Kenneth Michael Trentadue
Kenneth Michael Trentadue (December 19, 1950 – August 21, 1995) was an American citizen who was found hanged in his cell at FTC Oklahoma during the investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing. His death was ruled a suicide. Trentadue's family maintains that he was murdered by the FBI themselves and that officials at the prison engaged in a cover-up. Oklahoma City's chief medical examiner said of Trentadue that it was "very likely he was murdered". Timothy McVeigh stated that he believed Trentadue was mistaken for Richard Lee Guthrie Jr., a suspected co-conspirator in the bombing who also died in federal custody, allegedly from suicide by hanging.
Kenneth Trentadue was born to a family of coal miners and raised in Number 7, a coal camp located between Cucumber, West Virginia, and Horsepen, Virginia. In 1961, when the coal business was facing hard times, Kenneth moved with his family to Orange County, California. In high school, despite being an accomplished track and field athlete, Kenneth dropped out. He enlisted in the army and soon developed an addiction to heroin. He attempted employment doing factory work and carpentry, but eventually settled robbing banks with a fake gun. He was subsequently caught, and served a prison sentence of several years, being released on parole in 1988, after which he got married and became legitimately employed in construction. On June 19, 1995, his first child, son Vito, was born.
Arrest and death
Kenneth was apprehended on June 10, 1995, nearly two months after the Oklahoma City bombing, while crossing the border from Mexico into California, when police officers ran his driver's license and discovered that he was wanted for violating his parole. On August 18, Trentadue was transferred to the Department of Justice's Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City. Trentadue called his brother, Jesse, from FTC Oklahoma on August 19. Jesse described Kenneth as sounding "chipper" in the call. According to prison records, three days later, at 3:02 a.m., the morning of August 21, 1995, Kenneth was found in his cell suspended from a noose made out of his bed sheets.
Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy and federal officials determined that Trentadue had committed suicide by hanging himself. Officials tried to obtain the permission of Trentadue's family to cremate the body at the government's expense—an unprecedented move—but the family declined, since they found the claims of suicide suspicious. The government then performed an autopsy on Trentadue, but did not notify the family.
When the family received the body from the prison authorities, it was covered in wounds, cuts, and bruises, leading the family to believe Trentadue had been tortured and beaten before his death. Trentadue had sustained three heavy blows to the head, and his throat had been cut; prison authorities claimed the wounds were self-inflicted. The day after Trentadue's death, Kevin Rowland, the chief investigator of the Oklahoma state medical examiner filed a complaint with the FBI reporting irregularities in the investigation of Trentadue's death: the coroner was at first not permitted into the cell where Trentadue had died, and the cell itself was washed out before any investigation could be performed. The complaint went on to state that, although the exact cause of death could not be determined, the claim that Trentadue had committed suicide was not consistent with the medical examiner's findings, and Trentadue appeared to have been tortured. The FBI paperwork from the agent who received the medical examiner's call reads "murder" and "believes that foul play is suspect[ed] in this matter."
A Board of Inquiry was convened by the Bureau of Prisons. The attorney in charge of the investigation was ordered to treat his findings as "attorney work product", a legal distinction that would protect information uncovered in his investigation from any potential lawsuit or Freedom of Information Act inquiries.
Connection to the Oklahoma City bombing
Kenneth's brother Jesse began gathering information on his brother's death, still with no knowledge of a possible connection to the Oklahoma City bombing case. After being contacted by David Hammer, a convicted murderer who had struck up a friendship with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh on death row, and had read about the Trentadue case in the newspapers, Jesse and others ultimately came to believe that Kenneth had been mistakenly identified by authorities as an accomplice in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. It is supposed that Trentadue was interrogated to make him talk, and died during the interrogation. After being shown a picture of Kenneth Trentadue, Timothy McVeigh is reported to have said, "Now I know why Trentadue was killed, because they thought he was Richard Guthrie."
It is contended that Trentadue was mistaken for Richard Lee Guthrie Jr., a member of the Aryan Republican Army, members of which were thought to have associated with McVeigh, and were the subject of FBI investigation. The two men shared a strong physical resemblance – they were the same height, weight, and build, both had thick mustaches, and both had dragon tattoos on their left arm. Both are thought to have resembled the description of "John Doe 2", the never-apprehended possible third conspirator in the bombing along with McVeigh and Terry Nichols. Less than one year after Trentadue's death, Guthrie would also be found dead in his prison cell, the day before he was scheduled to give a television interview. His death was ruled a suicide by hanging.
In 1999, Alden Gillis Baker – an inmate who had been imprisoned in Oklahoma City's Federal Transfer Center at the same time as Trentadue – came forward to volunteer to testify that he had witnessed Trentadue's murder. According to FBI documentation, the authenticity of which is vigorously disputed by the Department of Justice, Baker was even sharing a cell with Trentadue on the night of his death. In December 1999, Baker reported to a lawyer that he feared for his life. In August 2000, he was found dead in his cell. His death was ruled a suicide by the coroner's office. Trentadue family attorneys pointed out that Baker's hanging was "...pretty incredible because he's the only witness who really came forward and said he saw the guards go in there and murder Kenneth."
Trentadue's death was investigated by the FBI, although the agent charged with the task did not view his cell. He did visit the prison itself, but talked with prison employees only – not inmates – and he collected no evidence for the case. For months, there was no movement on the case, but mounting complaints from the state medical examiner caught the ear of the Department of Justice, and in 1996 the DOJ's Civil Rights Division was given jurisdiction over the case. It determined that a federal grand jury ought to be convened, to decide if an indictment should be issued in Trentadue's case. The jury was convened on July 6, 1996.
