Interview: Former FBI Agent Talks About Oklahoma City Bombing

By Michelle McKee

On April 19, 1995 the people of Oklahoma City fell victim to the worst case of domestic terrorism in United States history, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building.

I had an opportunity to speak with Jon Hersley about the investigation, conspiracy theorists and law enforcement in general. Hersley’s position within the investigation was as the FBI's Lead Case Agent responsible for the United States government’s case against Timothy McVeigh. Agent Hersley was involved in the investigation for its entire duration, from beginning to end, and it was his testimony before the Grand Jury that was instrumental in leading to McVeigh’s indictment.

In order to set an accurate record of the investigation and dispel the inaccurate and erroneous information being circulated regarding the bombing and the subsequent FBI investigation, retired FBI Special Agents Jon Hersley and Larry Tongate teamed up with Bob Burke, a local Oklahoma author, and wrote a book entitled Simple Truths. It is considered to be the definitive book on the investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing. The authors have declined any financial interest in the book, it was strictly a non-profit project, and it is the only accounting of the case that is told by the two FBI agents who were the closest to the investigation. The two men who were assigned as the Lead Case Agents responsible for building the government’s case against Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh, and who actually worked on the investigation from start to finish.

The Oklahoma City Bombing was the largest criminal investigation ever conducted in American history.
“This monstrous evil demanded justice. Whoever did this should never walk the face of the earth again.”
Simple Truths: The Real Story of the Oklahoma City Bombing Investigation, by Jon Hersley, Larry Tongate and Bob Burke
Jon Hersley: The victim families in the Oklahoma City bombing; what a dignified group of people they are. They’re like your own families. Like your brothers and your sisters, your sons and daughters, your moms and your dads. That’s who they are. They’re just like you are, like we are.

I sat in the courtroom and watched and listened to many, many of those victim family members testify about their loved ones that were killed. Spouses who’ve had their husbands or wives killed, their kids killed, their sons and daughters, their aunts and uncles, their grandmas and their grandpas, and their mothers and fathers killed in the Oklahoma City bombing.

I was a thirty-year law enforcement officer; I’ve had all kinds of cases. But this one changed me. I watched the dignity that all these people testified with. And they all tried to maintain their composure on the witness stand, and they all broke down before they could finish. It honestly just rips your heart out, and it changed me as a person. I am a different person today after experiencing all of that, knowing these people, and watching what they’ve been through.
“And Helena saw another man carry Brandon Denny from the building. Colton Smith was carried out next and laid on the concrete. Helena did not want to leave Colton but she wanted desperately to find Tevin.

She stayed with Colton, watching him, waiting and watching as more and more of the babies were carried out and laid down next to her. She screamed to the men, “Please don’t lay our babies on this glass, we don’t want our babies on this glass.” Pieces of glass were everywhere. A man swept the glass away from the children as they lay on the plaza floor.

Helena had not yet realized the babies were dead. A nurse came and began tagging the tiny bodies, and finally Helena realized they were gone. But still there was no sign of her precious Tevin.”

"On Saturday, three days, and what seemed like years after the bombing, Helena was notified that Tevin had been found. She was at church when the news came. Helena was never able to see Tevin’s face again. Tevin had a severe head injury, necessitating a closed casket funeral. She was able to kiss his feet and legs, but the rest of his body remained covered."
Tevin Garrett was 16-months old.

Jon Hersley: It had been a clear day, you could see all the way down to the Oklahoma City area from the windows of our building. I was on the drug squad in Oklahoma City at the time. I was actually in the FBI office up on the 16th floor, where my squad was, when the bomb exploded.

Our building was probably four or five miles from downtown Oklahoma City and I remember hearing this sound, this tremendous noise. I went and looked out the window and saw this tremendous cloud of dark, black smoke coming from the downtown Oklahoma City area. Of course, we didn’t know it was a bomb then. We didn’t know what had happened. I remember, we were talking in the office that there must have been a gas explosion or something. But then it was just a matter of minutes before we started hearing on the news that something terrible had happened in downtown Oklahoma City, and that the Alfred P. Murrah Building had blown-up down there.

Once we found out what happened we knew we were going to have an investigation that we were going to have to coordinate. We knew we were going to have people and supplies coming in from out of state, responders and rescuers, and such. I was initially tasked with staying at the office to begin coordinating everything, so it was about two days before I went down to the building site.

When I got down to Oklahoma City my first reaction was that it looked like a war zone. I was very upset and angry that someone did this. I thought, “Who could do such a thing?” It was just terrible. There was debris all over the place, the whole fa├žade of the Murrah Building was blown off, and the buildings around the Murrah Building were also seriously damaged. Windows were blown out all over, and the structural parts of those buildings were all damaged. It was horrible, just horrible. I remember thinking, you know, “this is not the Middle East, what is going on here? What happened here?"
“It was impossible to walk around inside the building. There was smoke and debris everywhere, and the officers had to crawl.”
Michelle McKee: Is it true that as a result of the investigation Michael and Lori Fortier were discovered to have had prior knowledge that Timothy McVeigh was not only going to blow up the Murrah Building specifically, but also on what day it was going to occur and exactly how he was going to do it, all the way down to the rental of the truck and use of fertilizer and fuel?

Jon Hersley: McVeigh had described in detail to the Fortiers what he was going to do and how he was going to do it. He told them that he was going to use a Ryder truck, that he had acquired the bomb components and described to them how he was going to configure the bomb making materials in the back of the Ryder truck.

He had pointed the Murrah Building out to Michael Fortier in mid-December, and told him that it was the building he was going to blow-up. After McVeigh had pulled off the highway and pointed the building out to Fortier, they discussed the best place for McVeigh to leave his car so he could get away quickly.

Michelle McKee: Did either Michael or Lori Fortier make any attempt to stop the bombing?

Jon Hersley: No, they did not make any attempt to stop it from taking place.

The Fortiers say that they didn’t think that McVeigh would actually go through with it. But he had acquired all of the bomb components, he had picked out the building he was going to blow-up, he picked out the type of vehicle he was going to use. He had everything. And he was trying to get Michael Fortier to help him. However, Fortier would not help him so to me that puts Fortier in a little bit of a different light than Terry Nichols.

So yes, you have to surmise, and I have no doubt, that the Fortiers knew exactly what McVeigh was going to do. And they could have stopped the whole thing with a phone call, and they didn’t. It could have been an anonymous phone call.

Michelle McKee: Do you think that Michel Fortier should have received life in prison?

Jon Hersley: Well, you know, I have to go by what the laws in our country are. And I think that those laws were followed and Fortier was sentenced accordingly. But, do I think he deserves life in prison for what he did, and what he didn’t do? Yes, I do.

Michelle McKee: What about Lori Fortier? Is she an innocent bystander?

