Originally created 03/31/97

Web sites offering vital link to McVeigh trial



DALLAS - Retta Kuehner has a coveted courtroom seat for one week of the Oklahoma City bombing trial in Denver. She also plans to watch some of it on closed-circuit telecasts provided for survivors and families of blast victims in Oklahoma City.

But the 56-year-old Bethany, Okla., grandmother says she will rely most on the World Wide Web to follow the trial of bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh, which opens with jury selection on Monday.

Kuehner, whose daughter Rona Lynn Chafey, 35, was among the 168 people killed in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, said she bought a computer in January and began learning how to use the Internet to track developments in the case. She says she spends two to three hours each day searching out information for a personal archive.

"Finding out everything I can - it's been one of the needs that's in me," she said. "Computers are very expensive, and I live on a limited income, but I just feel that it's worth it for me. It's just been a gold mine."

She is not alone. A number of people directly affected by the blast and others closely following the bombing case say they are relying on the Web for a depth of information otherwise unattainable outside the Denver courtroom.

In some of the federal agencies once housed in the Murrah Building, employees say they have developed informal networks to share information gleaned by Internet-savvy colleagues.

And the amount of information available on the World Wide Web may be unprecedented for a federal criminal trial.

For the first time, Internet users will be able to obtain complete, same-day transcripts of a federal criminal proceeding, said Martin Steinberg, whose Denver software firm PubNETics is helping to produce the documents electronically.

"I think this is going to be unique, absolutely," said Steinberg, whose firm has contracted to sell the electronic transcript service to media outlets, law schools, law firms and other groups. "People have so much access to so much information on this case."

More than a half-dozen special Web sites devoted to the bombing case, most of them operated by national or regional media organizations, already are up and running, and more are expected to come online as the trial gets under way.

"To the extent that the news media can get information out there, especially the television media, you're going to get a 30-second sound bite," said Oklahoma City lawyer Karen Howick, who led a successful bid to get the closed-circuit trial telecasts for survivors and families of bombing victims.

The auditorium for the telecasts contains 325 seats, available by reservation. The Denver courtroom has only 12 guaranteed seats for survivors and victims' relatives, who can vie for a spot through a lottery.

On the Internet, though, Howick said, "you can read everything that happens."

Web sites operated by Court TV, CNN, MSNBC and "The Daily Oklahoman" in Oklahoma City plan to offer free access to daily transcripts of the trial, in addition to news reports and trial analysis. The transcripts will run at least 300 pages each day, and new installments are expected to be posted early each afternoon and evening, according to editors at each of the Web sites.

Court TV already offers an electronic archive of major motions, briefs and other court documents filed in the bombing case.

Sites run by media organizations such as "The Dallas Morning News," the "Rocky Mountain News" and "The Denver Post" include archives of articles on the case as well as daily postings of trial-related coverage.

The Colorado Bar Association plans to post a daily digest of trial developments that will include analysis of legal issues and strategy, critiques of lawyers and witnesses and a glossary of legal terms used in the case, said Buck Dominic, a Denver lawyer organizing the project.

The Web page (www.cobar.org/cbayld/ylokbomb.htm) will be maintained by volunteers from the group's young lawyer division who will attend and report on each day's proceedings, Dominic said.

A group of bombing survivors and relatives of bomb victims, Families & Survivors United, has developed a site devoted to supporting those directly affected by the tragedy. The page also will feature trial reports.

The victims' Web page, which began operation late last year, already includes logistics information and resources available in Denver for families attending the trial, as well as updates on the case, said organization head Marsha Kight.

The group is beginning to post photos, poetry and other mementos from families of bombing victims and will offer commentary on the trial, said Kight, whose daughter, Frankie Merrill, died in the blast.

"If not daily, there'll be a weekly update as far as how the families are feeling, maybe an editorial piece from a family member," she said. "Certainly, as there's something remarkable that happens in the courtroom, it'll be on our trial update page."

Operators of Web sites devoted to the bombing case say it will be hard to gauge interest among Internet users until the trial begins. But most expect a large following.

"It's building gradually," said Craig Matters, editor of the Court TV Law Center Web site. "When the O.J. Simpson case was going on, we saw very little activity on our site related to Oklahoma City. Then when the Simspon case wound down, before we even started paying attention to it, really, on a daily basis, we've had two or three times the daily traffic."

In the Simspon civil trial, the site had at least 1,500 "hits," or user visits, each day for daily trial transcripts, and in Oklahoma City that number could easily go higher, he said.

"There's a large community of people that are much more affected by this case," he said.

"The Daily Oklahoman's" Internet page devoted to the bombing registered about 15,000 visitors daily even before the trial date neared, and has had a 15 percent increase in traffic in recent weeks, said Sue Hale, general manager of "Connect Oklahoma," the newspaper subsidiary that operates the Web site.

The site, which went online last April just before the first anniversary of the bombing, got more than 400,000 hits on its bomb page in its first week of operation, and it could see similar traffic when the trial gets under way, Hale said.

As the bombing trial unfolds, the Internet will offer the kind of detailed information that might finally resolve some of the questions that still trouble survivors and relatives of bombing victims, Kuehner said.

"I lost my child. There were just no answers to the questions I had, and there still aren't answers to many of them, but I'm hoping to learn more with the trial," Kuehner said. "This is something that I can do."