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Profile: Robert Nigh, Jr
Robert Nigh, Jr was a participant or observer in the following events:
Stephen Jones. [Source: Associated Press]Attorney Stephen Jones is named by the court as the lead defender of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995). He agrees to work for a taxpayer-funded rate of $125 an hour, considerably less than his usual fee. Jones, who primarily represents large oil and insurance firms, is a Republican activist who failed to unseat Senator David Boren (D-OK) in 1990 and has represented a number of unpopular clients. He is joined by another prominent defense attorney, Robert Nigh Jr., a lawyer recommended to the case by Jones before he himself was chosen to represent McVeigh. Jones discussed the request from Judge David L. Russell with, among others, Governor Frank Keating (R-OK); Jones has done legal work for Keating in the past, and wished to ensure that his representation of McVeigh would not damage Keating’s reputation. Jones eventually accepted Russell’s request; when he accepted, Russell quipped, “I hope I haven’t signed your death warrant.” Jones replied, “That makes two of us.” To the media, Jones says: “My role is as old as the Constitution. Whether I perform professionally will be determined by how I conduct myself and whether my client is satisfied.… I did not seek or request the appointment or even encourage it in any way. I have been drafted. However, I will do my duty.… I will seek, for my part, to avoid the circus atmosphere that has prevailed in certain other well-known jurisdictional proceedings, which have included the self-promotion and self-aggrandizement of some individuals. I am a small-town county-seat lawyer.… I want to set a contrast to the O. J. Simpson [a former athlete and Hollywood celebrity recently acquitted of murdering his wife and another man in a sensational court proceeding] trial, which represents much of what is wrong with the legal process,” he says, referring to what he sees as “a lot of self-aggrandizement by all the parties: the witnesses, the jury, the judge, the lawyers.” He concludes with a warning to the press: “There is a well-recognized tension between the need for a free press and a fair trial, so I hope the ladies and gentlemen of the press will understand that I will defend this case in the courts of law.” Jones is working with McVeigh’s current lawyers, John Coyle and Susan Otto, who are preparing to leave the case (see April 24, 1995 and April 27, 1995). (When the media announces Jones’s naming to the case, one of Coyle’s staffers shouts: “You watch. He will make it all about himself.”) Jones is preparing McVeigh for a grand jury, which is being seated to hear evidence against him. McVeigh turned down the offered services of two lawyers (see May 3, 1995), but is willing to accept Jones’s services. [New York Times, 5/8/1995; New York Times, 6/15/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 231; Serrano, 1998, pp. 248-249; Douglas O. Linder, 2006; TruTV, 2/2009] “There’s no doubt in my mind that Stephen Jones views this to be a horrible crime,” Tony Graham, a former federal prosecutor who has often opposed Jones in court, will comment. “That he can go ahead and represent a person accused of that is the mark of a very professional lawyer.” Enid lawyer and former mayor Norman L. Grey will say: “With Stephen, you know you have a battle on your hands. I don’t think there’s a better legal mind in the area of criminal proceedings, state or federal.” [New York Times, 6/15/1995]
Conspiracy Theories, 'Necessity' Defense - Later, Jones will recall watching news footage of the bombing at his law office in Enid, Oklahoma, and remember his old elementary school being firebombed. “I recognized it as a bombing right away,” he will say. “And the minute I heard about the day care, I thought, ‘That’s it.’ Because I remembered the babies at Waco (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). And later that night I heard about old man Snell [executed white supremacist Richard Wayne Snell—see 9:00 p.m. April 19, 1995] and I thought, ‘Yes, that’s relevant too.’” Author Richard A. Serrano will later write, “Even on that first evening, Jones was thinking conspiracy theories.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 249] Though Jones is not forthcoming about the defense strategy he and McVeigh intend to deploy, legal observers speculate that they will base their defense on attempts to discredit government witnesses that the prosecution will use to build their case against McVeigh. Court observers say McVeigh is working actively with Jones on their defense. In the following days, Jones will begin interviewing people in Kansas, Oklahoma, and elsewhere, trying to undermine the credibility of the witnesses the prosecution is expected to bring into court. Jones is also expected to try to prove that the prosecutors’ evidence against McVeigh is largely circumstantial and therefore open to reasonable doubt. Observers doubt that Jones will try to use an insanity defense, because McVeigh is clearly competent to stand trial. They also doubt that Jones will try to allege that McVeigh was motivated by political opposition to the government, since innocent people, including children, were killed in the blast. No one feels that the prosecution will offer McVeigh any sort of plea deal. [New York Times, 5/11/1995] Researchers later learn that McVeigh wants Jones to present what some call a “necessity defense”—admitting to the bombing and justifying it by detailing what he considers the “crimes” of the federal government that his bombing was designed to prevent. McVeigh believes that if the jury hears about the government’s actions at Ruby Ridge, Idaho (see August 31, 1992 and August 21-31, 1992), and at the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After), at least some of the jurors will be sympathetic. More importantly, such a politicized trial would give McVeigh the opportunity to make his case against an overreaching federal government in the larger court of public opinion. Jones will resist presenting such a defense, in part because he believes that McVeigh has no chance of establishing, as he would be required to do to raise the defense, that the federal government put him in “imminent danger.” [Douglas O. Linder, 2006]
