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The Storyteller Who Swayed the Oklahoma City Bombing Jury

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
April 20, 2023 3:01 am

The Storyteller Who Swayed the Oklahoma City Bombing Jury

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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April 20, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, John Mooy had never before practiced his art of storytelling - for a jury. But to tell the story of Terry Nichols' cooperation with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, John worked with prosecutors to map the entire bitter journey. This Day in History, 1995: The Oklahoma City Bombing.

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Say free this week into your Xfinity voice remote. This is Our American Stories and now we have a story from John Elfner, a high school history teacher in the south side of Chicago. Here's John with today's story. And we're telling this story because on this day in history on April 19, 1995, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was the deadliest act of homegrown terrorism in American history. It was a beautiful spring morning, April 19th, 1995. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board was just beginning their nine o'clock meeting.

There are four elements that I have to receive information regarding. A massive car bomb exploded outside of a large federal building in downtown Oklahoma City, shattering that building, killing children, killing federal employees, military men and civilians. The FBI said today it was a huge explosion and that the explosive used was most likely a simple combination of fertilizer and fuel oil. Two suspects now have been identified known only as John Doe.

They're both about 5'10 to 5'11, about 180 pounds, both with brown hair, one with a crew cut, the other with a tattoo. Bombing in Oklahoma City was an attack on innocent children and defenseless citizens. It was an act of cowardice and it was evil. The indictment charges that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, former army buddies with a grudge against the government, planned the bombing, selected the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City as their target, bought and stole materials for the bomb and built it. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols had committed what was at that time the most destructive act of domestic terrorism in American history. They were anti-government extremists acting on their belief that the U.S. government had been tyrannical in its use of power and McVeigh and Nichols selected the Federal Building in Oklahoma to violently and lethally commit an act of terrorism to demonstrate their opposition to the government.

McVeigh and Nichols' bomb had killed 168 men, women, and children in the blast. But this isn't a story about Timothy McVeigh or Terry Nichols. Instead, it's about someone you've never heard of who played a vital role in the trial of Terry Nichols. But he doesn't appear on TV.

He didn't make a dramatic closing statement and he didn't testify on the stand. He was a storyteller who worked with the prosecution to craft a story that would convince the jury to convict Terry Nichols. His name is John Moy and his story begins when he listened to a message on his answering machine.

I was at work one day and I came home, picked up the phone, and I listened to a voice on the other end of the phone that said, Mr. Moy, my name is Larry Mackey. I'm one of the lead prosecutors in the Oklahoma City bombing trial. I understand that you're a storyteller, a pretty good one, and I was wondering if we might be able to enlist your services in putting together the story of what actually happened and what Nichols' involvement was in this story.

I called the number that I was supposed to call and I got in touch with Larry Mackey. By the time John got that call, Timothy McVeigh had already been convicted and sentenced to death. But the case against McVeigh had been easier to prove than the Nichols case would be. Physical evidence tied McVeigh to the crime scene and he was arrested just a few hours after the bombing not far from Oklahoma City. Plus, McVeigh had essentially admitted to the crime as part of his defense. But the Nichols case was going to be tougher to prove. Nichols admitted that he knew McVeigh but claimed that he didn't know anything about the bombing and his defense team was characterizing Nichols as a family man who had gotten swept up by an over-aggressive FBI. Terry Nichols' trial was going to be a challenge for prosecutors. Not only did they need to tie Nichols to McVeigh, they needed to prove that Terry Nichols was in on the plan. And the defense team was doing everything it could to convince the jury that there was no connection between Terry Nichols and the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. The trial was so emotionally charged that the judge moved the location of the trial from Oklahoma City to the federal courts in Denver, Colorado.

And that's where John Moye ended up and began his work with federal prosecutors. Four days later, I was on an airplane and I was headed to Denver, Colorado. So I got off the plane in Denver and as I walked off the plane, there was a gentleman with a sign held up with my name on it. I went over, introduced myself, said I was the guy he was waiting for, and as it turned out, he was a special agent of the FBI and he was to pick me up. We went down underneath the airport where he had parked his car. It was an unmarked car and his attire was just an old sport coat, a pair of khaki pants. And strangely, when he picked up my bag to put it into the truck, when he picked up my bag to put it into the trunk of his car, his sport coat pulled up revealing that he was carrying a weapon. Keep in mind, I was a kid who grew up in a small town.

This was a whole new experience for anything that I'd ever been in contact with before. So we got into the car and as we headed downtown, he looked at me and he said, are you with law enforcement? I said, no, I'm not with law enforcement. Are you an attorney? I said, no, I'm not an attorney. He said, what are you? I said, actually, I'm a storyteller. I tell stories and that's one of the things that I do. I explained to him how if this trial were to go in front of a jury, that it would be necessary to have a well-stated and understood story.

