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Moving Bombing Trial to Denver Disappoints Survivors

February 21, 1996

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Keith Coverdale wants to be at the trial of the two men charged with blowing up his two little boys. But now he and others touched by the federal building bombing must travel about 600 miles to attend, a journey some won’t be able to make.

``We in Oklahoma didn’t choose for them to come here and for this bomb to blow up here,″ said Coverdale, whose sons Aaron, 5, and Elijah, 2, died in the building’s day-care center. ``We are all victims in this state, and this will bring hardship on some families to attend.″

U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch ruled Tuesday that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols ``have been demonized″ in the news media, and moved the case to Denver to ensure a fair trial. He did not set a trial date.

Coverdale and others said the ruling at the very least will make it difficult for them to attend as much as they would have liked. Nonetheless, many agreed with the judge.

Marsha Kight, whose daughter Frankie Merrill died in the blast, said the ruling reduces the risk of a mistrial, which is more important than the convenience of the trial staying in Oklahoma.

``I had hoped that it would be here because there are going to be people who are still recovering, and because of medical reasons, can’t travel,″ she said.

Mrs. Kight said attending the trial will be therapeutic and that nothing could keep her from the courthouse. ``I lost my 23-year-old daughter and I’m going to be there, no matter what, no matter where.″

Prosecutors had urged Matsch to move the trial to Tulsa, about 90 miles from the bomb site, so that victims’ families could easily attend. But Matsch, chief federal judge in Denver, sided with the defense.

``The interests of the victims in being able to attend this trial in Oklahoma are outweighed by the court’s obligation to ensure that the trial be conducted with fundamental fairness and with due regard for all constitutional requirements,″ Matsch said.

Attorney General Janet Reno said the government will not fight the move and will do everything possible ``to provide survivors and loved ones with an opportunity to observe and follow events in the courtroom.″

Gov. Frank Keating said he, too, will work to see that the families have ways of getting to the trial. He said he asked the governor of Colorado and the mayor of Denver to line up lodging for the victims’ families.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson said he has asked federal officials to provide money to help victims attend.

Under the broad definition used by prosecutors, anywhere from 750 to more than 2,000 people are considered victims of the blast. That includes the families of those killed and survivors of the bombing, some of whom weren’t actually in the building.

The April 19 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building killed 169 people and injured more than 500 in the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil. McVeigh and Nichols could face the death penalty if convicted of murder and conspiracy.

U.S. District Judge Wayne Alley had originally set the trial for Lawton, 90 miles from Oklahoma City.

But he was removed in December by a federal appeals court out of concern that his impartiality could be questioned because the blast damaged his courtroom and chambers, across the street from the federal building.

Matsch said Lawton’s tiny federal courthouse was inadequate for the trial. He said Denver has a large jury pool, daily nonstop flights from other cities and court facilities well-suited for the trial.

``I’m going to be separated from my grandbaby and not be able to come back every weekend,″ Mrs. Kight said of her plans to attend. ``But sometimes life, as we well know, is not fair.″

Others weren’t as forgiving.

``It just proves that criminals dictate what’s going to happen in the justice system,″ said Dan McKinney, whose wife and niece died in the blast.

He said he would have difficulty attending the trial. ``You’re going to be away from what family you do have left.″

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