EDITOR’S NOTE: I waited to publish this piece until after the Army Clemency and Parole Board made public it’s decision concerning the case of 1st Lt. Michael Behenna. Why? Because I did not want to divert anyone’s attention from the 26-year-old Army officer’s case and what seems like overwhelming evidence to suggest, first, that Army prosecutors suppressed evidence during his court-martial and, second, that he deserves, at a minimum, a new trial and, at best, a presidential pardon.
During the past seven months, I’ve published more than a dozen posts and two widely-circulated articles (here and here) about the case of Army Ranger 1st Lt. Michael Behenna. In my writings, however, I described the lieutenant’s mother, Vicki Behenna, only as a federal prosecutor in Oklahoma City. I wrote very little about the fact that she helped wage the government’s case against Timothy McVeigh, a man who was eventually convicted, sentenced to death and executed for his role in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that left 168 dead and scores injured.
Today, however, I share more details about the unique — and, I suspect, unprecedented — position in which Vicki Behenna finds herself today.
On June 7, only three days after publishing my first brief about Lieutenant Behenna, I published my first post about the Oklahoma City bombing. In the latter post, I drew parallels between the bombing and the July 17, 1996, disaster involving TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island. Little did I know, however, that I would find a thread of irony to link the lieutenant’s case to the Oklahoma City bombing. The thread became visible in late September 2009 after the FBI released footage captured moments after the blast by several security cameras in downtown Oklahoma City.
On Sept. 28, I published the first of four posts in which I cited two highly-credible sources, Jayna Davis and David P. Schippers, who believe the FBI withheld evidence — including, but not limited to, security camera footage shot before the blast took place at 9:02 a.m. Central — from parties on both sides of the OKC Bombing trial.
At the time of the bombing, Davis was an award-winning investigative reporter for NBC affiliate KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City. Unlike most other journalists, who’ve attributed the horrific attack solely to so-called “domestic terrorists” McVeigh and Nichols, Davis turned up seemingly-irrefutable evidence which pointed the lion’s share of the blame to a group of former Iraqi soldiers. One of them was identified by several witnesses as having been in the cab of the Ryder rental truck with McVeigh; hence, the title of the book she went on to write, “The Third Terrorist.”
Davis’ book would make it to The New York Times Best Sellers list with the help of then-upstart conservative radio talk show host Glenn Beck. In addition, she was featured on CNN (Lou Dobbs) and Fox News Channel, in several major newspapers (i.e., Indianapolis Star, London Evening Standard, Philadelphia Daily News, Wall Street Journal and Washington Times) and in articles published on several prominent online news sites, including NewsMax and WorldNetDaily.
Schippers, a Democrat and author of the book, “SELLOUT: The Inside Story of President Clinton’s Impeachment,” is an experienced litigator from Chicago who served as chief investigative counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee during the Clinton Impeachment Hearings and as manager of the proceedings that followed in the U.S. Senate. He became an outspoken believer in Davis and her investigation and wrote the forward for her book.
Regarding the whereabouts of the video evidence likely to show what security cameras captured moments before the blast at 9:02 a.m. Central, Schippers told this writer in September that he thinks “the FBI still has all of those tapes, and I don’t think we’re ever going to see ‘em.” Further, he said he believes the FBI committed a Brady violation — that is, they suppressed evidence from both sides during the trial. Read all of what this man told me about the case in the post, Attorney Says Unedited Versions of the Oklahoma City Bombing Surveillance Tapes Are ‘Somewhere’.
Davis and Schippers, along with nearly two-dozen people who signed sworn affidavits related to events they witnessed related to the bombing, believe that evidence would have played a key role in determining who else, in addition to McVeigh and accomplice Terry Nichols, was behind the attack.
In the court-martial case against Lieutenant Behenna, one expert contends to this day that Army prosecutors committed a Brady violation when they suppressed evidence favorable to the lieutenant’s defense and, in doing so, violated due process and his right to a fair and impartial trial. The real “kicker” in the case lies in the identity of the person from whom the allegation of prosecutorial misconduct came. Surprisingly, it wasn’t someone on the defense side of the court room. Instead, it was the Army’s own expert witness.
Dr. Herbert Leon MacDonell was flown in from Corning, N.Y., but never allowed to testify. Why? Because, during the trial, he had the opportunity to examine key pieces of evidence prosecutors had not shared with him prior to his arrival at the proceedings. When he told prosecutors that his examination of that evidence had caused him to change his mind and believe Lieutenant Behenna was telling the truth, they opted against having the court hear his testimony — words that should have resulted in a favorable outcome for the young officer. (For all of the details about what the director of the Laboratory for Forensic Science knew, when he knew it and why he was never called to testify in Lieutenant Behenna’s case, read this post.)
In the end, Lieutenant Behenna was found guilty on a single count of unpremeditated murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison — a term twice reduced — for killing Ali Mansur, a known Al-Qaeda operative. Today, he is prisoner #87503 at Fort Leavenworth, serving a 15-year sentence and continuing the appeals process.
As a result of her experience with the Oklahoma City bombing trial and her son’s court-martial, Vicki Behenna knows what it’s like to be involved — once on the prosecution side, once on the defense — in separate criminal cases in which evidence crucial to the outcomes has been suppressed. Indirectly, she fielded questions about that subject during two recent radio interviews.
During a Dec. 29 interview, Pat Dollard raised the possibility that the Oklahoma City bombing might have marked the first moments the Behenna family had been touched directly by jihad. Very politely, Vicki Behenna dismissed his theory.
“There’s been a lot of speculation,” she said. “It’s clear, I think, from the evidence, that there were not a whole lot of other people involved in that and that it was a plot by a small group of men, three men, who were angry and wanted to make a statement against the government.”
During an interview with Vicki Behenna this month, conservative radio talk show host Michael Savage went a step further than Dollard and asked Vicki Behenna if she thinks there was some kind of political payback from somebody related to her involvement in the McVeigh trial.
“I can’t imagine why,” she responded. “I mean, I’m just a little assistant. I’m just a federal employee that does federal prosecutions. I can’t imagine, although that’s been suggested before.”
I cannot imagine being involved in two separate cases over which allegations of suppressed evidence and/or testimony hang like dark clouds. At the same time, however, I’m not going to imply that her son’s wrongful imprisonment is the result of some kind of what-goes-around-comes-around karma tied to her work on the McVeigh trial. Instead, I’ll offer three IF-THEN statements for consideration while maintaining my steadfast and unwavering support of Lieutenant Behenna:
1. IF you find nothing wrong with the fact that the FBI released only post-blast footage from security cameras in downtown Oklahoma City but refuses to release pre-blast footage, THEN you’ll likely agree with Vicki Behenna and most other Americans that “unknown others” were not involved in the Oklahoma City bombing;
2. IF, however, you read Davis’ book — and I have read it twice — and consider the evidence she presents, THEN you’ll find it impossible to agree with Vicki Behenna and others on the prosecution side of the Oklahoma City bombing that there was no Iraqi involvement; and
3. IF it turns out that Lieutenant Behenna’s imprisonment is somehow tied to his mother’s involvement as a prosecutor in Oklahoma City, THEN this nation has even bigger and more troubling problems than most Americans can dare imagine.
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For a complete report on Lieutenant Behenna’s case, read “The Michael Behenna Story” (pdf) by Carrie Fatigante.
For information about how you can contribute to Lieutenant Behenna’s legal defense fund, visit the Defend Michael web site.