Jon Hersley: Well, you can’t really say that someone is an innocent bystander if they’ve been told everything that is going to happen, and they do nothing to try to stop it, can you? But as part of the deal with Michael Fortier, we agreed not to prosecute Lori.
"Floors of concrete had fallen and were pancaked on top of where the officers were trying to free trapped victims. [Sgt.] Flowers heard a woman scream and saw her rolled up in a ball, her feet and legs tucked under her chest. She was imprisoned in a mass of cement blocks and steel rebar. He reached up through the concrete and touched the woman, telling her she was going to be okay, although he knew there was no way – it was impossible to move the concrete and steel rebar by hand."
Michelle McKee: What was Michael Fortier convicted of?

Jon Hersley: Primarily weapons charges. He helped McVeigh transport weapons from Kansas to Kingman, Arizona, to help put money back in the coffer that Nichols used. I don’t know that Fortier knew exactly what all that was going to be used for, but he helped. So, he was convicted of weapons charges.

We didn’t have enough evidence to convict him of the bombing, absent the things coming out of his own mouth.

I think it’s important to understand that in a case of this magnitude you need an insider, and you need an insider for two reasons. One is you need the insider testifying in the courtroom, so the jury will have confidence in their verdict. And, I think you also need an insider for the sake of the public, so that the public will have confidence in the investigation and the outcome of the trials.

In cases of this magnitude, sometimes you have to make a deal with the Devil. That’s what we did. We needed an insider in the case, and Michael Fortier was that insider. Was it pleasant making a deal with Michael Fortier? Absolutely not, but I would still make the same decision today.

I will also say this, once Michael Fortier made the agreement with us, and agreed to testify, he definitely lived up to his end of the bargain. He did, I think, as good a job as he could have done testifying. And, I do think he regretted the fact that he had not picked up the phone and made a call. Now he has to live the rest of his life knowing that he could have stopped it all.

Michelle McKee: Was McVeigh the sole person involved in the planning of the bombing?

Jon Hersley: No. Terry Nichols was involved in it all the way. He helped McVeigh acquire the bomb components; he planned it out with him, including the day before the bombing when Nichols helped McVeigh mix the bomb at Geary Lake.

Michelle McKee: Would you say Nichols is a follower?

Jon Hersley: Terry? No. He’s absolutely not a follower. He was in this all the way with McVeigh.

The only thing that Terry Nichols didn’t do was go down to Oklahoma City on the morning of the bombing. He was afraid of getting caught there, so instead, he chose to hide behind his wife’s apron strings in Herington, Kansas, and let McVeigh go do the dirty work.

I think Terry Nichols is every bit as guilty as Tim McVeigh is, and the evidence in the case showed that.

You know one thing that has always bothered me about McVeigh and Nichols. If you feel strongly enough about committing a crime of this magnitude should you not stand up and say why you did it? Take responsibility for what you did? Say “I did this, because of this.” Have they done that? Not at all.

Michelle McKee: Do you think Terry Nichols is a coward?

Jon Hersley: Absolutely, Terry Nichols is a coward. Absolutely!
“Daina Bradley’s leg was caught between the basement floor and a slab of the collapsed floor above. For hours she had laid in six inches of water and was in shock. Dr. [Andy] Sullivan removed the hard hat he had been given and crawled on his stomach until he reached the patient. A light bulb rigged by the rescue workers provided a small glimpse of light.”

“He had to make quick decisions. A rescue harness was hooked to her body so she could be pulled immediately from the rubble after he amputated her leg.

The doctor was afraid to administer Demerol or Morphine in fear that the medicine would kill Daina. Instead, he gave her Versed, an amnesic that would help her forget what was about to happen. He prayed Daina would not bleed to death and die in his arms as he performed the crude surgery.

With the tourniquet tightened, Dr. Sullivan told Daina what he was about to do. At first she said no, but then relented, recognizing that loosing a leg was better than loosing her life.

Dr. Sullivan began his work. The first, second, and third scalpel blades broke as Daina screamed and thrashed about with her free arms and leg. The doctor used his body to pin her leg against the concrete wall and switched to an amputation knife. Hitting against the concrete dulled the knife, so Dr. Sullivan had to complete his horrible task with his pocket knife.

Because of Dr. Sullivan’s heroic effort, Daina survived."
Michelle McKee: Did both men know that there was a daycare inside the Murrah building?

Jon Hersley: Well, you know, that’s speculation. But Michael Fortier said that McVeigh certainly knew. We didn’t have as concrete of evidence that Terry Nichols knew that there was a daycare there. But I believe they both knew it.

Michelle McKee: Did Nichols or McVeigh ever express any remorse for anybody that they killed, even for just the children, the babies that died?

Jon Hersley: No. Not one bit.
“As she rounded the corner from Harvey and looked across Northwest Fifth Street, Helena could see the Murrah Building had been almost completely destroyed. The entire face of the building had blown off. As she ran toward the building, she counted in her mind, “One, two,” trying to imagine where the second floor of the day care center would have been. She began climbing the pile of debris - she desperately needed to be where Tevin would have been.”

“As she moved closer to the plaza area immediately behind the day care center, Helena screamed at two strangers that her baby was inside the building. The men asked her what she meant, and Helena screamed, “There’s a day care center in there, my baby’s in there.”
Michelle McKee: The Turner Diaries were very significant to McVeigh, weren’t they?

Jon Hersley: Absolutely. The Turner Diaries were like his bible. It was a very important book to him and he tried to get many, many people to read that book.

I don’t know if you’ve read the book; it’s absolute garbage, a piece of trash! To me, there is no redeeming quality about that book, at all. It’s racist, it’s biased. I don’t know how he could buy into all of that. I don’t know how anyone could buy into it. I think you have to have a skewed type of foundation to buy into something like that. It’s just bizarre, that book.
“He told his old friend about The Tuner Diaries. It was important to McVeigh, and he pressed Hodge to read the book. He left a copy of the book, along with a letter, for Hodge to read.

The letter stated in part, “Steve, Read the book when you have time to sit down and think. When I read it, I would have to stop at the end of every paragraph and examine the deeper meaning of what I had just read…..It is like you have written a diary during now and (when) a “revolution” took place in about 3 years; you keeping a diary the whole time. Then in 10 years or so, or even a thousand, an "archeologist” discovers your diary…..I am not giving you the book to convert you. I do, however, want you to understand the “other side” and view the pure literal genius of this piece. Again this is accomplished by not just simply reading this, but in analyzing every sentence you’ve read. Think “what made the author write that paragraph”, or “what deeper meaning is he trying to convey”, or “How, by wording it like that, is he trying to subliminally influence someone’s thinking”. If you look at it like that, it is a masterpiece.”
Michelle McKee: Was McVeigh’s hatred for the government fueled by his failure in the military?