And so he immediately understood what that was all about. But on the way downtown to Denver, he did ask me if I would tell him a story. John told that agent a story, and then he began working on the most important story he'd ever crafted.

The story of Terry Nichols' involvement in the killing of 168 people. Upon our arrival downtown, we got out of the car, went into a very tall, tall building, maybe 30 stories high, and we went up to, as I recall, the 27th or 28th floor. And when we walked into that floor, he said to me, everything on this floor has to do with what took place in Oklahoma City on that particular day, April 19th.

And so we went up to the 27th or 28th floor day, April 19th, 1995. There were people everywhere. There were all kinds of offices. And as we walked by them, they were all filled with everything from videotapes to papers to books that I noticed as we were passing through.

So you might ask yourself, why would I be contacted to help in a situation like this? John is right. That's the question I had. But the answer to his question lies in the sheer volume of evidence available to the prosecutors. Remember that FBI task force that occupied the 27th floor of the high rise John visited? That group did their job, but they collected arguably too much evidence. The prosecution needed help finding a way to make so much evidence understandable to a jury. And that's why they contacted a storyteller.

Indeed. And that's what stories do in the end folks. They organize information, whatever the story might be.

That's what they do. But in the case of law, it was one thing I did know how to do in law school and it wasn't get great grades. I did come in handy when it came to organizing the theory of a case around a story and then bringing certain evidence in that reinforced the story and that that didn't, we just pushed out. Because more often than not, you got way too much evidence.

The question is, how do you get to the verdict that you want to ascertain? When we come back, we're going to learn more about John Moy's story. And of course, more about Terry Nichols, to 168 people killed in Oklahoma City back in 1995. What happens next? Stay tuned for more of Our American Story. ...inspired by Ubisoft's famous video game series, Assassin's Creed, the Echoes of History podcast offers a deep and fascinating dive into history. In this season's Assassin vs. Templars, these two organizations have a rich history that takes its root in the medieval era and the time of the Crusades within the Assassin's Creed universe. Hosted by Dan Snow and Matt Lewis from History Hit.

Each episode offers us a history of these two not-so-secret societies. New episodes weekly. Listen to Echoes of History, Assassins vs Templars on iHeart or wherever you get your podcasts. Every week with Xfinity Flex is a free-filled week, so get ready to get out of your comfort zone and try something new, no strings attached.

Cozy up with the family with Hudson and Rex. Explore documentaries like Planet Insect. Check out live concerts like Billie Eilish Live at Glastonbury or True Crime Stories in The First 48 and 60 Days In. Plus, dust off your dance moves with iHeart's Forever Disco Radio. Easily discover new free content each week across the best streaming apps.

Say free this week into your Xfinity voice remote. And we're back with Our American Stories and John Elfner sharing the story of John Moy, a storyteller who was surprised to get a call from federal authorities asking for help after the terrible bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. They were looking for his assistance with the prosecution of Terry Nichols.

You might ask yourself why would I be contacted to help in a situation like this? That's what I was wondering when John Moy told me this story, but it is important to remember the Terry Nichols trial was the biggest trial of that year and it was being followed by every American who had watched in horror as news clips showed the bombed out Murrah Federal Building. The FBI had to get this case right and they were struggling to distill the large amount of evidence they collected into something that a jury could easily understand. By the time John got the call from the FBI, he'd earn a reputation as someone who understood how to develop a story in a legal context. John had been working with legal teams and presenting at legal seminars about how to use story to connect with a jury. And someone on the prosecution team had seen John speak, but I still wasn't entirely clear how a storyteller could be of use to the lawyers. To help me understand the answer to that question, I enlisted the help of a lawyer and former judge to help explain to me how John could be useful to these prosecutors. I'm Christina Habes.

I'm a lawyer and former judge in Denver, Colorado. Christina Habes has witnessed hundreds of trials. She has the experience to understand just how valuable a story can be to a jury. For decades, she's watched cases delivered with an effective story and cases where there appeared to be no story, just a series of facts. And she understands and she understands just how juries can be affected by a well-told story. The whole goal as a lawyer is to give jurors something that not only they can internalize, but something that they remember very well. And a story gives them something that they can make sense of in their own mind and remember it when they go back into the jury room. That was John's job during the trial. He had to help prosecutors take all that evidence and turn it into a clear and compelling story for the jury. As a trial lawyer, we have worked sometimes for many years amassing huge amounts of information. We have to take all of that information and distill it down so that people can hear it, understand it, and remember it during the course of a perhaps one to two-week trial. We walked into a room where I met Larry Mackey, who had called me on the telephone, and a young lady, also a prosecutor by the name of Beth Wilkinson. I would work with those two individuals for the next year.

