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Divide over freeing Oklahoma bomb witness

Michael Fortier,  the star witness in the Oklahoma City bombing trials, is to be freed Friday but some say his prison sentence for not telling authorities about the deadly plot was not long enough.
/ Source: The Associated Press

With the scheduled release Friday of the star witness in the Oklahoma City bombing trials, some say Michael Fortier’s prison sentence for not telling authorities about the deadly plot was not long enough.

Fortier, 37, has served about 85 percent of a 12-year sentence in federal prison. He received a plea deal in which he agreed to testify in the trials of bombing coconspirators Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.

Officials have declined to say exactly when and where Fortier will be released. Originally of Kingman, Ariz., Fortier will reunite with his wife, Lori, and their two children, said his attorney, Michael McGuire.

McGuire said Friday morning that he couldn’t discuss whether Fortier would go into the witness protection program or what time he would be released, but he told CNN: “There’s never been any reason to be afraid of Mr. Fortier. Never. He’s never been anybody the government feared would do anything, even back in 1995.”

“He’s always told me that he prays for the victims every day and it bears on his conscience every waking moment,” McGuire said.

McVeigh lawyer weighs in
Stephen Jones, who represented McVeigh at his federal bombing trial, said Fortier’s sentence seems out of line with the much harsher sentences received by McVeigh and Nichols: McVeigh was convicted on federal murder charges and executed on June 11, 2001. Nichols was convicted of state and federal bombing charges and is serving multiple life prison sentences.

“His own testimony establishes his own culpability and his wife’s culpability,” Jones said.

At state and federal bombing trials, Fortier testified he received stolen weapons that were sold to finance the bombing, shared money from their sale with McVeigh, handled blasting caps and other explosives and had the same anti-government literature that McVeigh gave Nichols.

Fortier also accompanied McVeigh on a trip where they cased the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building four months before it was bombed on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people and injuring more than 500 others.

Lori Fortier, who was granted immunity and never served prison time, also testified at McVeigh’s trial that she laminated a fake driver’s license for McVeigh with the name of one of the many aliases he used, Robert Kling.

“I think the investigation was flawed. One of them got away and the other received a much lighter sentence,” Jones said.

Similar to Nichols?
Brian Hermanson, who defended Nichols at his 2004 murder trial in Oklahoma, said the government’s allegations against Fortier and Nichols were not very different. Yet, Nichols was tried on charges that could have led to the death penalty and Fortier was allowed to plead to lesser charges.

However, Aitan Goelman, a Washington attorney who served on the bombing prosecution team, said it is appropriate that Fortier is being freed.

“He has paid his debt to society,” Goelman said. “Knowing about a horrible crime and doing nothing to prevent it is on one side, and on the other side of the scale is the tremendous assistance he provided to the government in order to prosecute the guys who actually did the bombing.”