OKC Bombing Planner's Release Debated

Plans to release the star witness in the Oklahoma City bombing trials has sparked debate over whether his prison sentence was long enough for not telling authorities about the deadly plot.

Michael Fortier, 37, was scheduled to be freed from a federal prison Friday after serving about 85 percent of a 12-year sentence. Fortier received a plea deal in which he agreed to testify in the trials of bombing coconspirators Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.

Federal authorities and Fortier's attorney, Michael Maguire, have declined to say when and where Fortier will be released from federal custody. Maguire said Fortier, originally of Kingman, Ariz., will reunite with his wife, Lori, and their two children, but declined to say where.

Maguire said Fortier strengthened the government's prosecution of McVeigh and Nichols and is the only person connected to the bomb plot to apologize and express remorse.

"He got way too much time," Maguire said. Fortier, in federal custody since August 1995, should have been sentenced to time served at his 1999 sentencing, he said.

"He's hungry for an opportunity to do something and prove his values and abilities," Maguire said.

He told Tracy Smith of The Early Show, "Without his (Fortier's) knowledge and information, they (prosecutors) never would have come up with a lot of the physical evidence that they had (against McVeigh and Nichols) and the circumstantial evidence. … He has never received the credit that he deserved for his participation and help in the prosecution of bombing cases."

Bombing victim Royia Grizzell, who was seriously injured in the blast, strongly disagrees, telling Smith, "If he had enough anger in him to do something like this, now that he's been in prison all these years, I just don't see how a normal person could reform and he wouldn't have any more hatred toward the government."

But Michael Reyes, who lost his father in the bombing, told Smith it's time to move on.

"You pretty much have to accept what people in authority have said about this situation," Reyes said. "And I could get angry about it, but that's not gonna solve anything."

Attorney Stephen Jones, who represented McVeigh at his federal bombing trial, said Fortier's sentence seems out of line with much harsher sentences received by McVeigh and Nichols.

"His own testimony establishes his own culpability and his wife's culpability," Jones said.

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.

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 even 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 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.

Attorney Brian Hermanson, who defended Nichols at his 2004 murder trial in Oklahoma, said the government's allegations against Fortier and Nichols "were not that different."

"Almost everything they said Terry did, Fortier was involved in," Hermanson said. Yet, Nichols was tried on charges that could have led to the death penalty and Fortier was allowed to plead to lesser charges.

"It does seem sort of unusual," he said.

"He absolutely won the Powerball jackpot lottery of the judicial system," said Dr. Paul Heath, a former Veterans Administration psychologist who survived the bombing. "Lucky man considering he could have been tried for conspiracy and could have been given the death penalty and at least life in prison."

But 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. "There are things on both sides of the scale. 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."