It was interesting, it was very tragic, but certainly it was a year I would never forget. I had to look at story and look at the people who were going to be listening to it and say, are there things that are in this story that will resonate with the experiences that these people have had? Jurors are seeking a connection when they're in a trial. The connection comes from you giving them sufficient facts and background in detail that will so resonate with them that it meets with their common experience. That's how you connect with a jury. You have to discover and create the theme of your case, and I like to do this in six words or less. If you can distill your case into an image, preferably, that takes six words or less, everything you do in that trial will attach to that theme and you can drive it home. I suggested that I could tell the story of the bombing in a couple of sentences.

I said it's a formula. Tim McVeigh plus Terry Nichols equaled the destruction of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. It was an easy way to tell the essence of an extremely complicated story. As we started working and talking during the meeting with Larry and Beth, one of the things that I said was, what are three things that you would like every juror to know when you sit down after an opening statement? An opening statement is not a chance to argue.

What you do in opening statement is you create a story that is believable, and once the jurors hear that and believe it, they view all of the evidence that comes after that in the context or through the filter of your story. I asked the question one day, how many things does Nichols have to be involved with with McVeigh to show that he was part of this whole plan? And I believe Larry Mackey said to me, only one.

Only one. That meant if the jury could be convinced that Terry Nichols was involved in even one part of the planning, the jury could vote to convict. And that led to John's next inquiry. I asked the question, how many miles did these two fellows ride together in vehicles? And they said, well, why does that make any difference? And I said, well, oftentimes you learn an awful lot when you're riding with somebody else just in casual conversation. I said, this might well be the case here. The reason small details can make a big impression, and these are details most lawyers would not find to be relevant, is that you have to form a way to explain the inexplicable to a jury that's never experienced what you're trying to tell them about.

So you give them little details and that equals an experience for them. We designed a large poster, maybe I'm going to say eight feet long and two feet high, that would be displayed in the courtroom. And on the left-hand side, it showed the Murrah building as it was prior to the explosion. On the right-hand side, it showed the Murrah building caved out. You may recall that picture and what it looked like that was on all the news stations.

The way a human mind works, the more you can see a picture in your mind, the more likely it is you'll retain and understand that information. So you give sufficient detail of the important facts in your case, and people will see it in their mind's eye and therefore take it back with them to the jury room. The headings said Nichols and McVeigh on the road to destruction with a picture of the Mercury Marquis that McVeigh was arrested in. And then we had eight road signs in between each building. Each road sign indicated something that Nichols had done to help move this plan forward. When John and the lawyers prepared the document showing the road signs along the way with Terry Nichols, what he was really trying to convey is that these two gentlemen spent so many hours together.

Terry Nichols had to have known exactly what was going on. The lawyers didn't have to say that to the jury. The jury could conclude it themselves based on the beauty of that exhibit. After a year of preparation, combining story with evidence, the trial had begun.

From jury selection to conviction, the trial would last almost two months. In all that time, John had to wonder, did the story we crafted make sense to the jury? All of the work John had done with the lawyers would be tested in the jury room. Lawyers always believe that we write the closing argument, and a matter of fact is we don't write the closing argument. The closing argument that's real happens in the jury room when you have one or two or more jurors trying to convince the other jurors to reach a particular verdict, and that's how you must arm them to do that. And the jury needed to be armed. With such a complicated case, a story could hold vast amounts of evidence together. The case was so complex that the jury deliberations lasted for 41 hours over six days. The prosecution had told the story that John helped them create, but John must have been wondering as the jury left the courtroom to deliberate. Did it work?

Good evening. They were at it for a long time, six days, and tonight the jurors in the Terry Nichols Oklahoma City bombing trial reported they did have verdicts, and it was a mixed bag for Terry Nichols, also for the federal government. Nichols was found guilty of conspiring with McVeigh to use a weapon of mass destruction, and he was convicted of eight counts of manslaughter. But the jury, noting that Nichols was not at the scene of the crime, refused to convict on the greater charge of murder. Nonetheless, the judge sentenced him to life without parole for his role in the conspiracy, and declared Nichols an enemy of the Constitution. Nichols was convicted, found guilty, and sentenced to life imprisonment in a supermax penitentiary in Florence, Colorado. He serves there now without the chance of parole, and that ended one of the most interesting and tragic years of my life, and it also paved a way for me to continue doing work with lawyers, which I do to this day, and it's all about story. On this day in history, in 1995, the deadliest act of homegrown terrorism in American history.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-20 04:28:33 / 2023-04-20 04:37:24 / 9

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