Related topics

Prosecutors use photos to drive home impact of bombing

May 18, 1997

DENVER (AP) _ Leora Lee Sells is smiling for her church picture. Randolph Guzman is standing proud in his Marine Corps uniform.

Baylee Almon, a year and a day old, is laughing, two teeth protruding.

Her gleeful picture shown to jurors in the Oklahoma City bombing trial is a far cry from the photo she is better remembered by _ her bloodied, lifeless body cradled tenderly by a firefighter after she was pulled from the rubble of the federal building.

These are the faces of the Oklahoma City bombing victims, enlarged to 8-by-10-inch photographs and arrayed row upon row on oversized poster boards stacked on a courtroom easel. Prosecutors have presented 108 of the 168 victims so far, with the rest to be interspersed through the end of their case as part of a calculated, precisely executed plan.

Timothy McVeigh is charged with the murders of eight federal law enforcement agents killed in the blast. But rather than focus only on those eight deaths, prosecutors have called a parade of fellow workers to the witness stand to tell the stories of many more who died.

A coroner could have testified and presented multiple death certificates. Instead, a survivor from each office describes the co-workers killed in the bombing and the lives they led.

Andrew Cohen, a Denver defense attorney watching the trial, called it a masterful stroke.

``They’ve humanized the victims. The victims have become a constant reminder, like a Greek chorus,″ Cohen said. ``It’s not the boring time-line prosecutors normally present.

``It will probably be a model for large prosecutions in the years to come if it’s successful.″

McVeigh could face the death penalty if convicted of murder, conspiracy and weapons-related counts in the explosion at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The prosecution is expected to wrap up its case early this week.

Prosecutors have the witnesses tell their stories the same way: They recount the early hours of April 19, 1995, as they made coffee, got the kids off to school, drove the freeways and greeted others in the office as their work-a-day routines kicked in.

Time and again, they have asked the survivors to describe the bombing and how they escaped. Then they read a list of the dead, and ask the witnesses if they ever saw those people again.

On display are cross-section charts of the building’s floor plan, now cluttered with magnetic name tags showing where each of the 168 bodies fell. It’s a Perry Mason display of murder victims inflated to the point of near incredulity: 16 name tags for the Social Security Administration office, 11 for the Federal Housing Authority, 18 for the child-care center, 35 for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Roy Sells, Leora Lee’s husband, said he had to search his house to find the church photo that’s now part of the HUD exhibit in federal case 95-CR-68.

``Every other picture I had of her included me,″ Sells told a reporter outside the courthouse.

University of Colorado law professor Christopher Mueller said the presentation is a ``recognition by prosecutors that the victims have a different role to play in the case.″

``To weave in a recognition of the loss of these people with the more general story of the actual unfolding of the crime, I think, has been very effective in keeping in front of the jurors that this prosecution is about victims,″ he said.

``One of the things trials are about is reconciliation for the survivors, giving them some sense of involvement and of closure,″ he said.

One witness got so carried away describing the accomplishments of each co-worker that prosecutors reminded him to stick to the names and titles, because it was taking too long.

Regina Bonny, an Oklahoma police officer on loan to the Drug Enforcement Administration, described how a pregnant co-worker eagerly showed her friends ultrasound photos of her unborn child.

Outside, in the post-blast chaos, she asked someone where the secretaries were, ``and he said they were still up there,″ Bonny told prosecutors.

``What girls are you talking about?″

``I’m talking about the secretaries, Carrol and Carrie and Rona and Shelley.″

``That you talked to just minutes before?″


Asked to identify those who died, Bonny pointed to five photos on the posterboard, including that of Carrie Lenz.

``She was the one that I was talking about that was pregnant,″ she said, then walked across the courtroom and added Lenz’s name tag to the chart.

An Army recruiter told of greeting his co-workers, then sitting down to work just as the bomb rocked the building.

``All right,″ prosecutors addressed Capt. Lawrence Martin. ``After you went into your office ... did you ever see Sgt. Vicke Sohn alive?″

``No, I didn’t.″

``How about Dolores Stratton?″


``Wanda Watkins?″


``Sgt. Lola Bolden?″


``Karen Carr?″


``John Moss?″


Susan Hunt, a HUD administrator, read the entire list of 35 workers killed in her office, and said she attended 22 funerals in the two weeks after the blast.

Prosecutors declined to discuss the strategy, but Sells, the husband of one victim, said it was an effective way to convey the magnitude of the case, and humanize it.

``They’re trying to get the attention of the jurors that people are people, not just victim No. 168,″ Sells said. ``They were real people, doing real jobs.″

Update hourly