Webinar presenter Judge Brandon Birmingham answered a number of your questions after his presentation, The United States v Timothy James McVeigh: The Oklahoma City Bombing Trial. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: So, a number of people were asking about the book that you referenced earlier in the presentation. Circumstantial Evidence, is that right?
Judge Brandon Birmingham: Yes, It is. It’s a fascinating book. I got onto it because I was doing some research in another, one of my real-life cases and I’m actually presiding, and I kept seeing these old references to the tree is called the Treatise on The Nature and Principles Of Circumstantial Evidence, especially that of the presumptive kind. The author is Alexander Burrill. Three, I would suggest if you’re going to go Google it and download it, which is what I did, that you start on. I believe it’s page 529, started in the middle, but the reason it’s a long treatise but the reason why you start there’s he outlines the whole process of an investigation. And it’s just fascinating. It was a fascinating book to me. The principles are still relevant today. I draw a lot on that in my own practice. I wish I would have read it, 15 years ago, when I was still actually trying and cases, but it’s a wonderful book.
Audience Question: Do you think Timothy McVeigh, assuming the verdict was correct? Do you think he got what he wanted out of the crime?
Judge Brandon Birmingham: Yeah, that’s a wonderful question and, and I would suggest to you that his motive was to, well, it’s kind of complicated, but I think his motive was to get back at the American government. It was to wake Americans up. And I think he wanted to be caught as well and this is something that I share with one of the author’s name Lou Michel who wrote a really good biography on him, from Timothy McVeigh’s own words in the years after the trial and I asked him that question. And he said, “Yes, he got what he wanted” And, you know, ultimately, it was surprising to me, though the Tim McVeigh, who wanted to have his redress heard by the American People didn’t testify in his own defense. And his defense and he didn’t get along. He wanted to use a necessity defense. He didn’t want to say that he didn’t do and he wanted to say that he was forced to do it because the government was encroaching upon his rights to act. You know, he didn’t use it and testify, which I felt like it was kind of surprised after going through everything. But I do feel like he accomplished what he did. He was proud of what he did according to Lou Michel, and some of the interviews that I’ve read. I think he was somewhat offended that people thought that he could not have done this by himself, or he could not have done it in a way that came out in the trial. And in other words, the help from Fortier, the help from Terry Nichols. There were no others and he didn’t like this conspiracy thing. He did it just pretty much the way that they laid it out.
Audience Question: Is familial DNA being done and conducted on the unknown left leg, whatever happened to the left leg.
Judge Brandon Birmingham: You know, I don’t know what happened to the left leg, other than we still don’t know to whom it belongs. That is true. Now, you know, what is the FBI, what have they done, or what are they doing in order to identify that, you know, I’m not sure. I don’t know the answer to that.
Host: You’d think that, that’s, like, with all of our DNA capabilities these days, that they’d be able to figure that one out?
Judge Brandon Birmingham: Yeah, it was, There was a big surprise in the trial, I know that, when I was reading, going along, you know, that was something that Stephen Jones, who did an excellent job in the trial. These lawyers are excellent. But, you know, he did basically hold it back at the end. And that is, in one sense undeniable proof that somebody we can’t account for was at the bombing. And we know that another witness identified it’s somebody you’re getting out of the rider truck. Now, if you believe it or not, there’s some connection there. Steven Jones made a really good case for it.
Audience Question: Is there a transcript version of your presentation or an essay or a book available of your presentation where people can actually read it?
Judge Brandon Birmingham: There will be. We’re putting all this together. And it’s going to be, this is a part of my curriculum for a class that I teach at SMU called Circumstantial Evidence and Murder Trials. And there’s going to be a textbook I’m working on right now, but not quite just yet, but you’ll be able to. Like I said, this, was basically taken from the script of the podcast. It’s going to be out too.
Audience Question: Taking a look at this study, this case that you’ve clearly spent a lot of time reflecting on, and analyzing. What are some of those key lessons? That, after now, having had a chance to analyze all this. What are the key lessons that courts or judges or investigators or prosecutors? What should they be taking away from this case?
Judge Brandon Birmingham: Well, there’s two. Number one is what I’ve seen in my practice, and I don’t like to see it as the death of proving motive in a case. We always, you know, for whatever reason into my practice, I’ve just seen a lot of lawyers say, “Well, you don’t have to prove motive,” so, therefore, they don’t really consider it. But you got to prove motive, and you’ve got to take and make sure of two things. Number one at the motive is revealed in the crime itself, that you can tell that that was the motive of the crime, and then you match that motive with the person. That can be a very powerful identifying characteristic. The second one is, is that principle, again of Juxtaposition of the means if the means of a crime are unique, certainly, this was a unique instrument that caused all this damage. So, by studying the means, as they revealed themselves to be in the crime, you can, if you can match them up with somebody who procured those means, connect them to the means you are necessarily connecting them to the crime itself. Motive means an opportunity is as old as common law, that is not something that I came up with. It’s not even something that Burrill. I’m going to when he wrote his treatise 1966 called Motive Means an Opportunity. So, you know, from motive means an opportunity. The quest is juxtaposing what you see in the crime with what you’ve been able to develop from the person. So that’s the main thing that I want to get out.
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