Jon Hersley: McVeigh had a lot of anti-government hatred built up for years, before he went into the military.

Before he went into the military he was upset and very, very angry with the government over gun control. He had even written a letter to the newspapers up in the Buffalo area about gun control rights, saying something like “what does this have to come to? That blood might have to be spilled in the streets about this?”

He completed his military career and tried out for Special Forces. But he was unable to compete in the physical arenas that Special Forces competed in and he voluntarily dropped out, after he had tried to do a five-mile walk with a rucksack on his back and found it to be too difficult.

Michelle McKee: What was the true motive for the bombing? Was it really retribution for Waco?

Jon Hersley: Yes, Waco had a lot to do with it. I think McVeigh, in his own warped mind, felt like he was avenging what had happened there.

He also, in my estimation, had not accomplished what he wanted to accomplish in his life. He was seeking relevance in life because he had none. So, I think in his own twisted mind, Waco gave him the excuse he wanted to try and make something of himself.
“It was no small coincidence that the book, Homemade C-4, ordered and shipped to McVeigh in May 1993, detailed the mixture of ammonium nitrate fertilizer with nitromethane and/or anhydrous hydrazine to complete a powerful explosive material. FBI explosives experts were certain the bomb that was exploded in front of the Murrah Building on April 19, 1995, was an ammonium nitrate based bomb.”

“Agent Hersley and other Agents assigned to the investigation took full note of the fact that Homemade C-4 was ordered and delivered to McVeigh approximately one month after the fire on April 19, 1993 at David Koresh’s compound in Waco, Texas.”
Michelle McKee: What do you think it was about McVeigh that enabled him to commit such a heinous act?

Jon Hersley: McVeigh was a loner and I think in order to be able to do something like this you have to be capable of disassociating, because of all of the human lives you are going to take. I think it was easy for McVeigh to - retreat from society, if you will.

I think McVeigh was unique in this way; he never really had a meaningful relationship with a person of the opposite sex. He had no meaningful relationships in his life at all. And he had no real relationship with his mother. He referred to his mom in extremely derogatory terms, and his sister as well, he also referred to her in derogatory terms. His mom and his dad divorced when he was pretty young, and I don’t think he ever forgave his mom for that.

So I do think the fact that McVeigh had no real relationships in his life enabled him to distance himself from society. That’s no excuse or justification for what he did, but all of those things contributed to who McVeigh was.

Michelle McKee: Have you ever spoken with McVeigh’s family, and if so have they ever expressed their own remorse for Tim’s actions?

Jon Hersley: That is one tragedy that probably some people don’t focus on in this case. What this did to Bill McVeigh, Tim’s father.

I spoke with Bill McVeigh. He came out and talked with us after Tim was arrested. He wanted to go out and visit his son, and I was hopeful that maybe by Bill McVeigh talking to Tim he could convince him that he should do the right thing and tell what happened.

When I first spoke with Bill McVeigh he was like a shell of a man. There was nobody inside. It was like someone had ripped his insides completely out and left him hollow. It was like a tornado had hit him. This absolutely tore him to pieces. I don’t expect he’ll ever recover from this, and I think he was really a pretty good guy. He didn’t have animosity like Tim did towards the government. That wasn’t part of Bill McVeigh’s make-up.

Michelle McKee: What about his sister, Jennifer? Did you ever speak with her, and if so did she ever express remorse for her brother’s actions?

Jon Hersley: Jennifer McVeigh was a little bit different. She had bought into some of Tim’s anti-government sentiment and had a lot of that built up inside her.

I spent a lot of time with Jennifer because we knew that Jennifer was going to be a pretty important witness. And she was. She didn’t like it, but she really didn’t have much choice.

She told me that she thought McVeigh was going to do something on that day, and that it might include killing someone. But she had no idea he was going to blow-up a building full of people. She was in a complete state of shock while we were talking to her. She was shocked that her brother could do such a thing. She did cry, and I remember telling her that it was okay to cry.

Michelle McKee: What was it that you were hoping McVeigh would tell you that you didn’t discover in the investigation?

Jon Hersley: Well, as any investigator would like, you’d like the main culprit to sit down and tell you everything. I didn’t feel like we needed him to put our case together. We were already well on our way to putting our case together by the time we arrested him. But any investigator that is heading up a case like this would love to sit down with the main culprit and go start to finish with them.

We are very confident that we know who was involved in this, and that those people have been brought to justice. Someone might say, well, did McVeigh tell you that there was no one else involved? I am very, very confident that there were no other people involved. In fact, I’m 100% confident that I know who was involved in this, who plotted and planned the bombing, who carried it out, and that those people have been brought to justice. I don’t know that I would be any more confident in our investigation if McVeigh told me himself that we had all of the participants than I am right now.

Some people might say that Michael Fortier didn’t spend enough time in prison, and I’d be one of those. But that’s what the laws of our society are, and those did not enable us to get Michael Fortier sentenced to any more time than he got. I don’t disagree with those laws, but I don’t necessarily think that they’re set up for a case like this. Michael Fortier received twelve years. I’d like to see Michael Fortier spend the rest of his life in prison.

Michelle McKee: What about people on the sidelines in this tragedy? Those individuals that others may not necessarily perceive as victims, but who are victims of the bombing none the less?

Jon Hersley: There are all kinds of victims in this.

Eldon Elliot, he was a victim. He started crying one day when we were interviewing him. I asked him what was wrong. He said, “Jon, I know I rented the truck to this guy.” I told him, “Eldon, I’m a law enforcement officer in Oklahoma City and maybe I should have been up on I-35 when McVeigh was coming into the city and stopped him. This is not your fault. You had no idea what he was going to do with that truck.”

The guy who sold the fertilizer to McVeigh felt awful, just awful. But he couldn’t have done anything. He didn’t know what McVeigh was planning to do with it.

There are all kinds of victims in this. There are people who were involved in the investigation that were taken away from their families for three years and others who weren’t involved in the investigation and feel badly because they weren’t. It’s like people who are involved in these mass shootings. They feel guilty because they survived. There are all kinds of things like that.

Michelle McKee: Are you still in contact with the victim families? If so, how are they doing?

Jon Hersley: They are doing much as you might expect. Most of them are doing really well. Some of them have had trouble letting go, and I say letting go carefully because they never really let go. I’d say rather than letting go, some of them have had more difficulty than others living the new life they’ve been so unfairly dealt.

Michelle McKee: What do you think the public should take away from Oklahoma City?

Jon Hersley: Oklahoma City was a domestic crime committed by our own people, for all the wrong reasons.

What can we take away from this horrible tragedy, and learn from it? It’s certainly not what McVeigh wanted us to learn from it, to feel his sense of anger. I don’t think we should feel that. I think we should feel love and kindness and what these people meant to the world.

