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McVeigh defense focuses on timing of Ryder truck sighting

May 22, 1997

DENVER (AP) _ Timothy McVeigh’s defense began today with witnesses casting doubt on a cornerstone of the prosecution’s case _ that McVeigh rented the bomb-carrying Ryder truck two days before the Oklahoma City blast.

Herta King and Renda Truong testified they saw a Ryder truck in the parking lot of the Dreamland Motel in Junction City, Kan., on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1995 _ three days before the bombing.

McVeigh stayed in the motel under his own name in the week leading up to blast, and prosecutors say he rented the truck at a nearby body shop on Monday, April 17.

Ms. King said she’s certain she saw the truck on Easter Sunday because she brought her son an Easter basket filled with chocolate eggs.

``I saw a yellow Ryder truck sitting right here,″ she said. ``I could not see my son’s car because the Ryder truck blocked the view.″

Ms. Truong said she saw the truck that Sunday as she was going out to lunch with the family.

Both women testified that they did not see anyone in or around the Ryder truck.

Eric McGown, the co-manager of the motel, testified during the prosecution’s case that he saw McVeigh in a Ryder truck but was unsure whether it was the Sunday or Monday before the bombing.

McGown’s mother, Lea, who also worked at the motel, was expected to testify later today that she saw McVeigh in the truck on Sunday.

Prosecutors say McVeigh signed a dated agreement for the truck using the alias Robert Kling. They say he packed it with a fuel-and-fertilizer bomb and detonated it outside the Oklahoma City federal building on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people and injuring hundreds more.

McVeigh, a 29-year-old Gulf War veteran, could get the death penalty if convicted of murder and conspiracy in the blast, the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil.

Also today, McVeigh’s attorneys introduced testimony about a stray leg found in the bombing rubble, appearing to imply that the bomber died in the explosion.

Oklahoma State Medical Examiner Fred Jordan, who was on the stand the day before as the prosecution’s final witness, testified that a severed left leg wearing a military-style boot was found more than a month after the blast when the gutted building was demolished.

That leg was later matched to the body of victim Lakesha Levy, which had been mistakenly buried with someone else’s leg. But the leg taken from her casket has never been identified, Jordan said.

``We have one left leg that we do not know where it belongs,″ he said.

The defense case is expected to be even leaner than the prosecution’s, which crammed 137 witnesses into 18 days of fast-paced testimony. Lead attorney Stephen Jones, who has already promised jurors he will establish McVeigh’s innocence, predicted his presentation could take less than two weeks.

``Now it’s our turn at bat,″ he said on his way into court. ``We have a job to do and we’ll do it.″

Sources close to the case told The Associated Press that Jones is expected to call 30 to 40 witnesses who will attack ``every single point the government has made.″

U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch has prohibited the defense from introducing the theory that international terrorists were behind the bombing, the sources said. Before the trial, Jones had suggested the bombing was the combined effort of neo-Nazis, Iranian terrorists and others.

Prosecutors wrapped up their case Wednesday with a slide show of the bomb’s destruction and a witness’ account of terror and lost friends.

Throughout its case the government mixed such wrenching testimony with cold scientific evidence and witnesses who portrayed McVeigh as a cowardly terrorist, driven by a warped interpretation of right-wing writings and a desire to avenge the FBI’s deadly 1993 siege at Waco, Texas.

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