Okla. Bomb Conspirator To Be Freed

Cranes and heavy equipment clear debris from site of Alfred Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City, 1995/5/2
Michael Fortier, the prosecution's star witness in the Oklahoma City bombing trials, will be freed this week after serving less than 11 years behind bars, a development that is drawing mixed reaction from victims.

Victims' family members and bombing survivors received a one-page form letter from the Bureau of Prisons this week indicating Fortier's release date of Friday.

"He's the luckiest man in the world," said Paul Heath, who was on the fifth floor of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building during the 1995 blast that killed 168 people. "Fortier, by being willing to do a plea bargain, won the Powerball lottery of the justice system."

As part of his deal with prosecutors, Fortier testified against bombing conspirators Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols at their federal trials and later at Nichols' state murder trial. He was sentenced to 12 years and ordered to pay $200,000 in fines.

McVeigh was executed June 11, 2001. Nichols was convicted on both federal and state charges and is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

"The feds threw the book at Fortier back in 1995," says CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen, "and desperately wanted to be able to more closely link him to the bombing. Instead, they used him to fill in some of the blanks in the narrative at trial against Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols."

"Don't be surprised if there is now a push in Oklahoma to charge Fortier with state crimes, although I'm not sure what those could be given the statutes of limitation that usually preclude such late charges," says Cohen. "That's yet another reason why I don't expect him now to take to the talk show circuit to tell his story."

Family members of some bombing victims say Fortier's role in the April 19, 1995, plot was peripheral and they believe justice was served.

"I think he's served enough time," said Bud Welch, whose daughter Julie was killed while she worked at the Social Security office in the building. "I hope he's in line to be a good citizen now."

Jim Denny, whose two children were seriously injured in the bombing, said he also believes Fortier should be released.

"McVeigh already got his punishment, and Nichols will be in prison for the rest of his life," Denny said. "Let this guy get out and get on with his life."

Fortier, 37, and his wife, Lori, both testified against McVeigh and Nichols and acknowledged assisting the two in their plan to blow up the building, said McVeigh's attorney, Stephen Jones.

"It's intellectually indefensible to say that they weren't conspirators, because they were. Their own testimony indicates that," Jones said. "They knew the date, time and place of the bombing, and both of them assisted materially."

Jones said Lori Fortier testified that she helped make a false identification card that McVeigh used to rent the truck used in the bombing. Lori Fortier was granted complete immunity for her testimony and never served any prison time.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has notified family members of several bombing victims that Fortier still must serve three years of supervised release.