If anything, we need to take away from it that we don’t want people to feel isolated in the world, to feel full of anger and hatred and loneliness with no sense of relevance.

You know, with as much animosity as I have for McVeigh, I can only imagine what his life was like. Can you imagine getting to the point where you are so full of hatred, and anger and loneliness that you could do something like this? Blow up a building full of innocent people?

Michelle McKee: There is a common perception that the FBI doesn’t get on well with other law enforcement agencies. How true was that in this case?

Jon Hersley: Well, I know exactly what you are talking about. Sometimes the FBI has been accused of not working well with other agencies, being prima donnas and not sharing information back and forth. I’ve never experienced that myself, though. I always try to treat those agencies and officers the way that I’d like to be treated, and I’ve found that once we all start working together it always seems to work just fine. It’s just a matter of treating people with respect and courtesy, like you’d want to be treated yourself. But I do know what you’re talking about.

In this case, with the magnitude of this tragedy, all of the agencies and the public worked very closely, and extremely well together. Any little side issues that people may have had before the tragedy were put aside. It really was a thing of beauty to watch, and be a part of, something positive arising from this terrible tragedy.

The citizens of Oklahoma City were really wonderful and they really came together to try and do the best that they could to help. For example: when we got our command post set up we would get food deliveries in there for the first several weeks, and it was more than we could ever possibly eat. We would be working eighteen to twenty hours a day, and we really didn’t have time to go out and get lunch or dinner so people were bringing food to us. I remember telling everyone “we have to be really careful what we ask for here, in the way of supplies and everything else, because we might end up getting a truckload of it!”
“Though scores of buildings were damaged, there was no looting. When rescue workers and firefighters asked for something, they got everything. By the box – by the truckload – there was no limit to the love.
Jon Hersley: I do think though, that the FBI, the way we are set-up, is the only law enforcement organization in our country that could do a case like this. And that’s not meant to be braggadocios or arrogance or anything, it’s simply a fact that we are the only organization that is set-up in that fashion. We had leads covered in virtually every state in the United States while this case was going on.
“A rescue and recovery operation involving thousands, for weeks, around the clock, in rain and wind and under the white of lights on cranes, conducted simultaneously with the investigation of the largest criminal case in the history of the United States. Firefighters, police officers, emergency service personnel, construction workers, all feverishly picking the building apart with their hearts, hands, and five-gallon buckets.”
Michelle McKee: Is it true that witness recollections are notoriously inaccurate?

Jon Hersley: Not necessarily witness recollections, but witness identifications you have to be really careful with. I think eye-witness sightings may be what you mean. With eye-witness sightings, unless there’s some other significant event that happened along with it, I would say to law enforcement that they have to be very careful on eye-witness sightings.

When you’re conducting a business transaction with somebody it’s much easier to remember them. And it’s much more reliable than if you just pass somebody on the street or you see something happen very quickly, that’s when you really have to be careful.

For me to consider them to be reliable there would need to be some other event that took place with it. If the victim was assaulted, you’re going to have a better chance of remembering the person. Even though it’s a real traumatic event, and sometimes that impacts your ability to remember.

What I’m saying is that if there’s some reason for you to focus on the person, it’s easier to remember them.

For example; When McVeigh came into Elliot’s Body Shop for the first time on Saturday morning. Well, it was only him and Eldon Elliot that were in there together, and they were less than two feet apart when McVeigh was reserving the Ryder truck. Then Eldon Elliott got a chance to see McVeigh again when he came in on Monday afternoon. I bring up Eldon Elliot because Eldon had a reason he could remember McVeigh, and it was because he waited on McVeigh, signed the paperwork with him and talked with him.

Another example would be if I were to say to you that you’ve probably stayed at hotels in the last five years, other than the manager or someone working at the hotels, would you really remember any of the other guests staying next door to you, or that you might have passed?

McVeigh and Nichols stayed at different hotels and any time that that they stayed at hotels we would go and get the reservation cards and find out if the managers or the hotel office people knew anything about either of them. But to expect any of the guests that stayed there to remember McVeigh or Nichols, remember whether they were actually there or if somebody was with them, is really asking those individuals to stretch their mind too far.

Michelle McKee: Wasn’t there someone who came forward who stated that they had witnessed some men, that they believed to be of Middle Eastern decent, in the area just before the explosion?

Jon Hersley: There was a homeless man in downtown Oklahoma City on the morning of the bombing that said he saw two Middle Eastern people running across the street, jumping into a brown pick-up and hurrying away from the bombing.

Then he said they went west on Fifth Street, and turned north on Harvey Avenue. Well, those are both one way streets, and they go in the opposite directions of where he said he saw these two people go. He was interviewed the next day and he couldn’t keep his directions straight as to which direction they had gone.

He also provided really elaborate descriptions of those two people. You have to ask yourself “why was he so focused on those two people?” Nothing had happened, yet. The bomb had not gone off. There was no reason for him to sit there and analyze everything about these two guys and what they were wearing.

We conducted all kinds of investigations and follow-ups to people calling the hotline reporting brown pick-up trucks that were being spotted all over Oklahoma City, many at the same time.

As the investigation continued we were able to determine that the information just wasn’t accurate. There weren’t two people running across Fifth Avenue, Middle Eastern or otherwise, that the homeless person’s information was not at all reliable.

Michelle McKee: Jon, is there any Middle East connection to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City?

Jon Hersley: Absolutely not. There is absolutely no Middle Eastern connection to the Oklahoma City bombing at all, and I am 100% confident in that.

Michelle McKee: Is there specific criteria for the FBI to come into an investigation? Do you have to be invited in or are there specific types of crimes that fall within FBI jurisdiction?

Jon Hersley: It’s both of those, really. Mainly it comes down to whether Congress has enacted legislation and laws that give us the jurisdiction over those crimes.

There are specific types of crimes that the FBI has jurisdiction over, the Oklahoma City bombing was one. We don’t have to be asked by anybody to come into an investigation like that.

Certain types of crimes we do have to be invited in. There is some where we have to be asked by other state or local law enforcement agencies to lend assistance, and we will do that. Crimes that are not in our country; sometimes in terrorism crimes we are invited to come into other countries with crime scene investigations and things of that nature. Kidnappings in the United States; there has to be indications that the victim, or victims, have been transported across state lines before the FBI can be involved in it. Most of the crimes that the FBI investigates they have jurisdiction over, and they don’t have to be invited.

Michelle McKee: If you were to give others in law enforcement any advice in conducting an investigation of this magnitude what would it be?

Jon Hersley: If I was to be asked what to tell an investigator heading up a case like this I would say to keep an open mind and cover every base, look under every rock. It’s very important that an investigator keep an open mind when they go through a case like this, because you don’t want to miss anything. You don’t want to miss one single thing - and we didn’t.

