's car wrapped in Christmas paper, and said McVeigh told him they were blasting caps he got "dirt cheap."

Prosecutors say the blasting caps were stolen from a Kansas rock quarry. Government witness Lori Fortier earlier testified McVeigh had her wrap them like presents to hide them.

Nicholas also supported the government's claim that McVeigh and alleged co-conspirator Terry Nichols used a pre-paid phone card to avoid detection.

Witness says McVeigh had calling card

During an argument over McVeigh's use of Nicholas' phone, Nicholas said, "He [McVeigh] told me none of this would show up on a bill, that he had a calling card, where you pay in advance."

Prosecutors say the card, found in a search of the home of Terry Nichols, McVeigh's co-defendant, was used to make phone calls while shopping around for bomb materials and to rent the truck used in the bombing.

At the start of Thursday's session, the defense finished its cross-examination of FBI computer expert Frederick Dexter, who matched up records from several phone companies to create a summary of calls the prosecution contends McVeigh and Nichols used in the planning and execution of the bombing.

Dexter said he was "close to 100 percent sure" that his summary was accurate. Judge Richard Matsch ruled Wednesday it could be used as evidence, but told the jury to note that it does not indicate who made the calls, who received them or what was said.

The defense argued that the records were "much ado about nothing," but prosecutors noted that calls on the card stopped when McVeigh and Nichols were arrested.

OKC Trial Special Section

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