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Venue

Venue And The Oklahoma City Bombing Case

Trial judges are generally reluctant to grant a defendant's request for a change of venue in a criminal trial. A change of venue is inconvenient to the trial participants and is often financially costly. Nevertheless, when a judge believes that a defendant cannot receive a fair trial in the place where the crime was committed, he can order that the trial be moved to another location.

The attorneys for Timothy J. McVeigh and Terry L. Nichols, who were charged in federal court with the April 19, 1995 bombing of the federal office building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, that resulted in the deaths of 168 people, sought a change of venue from Oklahoma City. The defense attorneys argued that there was substantial prejudice against McVeigh and Nichols in Oklahoma City and the state of Oklahoma, making it impossible for them to receive a fair and impartial trial.

In an order issued on February 20, 1996, Judge Richard P. Matsch agreed. The news coverage of the events surrounding the bombing, its aftermath, and the arrest of McVeigh and Nichols had been extensive in Oklahoma. Matsch noted that the Oklahoma news media had "demonized" the defendants and run news stories suggesting that they had been associated with right-wing militia groups. Because the defendants had been charged with capital crimes, Matsch was concerned that Oklahoma jurors would not be able to set aside their prejudices and emotions to determine first whether the defendants were guilty or innocent and then, if found guilty, whether they deserved to be executed.

Therefore, Matsch ordered a change of venue to Denver, Colorado. Though he acknowledged that the victims of the bombing wished to attend the trials and that a change of venue would cause them hardship, Matsch concluded that the "interests of the victims in being able to attend this trial in Oklahoma are outweighed by the court's obligation to assure that the trial be conducted with fundamental fairness and with due regard for all constitutional requirements."

In June 1997 McVeigh was found guilty of bombing the federal building and was sentenced to death. Nichols's trial began in October 1997.

FURTHER READINGS

Hoffman, David. 1998. The Oklahoma City Bombing and the Politics of Terror. Venice, Calif.: Feral House.

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