You learn that you can’t do everything in an investigation yourself. You have to depend on other people, and we literally had thousands of people across the country helping us in this case. I remember thinking to myself, “My gosh, I can pick up the phone and call anywhere in the United States and ask that ‘this’ be done, or that ‘this’ be checked out and any law enforcement officer across the country would not only say, “We will help you”, but “We will help you right now. We will do it right now.” That was pretty nice to be able to do that, it gave us a sense of confidence.

And I think you need to have people with some experience. That’s one of the things that I felt that Larry Tongate and I had in this investigation. We had a tremendous amount of trial experience and courtroom experience, and that helped us a lot.

Michelle McKee: What do you think is, or was, the biggest public misconception in this case and of the FBI’s investigation

Jon Hersley: Well, there were all kinds of conspiracy theories out there. Were there more people involved, did the FBI rush to judgment, were there people involved that we didn’t investigate early because we had our men and we wanted to prosecute them, was the government actually involved in some type of a cover-up, and was there actually a sting that had gone wrong?

You know, it’s really offensive to me that people with really no foundation or base whatsoever would accuse the government of being involved in the bombing, or say that it was some type of sting that had gone wrong and the government was trying to cover it up. That’s really pretty asinine and ludicrous. It’s absolutely unfounded, there is no basis for it whatsoever, and it is really, really offensive.

Having known people and had friends that were killed in that bombing, there is no way I would have ever rested if I would have thought anything like that had happened. If there had been anything pointing to someone else having been involved I certainly would have wanted to know that! And, in the position that Larry Tongate and I were in, in the bombing investigation, if there was ever even a hint about any of this we would have known about it, and that absolutely did not happen.

Michelle McKee: Did McVeigh belong to a militia?

Jon Hersley: No. That’s a misnomer. No, he was not a militia member.

You know, that’s one of the things that I almost would like to get out to people. I’m not signing up for militias, but you know, they’re not like this. They’re not like McVeigh. They don’t do that. They don’t like this. They don’t want to be associated with this crime. Again, I’m not signing up for militias, but you know, most of these militia people are not really bad people. They’re not like this. They don’t act out like this and take people’s lives just because they might disagree with certain things.

Michelle McKee: In your career with the FBI have you ever been told not to investigate a tip associated with a case, regardless of how ridiculous the tip sounds?

Jon Hersley: No, absolutely not.

Michelle McKee: Were you ever asked not to investigate any tip associated with the Oklahoma City bombing case?

Jon Hersley: There was not ever any hint at any time, and we were never told not to look at any tip coming in to this case. Nor were we ever told, or even hinted at, that we shouldn’t look at anything we wanted to in this investigation. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. We were encouraged to look at absolutely everything, and we did that.

Contrary to some of the conspiracy theorists belief that the FBI rushed to judgment, I would say exactly the opposite occurred. In fact, it turned out that we may have over investigated this case at times. But in retrospect I’m glad we did that, and I feel very confident in our investigation because we did do that.

Michelle McKee: Where you ever told not to investigate Elohim City?

Jon Hersley: I have seen it reported in the news media that the FBI was told to back off of the investigation in Elohim City. There is absolutely no truth to that whatsoever.

Michelle McKee: Was the FBI successful in positively confirming the identity of the individual identified as John Doe #2?

Jon Hersley: Yes. That was Todd Bunting.

McVeigh went into Elliot’s Body Shop and picked up his Ryder truck on Monday afternoon, April the 17th. Michael Hertig and Todd Bunting went in there on Tuesday afternoon, April 18th.

Michael Hertig and Todd Bunting were both soldiers at Fort Riley. Hertig was being transferred to a new duty station and he went into Elliot’s Body Shop to pick up a Ryder truck in conjunction with his move Tuesday afternoon. His buddy, Todd Bunting, drove him over to pickup the Ryder truck and had gone inside with Hertig

Todd Kessinger was a mechanic at Elliot’s Body Shop. He had started going into the office in the afternoon to take his break, because he liked to talk with Vicki Beemer. So he was in there on Monday afternoon eating a bag of popcorn and having a soda pop when McVeigh came in to pick up his truck. He was also in there Tuesday afternoon, doing the same thing, having his break and talking with Vicki Beemer, when Michael Hertig and Todd Bunting came in to pick up their truck. He had started paying attention to Hertig because Vicki Beemer made a comment to Hertig when he pulled out his drivers license that she had been married longer than Hertig had been alive. Kessinger said that when she said that he looked up at Hertig and studied him a little bit, and also saw his partner, Bunting.

Michelle McKee: Did Hertig and McVeigh look similar?

Jon Hersley: Well, if you described them orally they would be similar in their description. They were roughly the same height and weight, and hair color. But they really don’t look a whole lot alike. It’s kind of hard for a guy to say this, but Michael Hertig was a better looking man than McVeigh was. So when you saw them you wouldn’t necessarily confuse them, but if somebody described them to you their description would be pretty similar. They both had the same general hair color, wore it relatively the same length, Hertig’s was a little bit longer than McVeigh’s. And Hertig had a moustache at that time and McVeigh didn’t.

Kessinger did not mistake Hertig for McVeigh in his mind. Kessinger is the one that we did the composite drawings from and Kessinger absolutely described McVeigh as John Doe #1. And he’s been very consistent, and has always been consistent about that. When he saw McVeigh for the first time after McVeigh was arrested he said, “That’s the guy. That’s John Doe #1 right there. That’s who I was describing.” After he saw a series of pictures of Todd Bunting he said “that’s who I was drawing as John Doe #2, right there.” Kessinger had mistakenly taken Bunting, from the Hertig / Bunting episode and put Bunting in with McVeigh. That’s a fairly common thing that happens. There’s a word for that, and I can’t think of it right now, but there have been books written on it. Where you take somebody from one event and replace them in another event mistakenly. That’s what happened there.

Michelle McKee: Who is Danny Coulson, and how does he fit into this investigation?

Jon Hersley: Danny Coulson, is the former FBI SAC [Special Agent in Charge] of the Dallas division, and a guy that I know pretty well.

Danny Coulson was not involved in the Oklahoma City investigation for any real length of time, at all. So he doesn’t know the inner workings of the investigation. But that hasn’t stopped him from speaking about it as if he does.

He had made one comment in the news media that there should be a Grand Jury called to investigate this. That tells me volumes, because there was a Grand Jury that investigated this. For eighteen months. Apparently Danny doesn’t even know that. That’s kind of sad, really.

Unfortunately, Danny handles himself very well when he talks, and he presents himself pretty well on TV.

I’m a little bit upset with Coulson for what he’s done. But he can do what he wants to, I guess. He’s entitled. But when he goes out and makes statements about the bombing investigation on things he knows nothing about, that’s kind of frustrating.

