HUDSON, Ohio—Were others besides convicted conspirators Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols involved in the infamous Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people three years ago? Yes, tire forensics expert Peter McDonald has concluded after viewing Federal Bureau of Investigation photographs of tire tracks found at two Oklahoma sites where authorities believe the conspiracy took shape.
Additional tire tracks seen in the photos, according to Mr. McDonald, show the presence of vehicles other than those used by the two convicted conspirators in what has been called the deadliest act of terrorism ever committed on U.S. soil.
One of the FBI photos was taken at the Harrington, Okla., storage shed where investigators believe materials for the bomb initially were housed. The other was made at Geary Lake park where authorities say the explosives and detonating device were assembled in the rental truck used to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, April 19, 1995.
Last June, Mr. McVeigh was convicted on 11 counts in connection with the bombing, including murder, conspiracy and the use of a truck bomb.
Mr. Nichols was found quilty in December of conspiracy and eight counts of involuntary manslaughter but was acquitted on charges of first-degree murder and the use of a truck bomb.
That might not have been the case, Mr. McDonald believes, had jurors been shown photographs of the tracks left by Mr. Nichols' pickup at the Harrington site.
Photographic evidence of Mr. Nichols' presence at that site is persuasive, to say the least, he pointed out. For example:
Mr. Nichols' GMC pickup had one tire of a different design from the other three; the position of the odd tire was consistent with the tracks in the FBI photo;
One of the vehicle's tires was mounted backwards, with the Department of Transportation code number showing on the outside—a detail also consistent with that seen in the photo;
A portion near the shoulder of one of the newer tires had untrimmed rubber protruding from its surface—rubber put there by pin vents used during the mold phase of the manufacturing process. That, too, can be seen by examining the photographs, Mr. McDonald said.
In all, it would take a mathematician to calculate the minute probability of finding another set of tire prints having those identical characteristics, he pointed out.
Although he wasn't involved professionally in the Nichols case, Mr. McDonald said he considers it ``a shame all this evidence the FBI had on Nichols wasn't used. It might have helped clarify his involvement in the Harrington shed along with McVeigh, who already had been convicted.''
Mr. McDonald said the FBI photo not only shows Mr. Nichols' GMC pickup was at the Harrington site at the same time as the rental truck used in the bombing, but indicates the presence of at least one other unknown vehicle whose tire tracks differ from those of the McVeigh and Nichols vehicles.
Tracks of vehicles other than those used by the two convicted conspirators also can be seen in the photo taken at the nearby Geary Lake park, noted Mr. McDonald, who has been involved in at least 70 criminal investigations and wrote the book used by law enforcement agencies to identify suspects from tire tracks they leave behind at the crime scene.
The 67-year-old Hudson resident and ex-Firestone tire engineer became involved in the Oklahoma City bombing case after being asked by Mr. McVeigh's lawyers to review the FBI's photographic evidence. Although not called on to testify, Mr. McDonald sat with Mr. McVeigh during the trial and was prepared to take the witness stand if FBI agents had overstated their case.
Mr. McDonald said FBI photos taken at both sites show the tracks of unidentified vehicles overlaying those of the Bridgestone 724 Metro Radials used on the rental truck destroyed in the blast.
In addition to tracks of the retail truck and Mr. Nichols' pickup, the Harrington photo shows the imprint of an all-season passenger radial. The FBI's Geary Lake photo suggests the presence of an unidentified second truck as well as unknown passenger cars, he said.
``If I'd been involved with the prosecution,'' Mr. McDonald said. ``I'd have wanted those tire tracks to be investigated.''
His assertion that other vehicles were present at those sites lends credence to claims in U.S. News & World Report and other publications that witnesses told FBI investigators of seeing as many as four individuals in the company of Mr. McVeigh prior to the bombing.
Did the FBI botch that part of the investigation?
``I can't say they botched it,'' Mr. McDonald said. ``But I've never heard they did anything to follow up. And the defense isn't in a position to do that kind of stuff.''
U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno has stated the FBI is still investigating the case, Mr. McDonald said, ``but by now, the tracks are pretty cold.''