Prairie City Anticipates Benefits from Bombing Trial
LAWTON, Okla. (AP) _ Traffic slowed Friday so people could take a fresh look at the three-story brick courthouse where the two men accused of the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil will be tried next year.
Residents also prepared to profit from the onslaught of reporters and others expected here for the May 17 trial of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.
``I would hate to think that Lawton would want to capitalize on anyone’s tragedy, but it will happen,″ Vice Mayor Glen Alford said. ``The reason behind it is not of our choosing.″
Media organizations already were snapping up the 1,240 motel rooms in this town of 85,000 following a judge’s decision Thursday to move the trial to Lawton, 90 miles from the bombing site on the Texas state line.
Nichols and McVeigh face murder and conspiracy charges in the April 19 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 169 people and injured more than 500.
Lawton was carved from the prairie in 1901 and has depended throughout its life on nearby Fort Sill, a cavalry post that opened in 1869 and is now home to 20,000 Army soldiers. The Apache leader Geronimo was held there as a prisoner of war and is buried on the grounds of the fort.
It wasn’t immediately known where McVeigh and Nichols will be held during the trial but speculation in Lawton has centered on Fort Sill, where clapboard buildings with peeling paint flank earlier structures of stone.
Federal authorities toured the post Thursday, but a Fort Sill spokesman said they had not received orders on housing the prisoners.
``I can’t recall a time when a civilian has been held here. We’re breaking new ground,″ spokesman John Long said.
The courtroom where they will be tried was locked and dark Friday. Deputy marshal A.D. Templeton already looked tired from turning away reporters scouting the building.
Officials say the courtroom will seat only about 50 spectators. The overflow may be able to watch via closed-circuit television in a room nearby, but it is extremely unlikely the trial will be broadcast, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Mullins said.
Defense lawyers had protested U.S. District Judge Wayne Alley’s decision to move the trial to Lawton, arguing that it is too close to the site of the bombing for the suspects to get a fair trial. Jurors will be drawn from an area that does not include Oklahoma City.
But Stephen Jones, McVeigh’s lead lawyer, softened his position a little on Friday.
``I want to go down there and spend some time in town and talk to some folks and get their views,″ Jones said.
Jones wasn’t sure how jurors in a town dependent on the military might view two former soldiers. Nichols and McVeigh served in the same Army unit at Fort Riley, Kansas.
``Mr. McVeigh was a sergeant who was honorably discharged and won the Bronze Star,″ Jones said. ``That might be perceived as helping us, but on the other hand it might be perceived as hurting us.″
In restaurants and offices around Lawton, residents debated the judge’s decision to move the trial.
``I’m glad they didn’t move it out of state,″ Teresa Traughber said as she lunched near the courthouse. Her friend Beth Wakeley disagreed.
``People are still too angry. Once the trial starts it’s just going to hash it all up,″ Ms. Wakeley said.
Another friend, Brenda Bentley, said she knew people killed in the bombing, but thought she could be an impartial juror.
They also discussed the trial’s impact on the community: ``I’m telling y’all. Things will never be the same again,″ Ms. Bentley said.