Third Lawyer to Join Jones, Nigh - Two weeks later, Russell will name Houston lawyer Richard Burr to join Jones and Nigh for the defense. Burr has extensive experience working with death penalty cases, and formerly directed the Capital Punishment Project of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Any capital case, but particularly one of this magnitude, calls for our system of justice to perform as reliably, as fairly, and as humanely as it can,” Burr will say. “I feel honored to become a part of the defense team in Mr. McVeigh’s case.” [New York Times, 5/23/1995]
Entity Tags: David Boren, David L. Russell, John Coyle, Frank Keating, Tony Graham, Norman L. Grey, Susan Otto, Richard A. Serrano, Timothy James McVeigh, Richard Burr, Stephen Jones, Robert Nigh, Jr
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Robert Nigh Jr. [Source: Associated Press]Defense lawyers for accused Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) and Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and July 11-13, 1995) ask that their clients’ trials be moved from Oklahoma due to intense media coverage from the bombing. The lawyers say that the media coverage has irredeemably tainted the jury pool. Oklahoma citizens are too close to the case, the lawyers argue, for either McVeigh or Nichols to receive a fair trial. The case is currently slated to be tried in Lawton, Oklahoma, some 85 miles away from Oklahoma City. One of McVeigh’s lawyers, Robert Nigh Jr., says: “We do not question for a moment that the people of Lawton or the people of Oklahoma are as fair as people anywhere in the country. They are simply too close in this case to determine the facts objectively.” Polls administered by two Houston researchers show that Lawton residents are far more familiar with the details of the case than residents of two other cities, Albuquerque and Kansas City, Kansas, and care more deeply about the case. All three cities are part of the Tenth Circuit. The polls say that almost half of Lawton residents have formed an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of McVeigh, and 96 percent of them believe him to be guilty. The numbers for Nichols are 30 percent and 90 percent, respectively. McVeigh’s lawyers state in a court filing: “The fevered passion of the community of Oklahoma has been escalated by local news reports concerning the case. Timothy McVeigh has been tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by the media in Oklahoma.” [New York Times, 11/22/1995; Fox News, 4/13/2005] The trial will be moved to Denver, Colorado (see February 20, 1996).
Accused Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh, left, and Terry Nichols look on as Judge Richard Matsch orders their trials to be severed. [Source: The Oklahoman]Judge Richard Matsch orders separate trials for accused Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995), in a ruling considered a victory for the defense. McVeigh will be tried first. Both defendants’ lawyers argued that to try the two men together would irreparably harm their right to receive fair trials. McVeigh’s lawyers, Stephen Jones and Robert Nigh Jr., wrote in a filing, “The government envisions a trial in which the actions and statements of Terry Nichols become indistinguishable from the actions of Timothy McVeigh.” And Nichols’s lead lawyer Michael Tigar argued that Nichols “stands in serious risk of being found guilty by ‘mass application’ if he was tried jointly with Mr. McVeigh.” Matsch rules that McVeigh could be harmed by introduction of statements made by Nichols implicating him in the bombing, and the defense’s inability to cross-examine Nichols if Nichols were to exercise his right to avoid self-incrimination. “The court cannot save a joint trial by sacrificing the interests of one defendant to protect the other,” Matsch rules. “Timothy McVeigh will be profoundly prejudiced by a joint trial in this case. His lawyers cannot question Terry Nichols or cross-examine the FBI agents on what they say Terry Nichols said. In short, Timothy McVeigh may be caught in cross-fire.” Tigar says after the ruling, “A separate trial will force the government to prove its case against Mr. Nichols, rather than merely rely on guilt by association and spillover prejudice from the case against Mr. McVeigh.” [New York Times, 9/8/1996; New York Times, 10/26/1996; Douglas O. Linder, 2001] Prosecutor Sean Connelly, presenting the government’s desire for a single joint trial, has told Matsch: “The proof will be unified: McVeigh and Nichols, Nichols and McVeigh, every step of the way.” [New York Times, 10/4/1996] Joseph Hartzler leads the team of attorneys prosecuting McVeigh (see May 22, 1995). [TruTV, 2/2009]
The lawyers present their closing arguments in the trial of Timothy McVeigh, the accused Oklahoma City bomber (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995).