Medical examiner Fred Jordan remained firm in his refusal to classify the death a suicide. Jordan told the U.S. Attorney's Office that Trentadue had been "abused and tortured", and would even go so far as to say "the federal grand jury is part of a cover-up." To review the case, the Department of Justice consulted forensic pathologist Bill Gormley, of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. Gormley contacted Kevin Rowland, the original chief investigator assigned the case by the Oklahoma state medical examiner. In his memo of the conversation, Rowland wrote that Gormley "was troubled that the Department of Justice only seemed interested in him saying it might be possible these injuries were self-inflicted." According to Rowland, Gormley was becoming increasingly sure that Trentadue was murdered.
I think it's very likely [Trentadue] was murdered. I'm not able to prove it....You see a body covered with blood, removed from the room as Mr. Trentadue was, soaked in blood, covered with bruises, and you try to gain access to the scene, and the government of the United States says no, you can't.... At that point we have no crime scene, so there are still questions about the death of Kenneth Trentadue that will never be answered because of the actions of the U.S. government. Whether those actions were intentional—whether they were incompetence, I don't know.... It was botched. Or, worse, it was planned. --Fred Jordan, medical examiner, television interview
Nevertheless, in August 1997 the grand jury found no evidence of foul play in Trentadue's death. The FBI continued to exert pressure on Fred Jordan to rule the case a suicide. Oklahoma Assistant Attorney General Patrick Crawley contacted an attorney in the Department of Justice on Jordan's behalf, telling him that the FBI and the Bureau of Prisons had "prevented the medical examiner from conducting a thorough and complete investigation into the death, destroyed evidence, and otherwise harassed and harangued Dr. Jordan and his staff." In July 1998, Jordan officially changed the listed cause of death from "unknown" to "suicide". His reversal, he said, had been based largely on the analysis of a handwriting expert of Trentadue's supposed suicide note, even though the expert had not been permitted to see the actual note.
In November 1999, a further investigation – this time by the U.S. Inspector General – released a report on its findings, stating there was no evidence to support the theory that Trentadue had been murdered, or that there had been a cover-up. The report does however note that the FBI and Bureau of Prisons had poorly conducted the investigation, and that four employees of the federal government had "made false statements" under oath in connection to the Trentadue case.
Civil suit and other legal action
The Trentadue family filed a wrongful death suit against the federal government, and were awarded a judgment of $1.1 million for their emotional distress associated with the way the federal government handled the case.
The federal government appealed the $1.1-million-dollar award, and in August 2007 the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit revoked the award and sent the case back to the judge who originally awarded the money. In 2008, after bouncing back and forth twice on appeal, the judge reinstated the award, although the Trentadue family claims Department of Justice attorneys have told them the federal government will never pay, no matter how many judgments the family wins.
In November 2008, Kenneth Trentadue's family offered a $250,000 reward for information leading to a murder conviction in the case of Trentadue's death.
According to one 2008 interview, the federal government did pay a civil settlement, which is the source of the money offered as a reward.
In 2007, Jesse Trentadue requested to conduct videotaped depositions of Terry Nichols and death-row inmate David Paul Hammer on the subject of Kenneth Trentadue's death and on the FBI's possible withholding of documents relating to Kenneth Trentadue, documents that Jesse had requested in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball granted Trentadue's request. After the FBI urged him to reconsider in September 2008, Judge Kimball reaffirmed the decision. The FBI appealed the decision, claiming the two prisoners "clearly have no knowledge regarding FBI procedures in filing and searching for records." In July 2009 the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit overturned Kimball's decision, barring Trentadue from conducting the interviews.
- "Trentadue v. United States (2004)". FindLaw. Retrieved 2012-02-22.
- Ridgeway, James (July–August 2007). "In Search of John Doe No. 2: The Story the Feds Never Told About the Oklahoma City Bombing". Mother Jones. Retrieved 2009-10-19.
- Ridgeway, James (2011-07-21). "Did the FBI Bury Oklahoma City Bombing Evidence?". Mother Jones. Retrieved 2012-02-23.
- The Independent (2004-01-29). "Does one man on death row hold the secret of Oklahoma?". The Independent. Retrieved 2008-12-14.
- Roberts, Paul Craig (2005-05-26). "The FBI, the Torture and Murder of Kenneth Trentadue and Advanced Knowledge of the Oklahoma City Bombing: Uncovering a DOJ Coverup". CounterPunch. Retrieved 2008-12-14.
- Thomas, Judy L. (2006-01-17). "Oklahoma City bombing: New evidence renews conspiracy debate". Kansas City Star. Retrieved 2008-12-14.
- Berger, J. M. (2006-11-05). "Oklahoma City Bombing: Terry Nichols Claims Midwest Bank Robber Link To Timothy McVeigh". INTELWIRE. Retrieved 2008-12-14.
- Witt, Howard (2006-12-10). "To him, Murrah blast isn't solved: Lawyer investigating 1995 Oklahoma City attack says loose ends indicate likelihood of neo-Nazi connections". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2008-12-14.[dead link]
- Boczkiewicz, Robert (2007-08-07). "Legal setback for Utah man whose brother died in Oklahoma prison". Salt Lake Tribune.
- Fattah, Geoffrey (2008-04-05). "Dead inmate's family wins battle, but will feds pay?". Deseret News. Retrieved 2008-12-14.
- Associated Press (2008-11-22). "Dead inmate's family offers reward". KSWO, Lawton, OK. Retrieved 2008-12-14.
- AntiWarRadio.com interview with Jesse Trentadue at http://www.scotthortonshow.com/2008/12/06/antiwar-radio-jesse-trentadue/
- Manson, Pamela (2009-07-02). "Appeals court overturns order allowing deposition of Terry Nichols". Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2009-07-05.