Feature

Sitting In Judgment

June 1997

Who are the 18 Coloradans sitting in judgment of Timothy McVeigh? U.S. Federal Chief Judge Richard P. Matsch has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep their identities secret, borrowing tactics usually reserved for the trials of mob bosses and drug kingpins.

From the moment the formal selection process began in March, prospective jurors have been identified not by name, but by number. During an interview process that lasted nearly four weeks, each of the 99 prospective jurors sat behind a 10-foot sloping wall specially constructed for the trial.

They answered questions about the death penalty, the O.J. Simpson trial, the Waco standoff, their radio listening habits, and even the bumper stickers on their cars. And, of course, they were asked for their recollections and impressions of the April 19, 1995 bombing that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 and injuring hundreds of others.

Once the final 12 regular jurors and six alternates were selected, each was assigned a new number to further mask his or her identity. Matsch also instituted a strict gag order that forbids anyone participating in the trial from publicly discussing the proceedings. The judge has said these measures were necessary to protect jurors’ privacy.