!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Ronald L. Kelly
Ronald L. Kelly was a participant or observer in the following events:
FBI forensic expert Steven G. Burmeister and chemist Ronald L. Kelly testify in the trial of Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, August 10, 1995, and April 24, 1997) that the FBI crime lab found residues of explosives on McVeigh’s shirt and jeans, clothing that McVeigh was wearing when he was arrested less than 90 minutes after allegedly detonating a bomb in front of an Oklahoma City federal building (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995). However, Burmeister says his experts found no such residues in the car McVeigh was driving when he was arrested. Nor did they find any such residues in a Kansas storage locker that prosecutors say McVeigh and co-conspirator Terry Nichols used to store bomb supplies (see September 22, 1994, October 4 - Late October, 1994, October 17, 1994, and November 7, 1994). Prosecutors use Burmeister’s testimony to establish the exact composition of the bomb. Lab experts found residue of three substances on earplugs McVeigh was carrying when he was arrested (see Early May 1995 and After): nitroglycerine; PETN, a crystalline substance found in detonation cord; and EGDN, which is added to dynamite. PETN was also found on the white T-shirt and long-sleeved undershirt McVeigh was wearing when he was stopped by a state trooper, and PETN and nitroglycerine were found in the right pocket of McVeigh’s jeans. McVeigh’s lawyers cross-examine the two about a search they performed in the aftermath of the bombing; the two experts found and bagged items, including two fragments of the Ryder rental truck that prosecutors say carried the bomb (see April 15, 1995). One was a red-and-yellow piece of the truck body, which Burmeister later determined contained crystals of the explosive ammonium nitrate. Prosecutors say the bomb was composed of ammonium nitrate, a substance often used as fertilizer but which can become a powerful explosive when mixed with fuel oil or racing fuel. Burmeister testifies that such a bomb would require a detonator and an explosive such as dynamite to boost the explosion. Kelly admits to picking up and bagging several items, including a truck part, before an FBI photographer could take pictures of them; Kelly says he replaced the items, let the photographer take pictures, and rebagged them. Defense lawyer Christopher L. Tritico indirectly accuses Kelly of planting evidence. “You didn’t find it in the parking lot, yourself, isn’t that right?” Tritico asks, to which Kelly replies, “That is absolutely incorrect.” Defense lawyers hammer away at the two over reports that the FBI crime lab had been criticized by a Justice Department report on its use of substandard procedures (see April 16, 1997), but Burmeister emphasizes that he, Kelly, and the other technicians were extremely careful about their evidence retrieval and testing. McVeigh’s lawyers elicit an admission from Burmeister that no PETN or EGDN was found at the scene of the bombing. Burmeister also admits that the crime lab’s handling of the bombing evidence could have been better, citing the practice of using paper bags to transport McVeigh’s clothing from the Perry jail to the FBI lab. Judge Richard P. Matsch limits the scope of the defense’s attack on the lab’s evidence handling, and repeatedly refuses to allow the jury to hear criticisms of the crime lab’s procedures issued by former lab employee Frederic Whitehurst (see January 27, 1997); nor does he allow the defense to introduce the Justice Department report. The last witness of the day, Linda Jones of the British Ministry of Defense’s Forensic Explosives Laboratory, testifies that “it would be fairly simple” for one person to build such a bomb as was used in Oklahoma City, challenging the defense’s theory that only a large number of conspirators and bomb experts could have built the bomb. [New York Times, 5/20/1997; New York Times, 5/21/1997]
The prosecution in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and November 3, 1997) submits a piece of wood into evidence that it says links Nichols to the bombing. The piece of wood has ammonium nitrate fertilizer crystals embedded in it, the same type of fertilizer used in the bomb that killed 168 people. The same fertilizer was found at Nichols’s Herington, Kansas, home (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995). The wood was found by a search team on April 21, 1995, in a parking lot across the street from the Murrah Federal Building. Prosecutors say the wood came from the side of the rented Ryder truck (see April 15, 1995) that convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) used to deliver the bomb. FBI agent Alton Wilson testifies that “it appears to have come from the box panel from the Ryder truck.” FBI laboratory supervisor Steven G. Burmeister testifies that when he and other FBI agents searched Nichols’s home, they found explosives, including ammonium nitrate pellets. Ammonium nitrate is the fertilizer that was the main ingredient of the bomb. “They were on the steps leading up to the porch area,” Burmeister testifies. He also says the search turned up Primadet blasting caps, which are used to detonate explosives. Defense lawyers claim the wood was mishandled by FBI crime lab analysts; FBI chemist Ronald Kelly admits in testimony that he did not follow the proper steps in recovering and handling the wood. [New York Times, 11/29/1997] In cross-examination testimony, Burmeister says that he photographed the wood in April 1995, documenting the existence of the ammonium nitrate crystals embedded in it. When he examined the wood in November 1996, he realized that the crystals had disappeared from it. Burmeister says he believes the crystals disappeared as a result of testing in other sections of the lab. [New York Times, 12/2/1997]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.