Michelle McKee: So, the public sees his remarks as having credibility, as though he knows what he’s talking about, because he carried those FBI credentials too?

Jon Hersley: Yep. For whatever reason, and I don’t want to speculate on what his reasons are, Danny feels the need to come out and comment on this investigation and he wasn’t even involved in it for very long at all. He really doesn’t know very much about it.

Michelle McKee: How long was Danny Coulson actually involved in the investigation?

Jon Hersley: He worked on the case for about one month.

Michelle McKee: Your wife was brought into one of these conspiracy theories, wasn’t she?

Jon Hersley: Yes. She worked at a department store and there was a woman who worked there whose husband is a conspiracy theorist. He has accused her of knowing about the bombing beforehand. He has claimed that she told his wife about the bombing beforehand, and that is absolutely and blatantly false. There is absolutely no truth to that at all. My wife is one of the most decent people I’ve ever met in my life, and she certainly didn’t have any information like that because there absolutely was no information like that.

It’s upsetting to you as an FBI agent to have somebody accuse your wife of that, but she’s also confident in me, and confident in what our investigation shows.

But, you have all kinds of things like that.

I’ve told my wife, if people ask you questions about the Oklahoma City investigation, or they want to know your feelings about it, feel free to tell them. But don’t try to convince them of anything because they have their own feelings and they need to derive their own thoughts from what happened. You’re not going to convince somebody who doesn’t want to believe it. So, if you want to speak your mind about it, go right ahead. But then give those people the right to feel how they want to feel about it, they’re entitled to that, and you shouldn’t feel badly because they feel differently than you do.

Michelle McKee: If there was one thing that you could say to those individuals who continue to promote conspiracy theories, what would it be?

Jon Hersley: Well, I’d ask them to keep in mind that every time they come up with one of these unfounded conspiracy theories it sends the victim families on an emotional rollercoaster.

Every time one of these conspiracy theories is brought up, and they’re brought up in a way that encourages the victim families to believe that there is somebody else involved, and that not everybody has been brought to justice, it sends these victim families on these tremendous emotional rides. I think that is very unfortunate because they’ve already been through enough. They’ve had their insides completely ripped out. They’ve had their loved ones taken completely away from them for no legitimate reason whatsoever and they want to have some type of closure. Closure, I don’t think is the right word, because they don’t ever really experience closure. They only learn to live their lives in a different way. They now have a different life. I would ask them to maybe consider this a little bit before they start putting out theories to the public that have no basis and no foundation at all.

Imagine having a family member killed in a tragedy like this, and then not knowing for sure whether the people that were responsible for it have been brought to justice. It’s going to completely churn up all of those feelings that you have had to deal with for the last twelve years, and it’s going to be the same thing after twenty years. So I think there needs to be some credibility to these theories when they’re brought up. There needs to be some basis for them. I would only ask these individuals to consider the victim family members feelings when they go off and start promoting these half-cocked theories.

I think the evidence comes out when we are twelve years after the Oklahoma City bombing and none of these theories have proven to have any life whatsoever because there’s no basis for them, there’s no foundation for them, there’s no proof, there’s no facts and there’s no evidence for them. Yet individuals continue to engage in mere speculation.

We’ve had three trials, two federal trials in Denver and a state trial in Oklahoma. McVeigh and Nichols each had upwards of about fifteen attorneys apiece for those trials. Those attorneys did not further these conspiracy theories in those trials because there is nothing to them, and you know if there was any substance or foundation to them they would have. There is no substance, there is no foundation, and there is no evidence. And no conspiracy theorist, investigator, reporter, Congressman, or any other member of the public has come forth with anything credible in the past twelve years that suggests otherwise.

We can’t deal in mere speculation in law enforcement. We have to deal in facts and we have to deal in evidence. That’s what it takes in the courtroom. That’s what you need when you charge someone and you are going to try them in our country. You need to have the law and the facts and the evidence on your side, you can’t engage in speculation and go off on something half-cocked. And that’s what these conspiracy theories are based on, half-cocked speculation with no basis in facts or evidence.

I think if individuals are going to continue to try and push these conspiracy theories on to others when those theories simply have no basis in fact then I think they need to examine what their own agendas are for doing that.

I’ve told people that I now know how the investigators who did the Kennedy assassination felt. Because I’m sure they are very, very confident in their investigation just like I am in ours. Yet there is always going to be people who are going to question that, and that’s their right. I don’t have animosity or ill feelings towards people for that, but I know how those investigators feel now, I think.

I fully encourage anybody to look into our investigation. Congress, conspiracy theorists if they would like, any member of the public. I invite them to look into our investigation because I am 100% confident that we came to the right conclusions and that we know exactly what happened in the Oklahoma City bombing. So people can look at it for the next twenty-five years if they want to, there’s not going to be any change in the outcome because we know what happened.

There was a Congressman from California that investigated the FBI’s investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing, and put different theories out there. The Congressman has not found anything that the FBI did not find in the course of their investigation.

I’m going to say this very carefully, because I would never have any ill feelings toward any member of Congress who wanted to look into our investigation. I think that is one of the duties Congress has in their position. They should do that. But I think they also need to be careful in what they put out to the public, and make sure that what they are putting out is accurate. When they conduct investigations into things like the Oklahoma City bombing then at the end of that investigation they need to be very forthright with the American public about what they did or did not find. I think Congressmen, conspiracy theorists, any member of the public, if they’re going to look into this investigation should have the responsibility, after the fact, to report back to the American people what they did or did not find.
The FBI concluded that two men, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, planned and carried out the making of the bomb, and McVeigh delivered it to it’s destination outside of the Alfred P. Murrah Building on the morning of April 19, 1995.

Many people have wondered if anyone else accompanied McVeigh to pick up the bomb truck at Elliott’s and deliver the truck in front of the Murrah Building on the morning of the bombing. The answer might lie in the fact no one else was needed.”

“With a crime as horrific as the Oklahoma City bombing, it is natural to assume that many suspects had to have been involved. However, the reality is that one man alone could have carried out the crime. Two men were more than enough. Other than uncorroborated and unsubstantiated eyewitness testimony, no credible evidence existed that anyone other than McVeigh and Nichols were involved.”

“McVeigh and Nichols, through the literature they possessed and the conversations between themselves and Michael Fortier, as well is others, tried to project themselves as patriots and heroes. They were neither.

They attempted to compare themselves with the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, men of honor. McVeigh and Nichols were neither.”

“Their actions are the actions of cowards. Hopefully, our great country and the world will remember them as such.

