In his first interview since he was charged with bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City, Timothy J. McVeigh said he would plead not guilty to the charges.
In the interview, which appears in the current Newsweek magazine, McVeigh said he first heard of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building from the state trooper who arrested him about 90 minutes after the bombing on April 19. The trooper stopped McVeigh on a traffic violation about 60 miles north of Oklahoma City.
When pressed for a reaction to the deaths of 19 children in the bombing, McVeigh told Newsweek that he was "horrified" by the images. "And you know, that was the No. 1 focal point of the media at the time, too, obviously _ the deaths of the children. It's a very tragic thing."
Newsweek said McVeigh would not directly answer when asked if he had bombed the federal building. The magazine quotes him as saying, "The only way we can really answer that is that we are going to plead not guilty."
According to a transcript of the interview, Newsweek pressed McVeigh, saying, "But you've got a chance right now to say "Hell no!' "
McVeigh replied: "We can't do that."
In the interview, McVeigh described an average childhood in Pendleton, N.Y., near Buffalo, playing sports, working in a fast-food restaurant, and being "heavily into computers."
Newsweek reported that McVeigh's handshake was firm and that he looked visitors in the eye when he spoke. "He appeared a little nervous, maybe, but good humored and self-aware," the magazine said. "Normal."
That image was consciously nurtured Sunday by his lawyer, Stephen Jones, with his release to the news media of a soundless videotape and 13 photographs taken last week. In the video, McVeigh is seated at a table with his lawyers in the jail's conference room, smiling and talking, even laughing once. The photographs show him grinning.
"We want to present our client to the public as we believe he really is," Jones told CNN. Jones also released about 40 pages of excerpts from McVeigh's military record.
The Newsweek interview was conducted under rules that effectively allowed McVeigh to say little that was new. Newsweek was told, Jones said Sunday, that McVeigh would not discuss any of the evidence that federal authorities say they have against him. Jones said he instructed McVeigh not to say whether he had committed the bombing.
In the 70-minute interview at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution about 25 miles west of Oklahoma City, McVeigh denied belonging to militia groups or attending meetings of such groups. He also denied reports that he had called himself a "prisoner of war" or refused to state anything but his name, rank and serial number.
McVeigh acknowledged setting off explosions on a farm in Michigan with Terry Nichols, the other man charged with the bombing, but characterized the devices as plastic bottles "that burst because of air pressure," adding, "It was like popping a paper bag."
McVeigh told Newsweek, "I've been through Oklahoma City." But when asked if he went with Michael Fortier, a friend who has said he and McVeigh cased the federal building days before the bombing, McVeigh replied: "I think I'd rather not answer that."