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Lori Fortier Testifies McVeigh Told of Bomb Witness Says She Could Have Prevented Deaths

Nolan Clay, Penny Owen Published: April 30, 1997

BIOG: NAME: UPD: 19970502 -TEXT-

DENVER - Government witness Lori Fortier admitted to jurors Tuesday in a choked voice that she could have stopped the Oklahoma City bombing because her friend Timothy McVeigh had told her of his plans.

"I guess on some level I was in denial that he really was capable of this," she said in a hushed courtroom packed with bombing victims.

Fortier, 24, then admitted she felt responsible for the attack and became emotional as lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler pressed her to explain why she had done nothing to stop it.

"I don't know," she said after a long pause, her eyes blinking rapidly. "I mean, I wish I could have stopped it now. If I could do it all over again, I would have."

The mother of two then put both hands to her mouth and closed her eyes tightly.

Her emotional answer concluded the third day of testimony in McVeigh's trial. Fortier was questioned by the prosecution for two hours, mostly giving a matter-of-fact recitation that was criticized for its rehearsed feel.

Today, she will face more questioning - this time from the defense. In his opening statement last week, lead defense attorney Stephen Jones told jurors that Fortier and her husband, Michael Fortier, implicated McVeigh "to save their own skins at the expense of the truth."

Prosecutors have promised to provide evidence that supports the accounts.

McVeigh, 29, scowled slightly during her testimony.

The former Army sergeant is accused of blowing up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, to start a revolution against the federal government.

He is charged with three bombing counts and eight murder counts. A second defendant, Terry Nichols, 42, will be tried later.

"I knew right away it was Tim," Lori Fortier said after telling jurors of watching televised accounts of the bombing from her trailer in Kingman, Ariz.

She described how her husband and McVeigh met in the Army and how McVeigh frequently stayed in the spare bedroom of the trailer during trips to Kingman.

He was best man at her 1994 Las Vegas wedding, she testified.

She told jurors McVeigh was upset with the government over the deaths of Branch Davidian cult members near Waco, Texas.

Six Davidians died in a gunbattle with federal agents Feb. 28, 1993. More than 70 more people died inside the group's compound when a fire broke out during an FBI raid April 19, 1993. The raid followed a 51-day standoff.

"He thought the government had murdered the people of Waco," she said.

She testified McVeigh wrote a letter in September 1994 that "he wanted to take action against the government" and later explained that what he meant was to blow up a federal building.

"I think Michael told him he was crazy," she testified.

By October 1994, she said, McVeigh's plans became more specific. She told jurors McVeigh said he was going to bomb the Oklahoma City federal building and drew a diagram, circles inside a box to represent barrels of explosives in a rented truck.

"He said it was an easy target and it was a building that housed some of the people that were in the Waco raid," she testified.

"He said that he and Terry (Nichols) would do it together, and Terry would mix the bomb."

She said McVeigh also revealed that he and Nichols had stolen explosives from a Kansas quarry and were planning to rob an Arkansas gun collector named Bob. She said McVeigh called the planned robbery a "fund-raiser" for the bombing.

She said she was alone in the trailer with McVeigh a few days later when he took 12 soup cans from her cupboard and placed them on the floor in a triangular shape. She said he explained that was what he meant by a "shape charge" that would make the bomb more destructive.

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