A federal judge in Utah is set to begin hearing testimony Monday to determine if the FBI must search again for something it says doesn’t exist — a surveillance videotape showing the Oklahoma City bombing.
Salt Lake City attorney Jesse Trentadue contends in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that the FBI either did not search hard enough for the videotape or is deliberately withholding it.
Trentadue for years has undertaken his own investigation into the bombing, driven by grief over his brother’s death at the Oklahoma City Federal Transfer Center in August 1995.
He believes guards mistook his brother, a convicted bank robber, for a bombing suspect. He contends the guards killed his brother during an interrogation. The official cause of his brother’s death is listed as suicide.
The attorney is seeking a videotape that he says shows bomber Timothy McVeigh and another person delivering the truck bomb to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on the morning of April 19, 1995. He has told the FBI he suspects the other person was “an FBI operative.”
He bases his claim in part on a U.S Secret Service time line that refers to a security videotape showing “suspects” exiting the truck three minutes and six seconds before detonation. He intends to put the time line into evidence.
He also intends to put into evidence records showing that the FBI was told in October 1995 by a confidential source that an FBI agent in Los Angeles was trying to sell a videotape of McVeigh and another man exiting the bomb truck.
The source said the agent was asking “Dateline,” an NBC news show, for $1 million for the videotape, according to the records.
“What I learned growing up in the coal fields is that you fight even when you know you can’t win,” Trentadue, 67, told The Associated Press. “Because you have to make a stand on some things. Justice for my brother is certainly one of them.”
The FBI in 2009 released to Trentadue 29 surveillance video recordings from security cameras at the Oklahoma City Public Library, the U.S. Post Office, Southwestern Bell and the Regency Tower apartment building.
None show the actual explosion or anyone exiting the bomb truck. The FBI claims it did not recover any security video from the Murrah Building itself.
Government attorneys plan to call as witnesses FBI employees who conducted the search for surveillance videos. The attorneys also want the judge to hear from retired FBI Special Agent Jon Hersley and two other retired FBI special agents involved in the bombing investigation.
“Hersley testified extensively at Timothy McVeigh’s pretrial and trial proceedings,” government attorneys told the judge. “Hersley will testify that no video footage of the type described in Plaintiff’s FOIA request — i.e., ‘security video tapes from the area that show the Ryder truck detonation 3 minutes and 6 seconds after the SUSPECTS exited the truck’ — was ever collected by the FBI during the OKBOMB investigation.
“Hersley will further explain that the only surveillance footage that was ever found to contain images of the Ryder truck in the vicinity of the Murrah Building on the day of the bombing came from the Regency Tower Apartment Building, and that this footage did not show the truck bomb detonation,” the attorneys told the judge.
Government attorneys are asking the judge to dismiss the lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups is expected to rule in writing sometime after the three-day trial.
The Secret Service time line became an issue in bombing co-conspirator Terry Nichols’ state trial in 2004.
“There is no such tape. ... We would have followed that tremendously if that existed,” Hersley said at a 2004 special hearing.
A U.S. Secret Service official testified at the 2004 hearing that the time line was just a compilation of unverified information including rumors and media reports. The Secret Service created the time line because its agents and other employees died in the explosion.
“It’s flying in. It’s coming in so fast,” the official, Stacy Bauerschmidt, said of the information. “For us, it’s a crisis document.”
Trentadue gave the surveillance videos that were turned over to him to The Oklahoman, which published images from them in 2009.