When all is considered, the simple truth is that Timothy James McVeigh and Terry Lynn Nichols tried to satisfy their hatred for the United States government by killing innocent men, women, and children in the heartland of America. May their
dastardly and cowardly deed never be repeated – nor forgotten.”
Michelle McKee: What do you think the public should know, overall, about the men and women in FBI?

Jon Hersley: That’s a broad question, but I’d say that there’s a bunch of really good people in the FBI. The people in the FBI are great people, they’re wonderful people, family oriented people – tremendously so! They try to do the very best they can and they want every bit as much as any member of the public to solve crimes that have been committed. They will spend hours, and hours, and hours to make sure that they’ve investigated the crime thoroughly, and that the right people are brought to justice.

I think the public, at times, may view the FBI as just being this big entity that moves forward without regard to feelings. They forget that there are actual people inside the FBI who are conducting these investigations who have families and friends just like they do. We are exactly like they are.

The FBI, sometimes, contributes to this public conception because they often times will take the position that they have no comment when the news media asks them questions. Well, that can be perceived negatively by the news media, and I think often times it is. And when that’s reported to the public it’s perceived negatively, when in fact a lot of times the FBI cannot comment publicly on an investigation for privacy ramifications and rules. That’s kind of just a product of what happens.

Just ask the public to consider that we have faces, we have families, and we have hearts. People and conspiracy theorists want to hurl stones and daggers at us like we’re not people. That we’re somehow this FBI entity, not a family, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I would say that if the public actually knew the FBI investigators that are conducting the investigation they’d feel much differently and have much more confidence in the investigations that are being conducted and they’d realize that FBI Agents are human beings like everybody else and they want what’s right, and they want what’s just, and they want to conduct the very best investigation that they can. They’re also human and from time to time some mistakes are made, and we try to learn from those.

Michelle McKee: How do you feel about the portrayal of FBI agents on television?

Jon Hersley: I don’t watch those shows, personally. I don’t have much interest in watching shows about law enforcement. But I would have to say that these shows probably give the public a misconception of what actually happens in criminal investigations because most of the FBI shows you will see solve major crimes in an hour, hour and a half. In reality it’s far from that. It takes long hours and you spend a great deal of time away from your family. Just like in the Oklahoma City investigation. Basically, we were away from our family for the better part of three years doing that investigation. So, the public probably doesn’t really get a good feel of things like that or the commitment level it takes.

Michelle McKee: What makes a good FBI agent?

Jon Hersley: A good person. A good person, with a lot of perseverance, who is willing to work really long, hard hours, has unquestioned integrity, and is just a really good person inside. And probably being a really good family person helps out too.

Michelle McKee: How did you and Larry Tongate come to write this book?

Jon Hersley: I had pretty much decided that I wasn’t going to write one. I really wasn’t sure that it was an appropriate thing to do.

But, there were two gentlemen that I admired and respected a great deal. Two federal judges in Oklahoma, who I had, had many cases before in the courtroom. They believed a book on the bombing investigation needed to be written for the sake of history. They believed that in order to set the record straight on the facts of the investigation, there was a responsibility to the American people to write one. And, that with the position that I had held within the investigation, the obligation to set the record straight was mine. I still wasn’t sure that I wanted to write a book, but I had a tremendous amount of respect for these two men, and what they said got me thinking. There had been other books written and they simply were not accurate. McVeigh had a couple of news reporters interview him and they had done a book. Maybe the judges were right, and maybe from the standpoint of history, it was something that needed to be done.

So I called Larry Tongate, Larry was the Lead Case Agent on the Nichols side of the investigation, and said, “This is kind of what’s going on, what do you think?” We talked about it, and we thought, well, maybe from the standpoint of history, and given the fact that we were the closest to this investigation we know intimately more than anybody else does. So maybe we did have an obligation to do something like this.

We agreed that if we did write a book it would have to be non-profit. We didn’t want to capitalize or profit off of the bombing or the bombing investigation. I would never want the victim families to construe me as a profiteer, making money off of their tragedy. I couldn’t look at myself if I did that. Let alone what they might think about it.

This book is not like a novel that you sit and read, you know. You could write a whole book on the inner-workings of the investigation and the command post and all the personalities – I would never embark down that road. We tried to write this from a standpoint that the reader could understand how the investigation went from the inside out, like we did.

The most important thing that we had in our mind was that we wanted the victim family members, if they wanted the very best accounting of what happened in the investigation, that they would have a place to go get it. We wanted to give the victim family members an inside out look at the investigation, if they want to look at it; and be able to comfort themselves knowing that the investigation was done in a way that they could be confident in. That’s really why we wrote the book.

One of the Daily Oklahoman news reporters told me after he read the book, “Jon, this is a book that will have the same meaning forty years from now.” I liked that comment. That was one of the things we were trying to accomplish.

Some people would say that we could have talked more about the conspiracy theories. But myself, I feel like if we had done that we would give them more credibility and we wanted to get the truth out there.

Michelle McKee: Who is Bob Burke?

Jon Hersley: Bob Burke is an author and an attorney in Oklahoma City who has written about fifty books on Oklahoma history, all non-profit. He was instrumental in helping Larry and I put this book together, and in getting it published. In fact, Bob contributed about twenty-five thousand dollars of his own money as a donation to the Oklahoma Heritage Association for the purpose of getting this book produced.

Michelle McKee: Did the FBI have any control over the content of the book?

Jon Hersley: We did not consult with them when we wrote the book. We wrote it, and then we took the manuscript and sent it to them for their approval. As an FBI agent you have to submit it to them first for their approval and then they vet it.

Michelle McKee: Did the FBI request, or require you to make any changes, omit anything, delete anything, or include anything that hadn’t already been included?

Jon Hersley: They did not ask us to change one thing. Not one thing. They signed off on it without making one single change.

Michelle McKee: Was there anybody who said that you shouldn’t write the book, or don’t write the book?

Jon Hersley: No, no one.

Michelle McKee: How did the McVeigh and Nichols families feel about it?

Jon Hersley: I don’t know, we didn’t converse with them. We didn’t write the book from the vantage point of McVeigh and Nichols. So, it wasn’t meant to be something that would be understood or placated or reviewed by the McVeigh and Nichols families. It really wasn’t written with them in mind.

McVeigh had already, pretty much, had the chance to tell his side of the story in a book. I wanted to tell the victim families what really happened, and how we figured this all out.

Michelle McKee: Was there anything that you decided not to include in the book, for whatever reason, that in hindsight you wish you had included?

Jon Hersley: No. There’s not anything in retrospect that we would have put in the book that we didn’t. We got in there what we wanted, and I think if a reader sits down and reads it with an open mind it will be difficult for them to come away without having a better sense of confidence in the investigation. That’s what we wanted to accomplish and I think we did.

Michelle McKee: Where do the proceeds from the sale of the book go?

