NKU president to discuss his experience prosecuting domestic terrorism

For immediate release…
Monday – Feb. 3, 2014

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. - The Boston Marathon bombing last year reminded America of the risk and reality of terrorism. But the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building on April 19, 1995, remains our national touchstone for the horror of when Americans kill Americans.

Timothy McVeigh, who set off the bomb, and Terry Nichols, who helped build it, would be held accountable for what ‒ until Sept. 11, 2001 ‒ was the deadliest attack on U.S. soil, with 168 people killed and hundreds more injured.

Northern Kentucky University President Geoffrey Mearns, an Assistant U.S. Attorney at the time, was on the team that prosecuted Nichols. After a four-month trial, Nichols was convicted, and he is serving a sentence of life without parole.

“It was an honor to represent the United States in the prosecution of the most deadly act of domestic terrorism in our nation’s history,” Mearns says today of the experience. “Professionally, the case was very challenging, because it was so complex and because there was so much public and media attention. On a personal level, the experience was very memorable. It helped shape who I am today.”

Mearns  is sharing his reflections on that case as part of NKU’s popular Six@Six Lecture Series this month. His talk is titled “Prosecuting Domestic Terrorists: The 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing.” He delivered the talk Feb. 12 at the Mercantile Library in downtown Cincinnati, and will deliver it a second time on Feb. 19 from 2-3:30 p.m. in the Griffin Hall George and Ellen Rieveschl Digitorium.

The free Feb. 19 event is especially for NKU students, faculty, staff, and alumni. All seats have been reserved at this point, but your name can be added to a waiting list (RSVP to neikirkm1@nku.edu).

About President Mearns
Mearns became NKU’s fifth president on Aug. 1, 2012, after serving as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Cleveland State University. Before that, he spent four and a half years as dean and professor of law at CSU’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. He taught complex federal criminal investigations and prosecutions, criminal law, and white-collar crime. He previously taught as an adjunct at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law and New York Law School.

Before his academic career, Mearns was a practicing lawyer for more than 15 years, including serving as a federal prosecutor in the United States Department of Justice. His extensive record of community service includes serving as chair of three federal judicial screening committees and serving as a trustee for several Cleveland nonprofit agencies. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Science Community, which issued a groundbreaking study in 2009.

Mearns earned a bachelor's degree in English from Yale University in 1981 and a juris doctor from the University of Virginia in 1987. After graduating from law school, he clerked for the Hon. Boyce F. Martin, Jr., of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Louisville.

When he was selected for the Nichols prosecution team, Mearns was the First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina in Raleigh. He already had some high-profile experience behind him. As an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, he prosecuted Thomas Gambino of the Mafia’s “Gambino family” and also won the conviction of a juror who voted to acquit John Gotti after he accepted money from the Mafia boss. Some years later, as Mearns transitioned to his academic career, the Associated Press would describe him as a “former racket-busting prosecutor.”

FBI Description of the Oklahoma City Bombing [source: http://www.FBI.gov]:

“On the morning of April 19, 1995, an ex-Army soldier and security guard named Timothy McVeigh parked a rented Ryder truck in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. He was about to commit mass murder.

Inside the vehicle was a powerful bomb made out of a deadly cocktail of agricultural fertilizer, diesel fuel, and other chemicals. McVeigh got out, locked the door, and headed towards his getaway car. He ignited one timed fuse, then another.

At precisely 9:02 a.m., the bomb exploded.

Within moments, the surrounding area looked like a war zone. A third of the building had been reduced to rubble, with many floors flattened like pancakes. Dozens of cars were incinerated and more than 300 nearby buildings were damaged or destroyed.

The human toll was still more devastating: 168 souls lost, including 19 children, with several hundred more injured…

Agents found traces of the chemicals used in the explosion on McVeigh’s clothes and a business card on which McVeigh had suspiciously scribbled, ‘TNT @ $5/stick, need more.’ They learned about McVeigh’s extremist ideologies and his anger over the events at Waco two years earlier. They discovered that a friend of McVeigh’s named Terry Nichols helped build the bomb and that another man – Michael Fortier – was aware of the bomb plot.”

About Six@Six
The Six@Six Lecture Series is sponsored by the NKU Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement, which works to connect the campus and community. Six@Six partners include the Behringer-Crawford Museum in Covington, the Campbell County Public Library, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, the Mercantile Library in downtown Cincinnati, the Carnegie in Covington and the Baker-Hunt Foundation in Covington. Each partner hosts one or more of this season’s 13 lectures. The full season can be viewed online at http://sixatsix.nku.edu. For this lecture, the NKU Salmon P. Chase College of Law and its Center for Excellence in Advocacy also are partners.

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