McVeigh 'a Traitor' Who 'Deserves to Die' - Federal prosecutor Larry Mackey delivers a meticulous recap of the prosecution’s case (see May 21, 1997), portraying McVeigh as a “domestic terrorist” guilty of “a crime of ghastly proportions.… Timothy McVeigh is a domestic terrorist [who was] motivated by hatred of the government.… This is not a prosecution of Tim McVeigh for his political beliefs. This is a prosecution of Tim McVeigh because of what he did: He committed murder. This is a murder case.” Mackey asks the jurors: “Who could do such a thing? Who could do such a thing? Based on the evidence, the answer is clear: Timothy McVeigh did it.” Referring to McVeigh’s well-documented hatred of the government and McVeigh’s own writings, Mackey concludes: “The law enforcement officers who died were not treasonous officials… or ‘cowardice bastards.’ The credit union employees who disappeared were not tyrants whose blood had to be spilled. And certainly the 19 children who died were not the storm troopers McVeigh said must die because of their association with the evil empire. In fact, they were bosses and secretaries, they were blacks and whites, they were mothers, daughters, fathers and sons. They were a community. So who are the real patriots and who is the traitor?” Concluding the prosecution’s close, attorney Beth Wilkinson points at McVeigh and says to the jury: “Look into the eyes of a coward and tell him you will have courage. Tell him you will speak with one unified voice as the moral conscience of the community and tell him he is no patriot. He is a traitor and he deserves to die.” [University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 5/29/1997; Washington Post, 5/30/1997; New York Times, 5/30/1997; New York Times, 5/30/1997; Washington Post, 6/14/1997]
McVeigh 'Not a Demon, Though Surely His Act Was Demonic' - For the defense, attorneys Stephen Jones and Robert Nigh Jr. portray McVeigh as the innocent victim of an overzealous investigation and the treachery of his friends (see May 28, 1997). Jones and Nigh say that McVeigh was victimized by a rush to judgment led by a federal government desperate to solve the worst act of terrorism on US soil, and by a public overwhelmed by sympathy for the victims of the bombing. “The emotion is a twin emotion,” Jones says. “On one hand what has been evoked has been sympathy for the victims, and on the other hand repugnance” for McVeigh’s far-right political philosophy. “The evidence demonstrates tragically that what law enforcement did was terribly, terribly wrong,” Nigh adds. “Instead of an objective investigation of the case, the federal law enforcement officials involved decided the case and then jammed the evidence and witnesses to fit the decision.” Jones insists: “There’s no witness who saw Tim McVeigh in a Ryder truck (see May 23, 1997). There’s no witness that saw Tim McVeigh build a bomb. [The prosecution’s case is built of] speculation, inference piled on inference, trying to put an 11 and a half size foot in an eight and a half size shoe.” The defense also insists that evidence presented against their client was tainted by sloppy FBI lab technicians (see January 27, 1997), and that witness testimonies were unreliable and in some cases fabricated (see April 29-30, 1997 and May 12-13, 1997). Defense lawyer Christopher L. Tritico calls the FBI laboratory that handled the case “a ship without a rudder, without a sail, without a captain, adrift, making judgment calls that affect the rest of people’s lives.” In a statement that seemingly concedes McVeigh’s guilt, Jones says of McVeigh, “[H]e is not a demon though surely his act was demonic.” He asks that McVeigh be spared so that some day the full story might come out, and so that the political alienation he personifies would not be rekindled by his execution. [Washington Post, 5/30/1997; New York Times, 5/30/1997; New York Times, 5/30/1997; Washington Post, 6/14/1997]
Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997), facing execution for his crimes (see June 11-13, 1997), is officially sentenced to death by Judge Richard P. Matsch. The hearing is a formality, as a jury sentenced McVeigh to death the day before; the entire proceeding takes nine minutes. Before Matsch pronounces sentence, he allows McVeigh to speak on his own behalf. McVeigh does so—briefly and cryptically. McVeigh says: “If the court please, I wish to use the words of Justice Brandeis dissenting in Olmstead to speak for me. He wrote: ‘Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.’ That’s all I have.” McVeigh is referring to a dissent written by Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis in a 1928 decision, Olmstead v. United States, which upheld the use of wiretap evidence. Brandeis’s dissent said that the government may not commit crimes to enforce the law, and warned of “terrible retribution” if it did. Stephen Jones, McVeigh’s lead lawyer, refuses to speculate as to why McVeigh chose to use that quote, though Jones says it is a favorite of his client. McVeigh believes the government broke the law in the Branch Davidian siege (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). Jones’s defense partner, Christopher Tritico, tells reporters he is unfamiliar with the quote and will have to look it up. US Attorney Patrick M. Ryan, part of the prosecution team, later says that McVeigh’s remarks were so fleeting that “I didn’t catch it all.” Many families of the bombing victims find McVeigh’s quote cryptic and unclear. Roy Sells, who lost his wife in the bombing, says: “I don’t know if he was referring to the Waco deal or what. I wish he would’ve quoted something from his own heart instead of out of somebody else’s book. I wanted to hear what he had to say about it.” A survivor of the bombing, Paul Heath, says McVeigh’s statement makes it clear he remains unrepentant and still considers himself a revolutionary. During the proceeding, Matsch asks McVeigh for permission to release a letter McVeigh wrote to him on June 22, which asked that Jones be replaced by other lawyers from the defense team for his appeals: Richard Burr, Robert Nigh Jr., and Randall Coyne. The letter was not specific about McVeigh’s reason for requesting Jones’s removal, but cited “problems and difficulties I have had with my appointed counsel in the past.” McVeigh will publicly blame Jones for “screwing up” his trial, and has reportedly told a Buffalo News reporter that he believes Jones repeatedly lied to him about unnamed aspects of the trial (see August 14-27, 1997). Jones merely reminds reporters: “I did not seek this appointment. I am, as I said, a draftee” (see May 8, 1995). [New York Times, 8/14/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 320; University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 2006; University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 2006] McVeigh will later explain his choice of quote to Buffalo News reporter Lou Michel. “I want people to think about the statement,” McVeigh will say. “What [lead prosecutor Joseph] Hartzler is trying to do is not have people learn. He wants to have them put their heads in the sand.” The Brandeis quote, McVeigh will say, reflects on the death penalty: the government says it is wrong for McVeigh to have killed, and yet “now they’re going to kill me. They’re saying that’s an appropriate way to right a wrong?” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 321]
Entity Tags: Paul Heath, Lou Michel, Joseph H. Hartzler, Christopher L. Tritico, Patrick M. Ryan, Timothy James McVeigh, Roy Sells, Richard Burr, Richard P. Matsch, Stephen Jones, Robert Nigh, Jr, Randall Coyne, Louis Brandeis
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997), facing execution for his crimes (see June 11-13, 1997), says his lead defense lawyer Stephen Jones “screwed up badly,” accuses Jones of lying to him repeatedly, and says he does not want Jones to continue representing him (see August 14, 1997). The Buffalo News has reported that McVeigh told a reporter: “It’s a cultural clash between us. Jones would be a politician, and I’d be a statesman.… The truth is this guy only succeeded in getting the death sentence and now he doesn’t want to let go.” An appeals court names Robert Nigh Jr., one of McVeigh’s trial lawyers, to be in charge of his appeal. [New York Times, 8/14/1997; New York Times, 8/28/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 319] In a statement given to the press after McVeigh’s sentencing, law professor and appellate lawyer Alan Dershowitz agreed with McVeigh. “When [McVeigh] gets to prison, he’s going to learn that his lawyer did a terrible job,” said Dershowitz. “This is going to be the grist of the eventual appeal. This was an awful, awful defense.… His lawyers seemed to be more interested in their own reputations.” [Washington Post, 6/14/1997] Four days later, Jones agrees to resign as McVeigh’s counsel. Jones denies lying to McVeigh, saying: “No one has lied to Mr. McVeigh on the defense team. Certainly I haven’t lied to him, and I can’t imagine that anybody else” on the defense team has. “I think it would be extremely difficult to represent him in view of these statements he has made that have no basis in fact. He doesn’t have any basis to seek my withdrawal, but I have a basis to seek it.” He refers to McVeigh as a “liar and an ingrate.” McVeigh has said he will leave it to “Congress, the bar, and the judiciary to investigate and discover” the alleged lies and misconduct of Jones. He also has said he bears no ill will towards the jurors who convicted him, stating, “I thought they ruled too much on emotion, but I wanted to convey no personal vendetta against them.” He said some of the prosecution’s evidence against him “was false or some could be reasonably explained by other phenomenon.” [New York Times, 8/19/1997; New York Times, 8/21/1997; Fox News, 4/13/2005] Shortly thereafter, Jones will announce that he has signed a contract to write a book about the trial. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 319] In 1998, the press will report that when McVeigh learned of Jones’s book deal, he considered it a betrayal, and wrote: “Mr. Jones did this without informing me and without my consent. I cannot believe that his account will not be based upon confidential communications. I consider this to be a betrayal.” Jones will respond that McVeigh knew of his book deal, and discussed whether Jones could help his sister Jennifer find an agent to represent her for her own book deal. Jones will write: “I intend to write a book not about Mr. McVeigh, but about my personal experiences of my role and what it was like for me. All the material for this book is either in the court records, the transcripts and exhibits, or in the press. None of it comes from Tim or any source confidential to him.” The writings from McVeigh and Jones will come from documents later unsealed by the court. [New York Times, 2/11/1998]
Stephen Jones, the former lawyer for convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997, June 11-13, 1997, and August 14-27, 1997), says he will fight a subpoena from a grand jury investigating the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Documents unsealed today show that the grand jury asked the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office in February to subpoena Jones. “I will not testify,” Jones says, citing both his attorney-client privilege and the Oklahoma shield law protecting journalists from testifying before grand juries. Jones says the shield law applies to him because he is writing a book and three law review articles about issues arising from the case that do not involve privileged information, as well as his appearances as a television commentator. The grand jury was convened after a campaign by Oklahoma State Representative Charles Key (R-Oklahoma City) and accountant Glenn Wilburn (see June 30, 1997). The grand jury does not have any connection with the District Attorney’s upcoming charges against both McVeigh and his co-conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998). McVeigh’s current lawyer, Robert Nigh Jr., says the subpoena is a surprise to him. McVeigh has not waived his attorney-client privilege as it pertains to Jones, and any testimony by Jones could jeopardize McVeigh’s appeals. “He’s asked the 10th Circuit to grant a new trial,” Nigh says. “Anything revealed to the grand jury in the nature of defense work product could defeat our defense at a new trial and reveal our strategy.” Law professor Samuel Issacharoff has mixed feelings about the subpoena: “It should be unusual, exceptional and discouraged to try to turn lawyers into witnesses,” he says. “On the other hand, there is a distressing practice of lawyers holding press conferences and holding themselves out as commentators on the events of the day, including their perception of the client. The result is, they seem to invite this. It is a very unfortunate development because it places the lawyer’s interests starkly against those of the client.” [New York Times, 4/25/1998]
Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and June 2, 1997) says he has no objection to having his upcoming execution (see June 11-13, 1997) televised. In a letter published by the Daily Oklahoman, McVeigh questions the fairness of limiting the number of witnesses to his execution, set for May 16 (see January 16, 2001); the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBP) is considering allowing survivors and relatives of his victims to view his execution via closed-circuit broadcast. “Because the closed-circuit telecast of my execution raises these fundamental equal access concerns, and because I am otherwise not opposed to such a telecast, a reasonable solution seems obvious: hold a true public execution—allow a public broadcast,” McVeigh writes. “It has… been said that all of Oklahoma was a victim of the bombing. Can all of Oklahoma watch?” McVeigh’s attorney Robert Nigh Jr. says McVeigh is serious about his request. “He is in favor of public scrutiny of government action, including his execution,” Nigh says. FBP spokesperson Dan Dunne says of the idea of a public broadcast of McVeigh’s execution: “It hasn’t been considered. It won’t happen.” Nigh says that the idea of a publicly broadcast execution is not unreasonable, stating, “If it is our collective judgment that capital punishment is a reasonable response to crime, we need to come to grips with what it actually is.” [ABC News, 2/11/2001; New York Times, 2/11/2001]
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