McVeigh Jurors Visit Bombing Scene
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Vera Chubb sat for two months in a Denver courtroom, listening to other people describe the horrifying explosion, the shredded bodies, the toddlers blown out of their day-care playroom.
After she and her fellow jurors convicted Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing and sentenced him to death, Mrs. Chubb had to see for herself.
More vitally, she needed to meet survivors and the relatives of the 168 bombing victims she had heard so much about.
On Friday, a year after McVeigh’s sentencing, 11 of the 12 ex-jurors and all six alternates will arrive from Colorado for a two-day tour of the bombing site and a chance to meet hundreds of people whose lives were scarred by the April 19, 1995, bombing.
The unusual visit took four months of planning, much of it by a victims group here.
``We felt like they became victims in a way ... having to endure weeks and months out of their lives to serve on a jury to bring justice,″ said Charlie Younger, a retired Oklahoma Highway Commission official who survived the blast at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. ``We felt like we owed them a huge debt of gratitude.″
After the jurors’ names were made public, Mrs. Chubb was approached by Steve Taylor, one of her neighbors in Loveland, Colo. Taylor’s sister, Teresa Lauderdale, was killed in the bombing.
Taylor, a member of Younger’s victims group, had heard Mrs. Chubb tell an interviewer that she wanted to see the site for herself.
``I just simply wanted to come to Oklahoma to see this tragedy,″ Mrs. Chubb said. ``I thought of them as an extended family, and I feel like I’m not part of that family. We would sit there in the courtroom and see these stories and see these people and not feel like we’re a part of this.″
The victims group collected contributions for the former jurors’ visit, including donated plane tickets. A hotel is lodging the visitors for free, downtown restaurants will feed them and a church will ferry them around the city. The tab for the two-day meeting will run about $30,000, Younger said.
Although Mrs. Chubb has yet to meet any of the Oklahoma families, she has already taken particular interest in Kylie Williams, who will turn 3 on Mrs. Chubb’s birthday, July 19.
Kylie’s father, Scott Williams, was killed while making a delivery to the federal building. Nicole Williams gave birth to Kylie three months later.
Mrs. Williams’ mother sent Mrs. Chubb a birthday card, and Mrs. Chubb sent Kylie a guardian angel pin.
``To me it’s not unusual,″ Mrs. Williams said Wednesday of the jurors’ trip. ``They know more about the case than I do. They sat in the courtroom every day.″
Younger said 400 to 500 people who survived or lost someone in the bombing have signed up to meet the jurors.
``It’s absolutely very understandable that the people who saw the witnesses in this case, heard all of the evidence and have heard so much about the site of the bombing would want to see it,″ said Diane Leonard, whose husband, Donald, died in the bombing.
Younger is eager to put faces with the names he’s grown to know over the telephone and through e-mails.
``Jim Osgood, who is cool as a cucumber, told me just yesterday ... he’s getting nervous about the meeting and is excited about coming,″ Younger said last week.
For Osgood, the jury foreman, it’s also a welcome chance to gather again with fellow jurors.
``Each of us has a different relationship with one another, and I think it’s a product of us accepting the responsibilities of the job we had and working in a professional, objective way with that reality,″ said Osgood, an executive at Teledyne Water Pik in Fort Collins, Colo.
The jurors got together for a potluck dinner once, and many still call each other and exchange correspondence. When one juror’s husband died earlier this month, several jurors attended the funeral.
``Because it was such an emotion-laden case, it was difficult to separate ourselves from the case emotionally,″ Osgood said.
Osgood said he’d prepared himself for ``the fence,″ the chain-link barrier surrounding the city block where the nine-story Murrah building once stood. It’s hung with mementos, written messages, flowers and wreaths.
``Through the testimony, it seems like we read and screened pictures out of a history book rather than a sense of reality,″ he said. ``To see, smell and taste the situation will be different.″