Jon Hersley: The proceeds go to the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial and the Oklahoma Heritage Association, which is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to preserving Oklahoma history. The Oklahoma Heritage Association owns the rights to the book, and they funded it.

Michelle McKee: What final thought would you like readers to leave with?

Jon Hersley: I think crimes that are committed like Oklahoma City get their origin from hatred, anger, animosity, and the lack of love and kindness in the world. I think the more that we can realize that as a people, then the more we can do to keep people from feeling so isolated and lonely. I think that the more we can promote love and kindness and friendship in the world the better chance we have of keeping crimes of this magnitude from being repeated. We also have an obligation to protect ourselves.

I think that when you see these crimes in the high schools, shootings at McDonald’s and things of that nature it’s because people are becoming isolated from society and they feel like they’re alone. Hatred and animosity starts growing in them because of their perceptions about the way they’ve been treated by society. Many times, probably most of the time those are misperceptions. But those misperceptions are still those people’s belief of how they’ve been treated.

Treat people like you would like to be treated yourself, let people know that they are loved and we’ll be fine in this society. I think that would go a long way. I’m not going to say that it’s going to put a stop to all crimes, that would be ridiculous, but I hope that the older that we get as a country we will realize more and more that it IS important how we treat each other.

I really do believe these things. If we treat people like we want to be treated I think the world would be a better place. I’m not always able to follow that, but my mother tried to instill that in me. And if I could be half the person my mother was by the time I die I think I’d be a pretty good person.

Simple Truths, written by Jon Hersley, Larry Tongate and Bob Burke, can be found at Barnes & Nobel, Amazon and through the Oklahoma Heritage Association.

“Warning: Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy May Cause Your Baby to Serve Hard Time in Prison"


This potential warning label is not far fetched. The direct link between Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and crime is no longer a matter of scientific dispute.

Children afflicted with full-blown FAS display both physical and mental characteristics. Those with partial FAS may not have the physical abnormalities, but they display the same behavioral and psychological problems.

The effect of alcohol on the fetal brain is such that this region does not develop sufficiently to allow the FAS individual to appropriately control his or her actions. As such, FAS patients tend to be impulsive, uninhibited, and fearless. They often display poor judgment and are easily distracted. Difficulties in perceiving social cues and a lack of sensitivity often cause interpersonal problems. FAS patients have difficulties linking events with their resulting consequences. These consequences include both the physical, e.g. getting burned by a hot stove, and the punitive, e.g. being sent to jail for committing a crime. Because of this, it is difficult for these individuals to learn from their mistakes.

Lacking sufficient cognizance of the threat or fear of consequences, the FAS patient is less likely to control his or her impulsive behavior. Similarly, FAS individuals have trouble comprehending that their behavior can affect others. As such, they are unlikely to show true remorse or to take responsibility for their actions. These are the very attributes that can lead to crime, "They are very impulsive and do things that are not well thought out, and they get into significant difficulty from that. The malicious intent is seldom there. I find they're exploited by more talented criminals to do some of the running, if you like, and they're more likely to get caught."

As many as half the young offenders appearing in court may be there because their mothers drank during pregnancy, says Royal University Hospital psychologist Josephine Nanson. Her assessment has tremendous implications for how the criminal justice system handles youth in custody, says University of Saskatchewan law professor Tim Quigley. "It's analogous to the mental disorder defense, in the sense that we've said that people who are affected should not be punished in the usual criminal justice sense," he said. "Are these victims just as much affected by something over which they have no control, and are they deserving of punishment?"

Legal Aid Commission lawyer Kearney Healy says Nanson's suggestion strikes to the basic principles of criminal justice. "The criminal justice system is based on the premise that people understand there are rules, why they have to be obeyed, and if they aren't obeyed then society has the right to come up with any number of options," he said. “All of those things are irrelevant to these kids. It's got nothing to do with good or bad - they just don't see it the same way. Planning, organizing and learning from past mistakes are not in their repertoire. They are egocentric, impulsive and very concrete in their thinking. Typically they do not make connections between cause and effect, anticipate consequences or take the perspective of another person."

"There are an increasing number of cases reaching the courts because we've been diagnosing this for about 20 years. Those individuals are now in adolescence and adulthood, and at a prime age for when they're going to be involved in the court system," she said.

"It presents tremendous challenges, and I'm not sure the courts always understand." commented Professor Habbick, noted researcher. "Given the strict diagnostic criteria used in the study, you're only looking at the tip of the iceberg. For every full case of fetal alcohol syndrome, there are four out there with the partial effects."

"All too often, I find there are children who aren't able to moderate their behavior in even the most obvious ways, even when there are strong rewards," said Healy. "Instead, they are doing things that are going to cause them a great amount of personal pain, for no gain. When I see them, I've got to think there's something going on there."

Shirley LeClaire of Social Services' Family Service Bureau says "there's been a longstanding history in our community of not giving this the attention it needs. It's one of the areas where there's not a lot of attention paid, especially fetal alcohol effects, because you don't have the physical attributes," she said.

"The whole area of FAS and fetal alcohol effects is significant because the way that our system is set up to deal with kids is obviously not going to work for them."

One of the ironies is that children with FAS often make model prisoners, Nanson said. "In terms of the justice system handling individuals with this, one of the things they fail to understand is that FAS people do very well in structured environments," she said. "Often people are fooled in the early stages of treatment into thinking somebody is doing really well, not realizing that they're doing really well because all the opportunities for them not to do well are taken care of in a structured program.. There is a point where the individual with FAS falls apart again."

Being crazy isn’t against the law, but murder is a capitol offense. When the one accused of murder is mentally ill, a variety of factors immediately come into play.

“Popular misconceptions about mental illness are partially responsible for the railroading of mentally ill persons through the criminal justice system,” states Jeff Reynolds. “From arrest to the determination of competency to stand trial and beyond, a person's mental illness affects every stage of passage through the criminal justice system.”

“Behavior associated with mental illness is often perceived as bizarre and suspicious,” insists private investigator Fred Wolfson, “thus drawing police attention, even if the person has not committed a crime. Untrained to recognize and handle mental illness, arresting officers and other staff inappropriately assume the arrestee understands such things as their Miranda rights. Mentally ill people are more likely to give a false confession, especially if they are delusional.”

The concept of culpability is an important aspect of who is sentenced to death. Culpability signifies qualities such as consciousness, reason, and responsibility. It is precisely these qualities that are disabled and distorted by mental illness and therefore a gap exists between a mentally ill offender's behavior and his culpability.

This post was contributed by Burl Barer, an Edgar Award winner, two-time Anthony Award nominee and New York Times best selling author of true crime, mysteries, thrillers, and pop culture. You can find out more about this author and his books by visiting his website at http://www.burlbarer.net, following him on Twitter or joining him on Facebook.

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