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Oklahoma City bombing witness leaves prison

Michael Fortier, the star witness in the Oklahoma City bombing trials, was released from federal prison Friday.
Michael Fortier, seen in 2004, had the same anti-government literature as his bombing coconspirators, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.Sue Ogrocki / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Michael Fortier, the star witness in the Oklahoma City bombing trials, was released from federal prison Friday, a year before his sentence was to end, his attorney said.

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

His attorney, Michael McGuire, said Friday afternoon that he could not say the exact time or location of Fortier’s release.

McGuire had said previously that he expected Fortier to be met by family members.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has consistently refused to release any information about Fortier, who is originally from Kingman, Ariz. Fortier has a wife, Lori Fortier, and they have two children.

“He really just wants to be with his wife and children to try to recover some of the lost time that they didn't have,” McGuire said.

Fortier’s release was greeted with mixed reaction by prosecutors and members of bombing victims’ families. The April 19, 1995, bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building killed 168 people.

“He may have outlived his prison sentence, but he will never outlive his responsibility,” said Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane, who prosecuted Nichols on state murder charges in 2004.

“There's just a lesson out there to people who think there is no consequence to not getting involved,” Lane said. “There is never an excuse for the failure to do the right thing.”

Relatives: Too light a sentence
Jannie Coverdale, who lost two grandsons in the blast, said Fortier should have been given a life sentence. She said his role in the blast was as significant as that of Nichols.

“I have been very upset ever since he was sentenced to 12 years,” she said. “I got more upset Tuesday when I found out he was getting out today and he only served 10 years and five months.

“Michael Fortier being out of prison? There's no way I can forget that. He helped murder my grandsons.”

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.

Helped prepare bombing
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.

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.”