As an alternate juror in the trial of Timothy McVeigh, Marlene Wichael was subjected to weeks of grisly testimony and horrifying photographs about the Oklahoma City bombing.
But seeing the actual site drove her weeping to her knees."I need to finally see and be in the site, actually standing on the grounds where it happened," Wichael, an elementary school teaching assistant from Thornton, Colo., said Saturday. "To know people lost their lives in that exact same spot."
Wichael was one of 16 jurors and alternate jurors who traveled to Oklahoma City to visit the bomb site and to meet survivors, relatives of victims and rescue workers.
The weekend was filled with emotion as jurors who had studied every detail of the blast finally met the people behind the stories.
At a ceremony near the elm tree that weathered the bombing, Gov. Frank Keating and state Attorney General Drew Edmondson lauded the jurors for professionalism and said they soothed Americans' cynicism about judges and juries.
"And you, ladies and gentlemen, as a result of your willingness to listen to the facts and apply the law to those facts with an open mind and a candid appraisal of those facts, restored our faith and America's faith in the criminal justice system," Keating said as an American flag on the plaza of the former Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building waved in the wind.
Not everyone felt the same way about the trip, which was paid for by a group made up of survivors and family members of victims.
Stephen Jones, who defended McVeigh in his federal trial, said earlier in the week that the visit suggested the trial was not a solemn judicial process, but "an emotional catharsis."
Before going into the still-standing garage at the bombing site, jurors were given long-stemmed red roses and pins in the shape of angels. On the bottom was the date of the bombing.
When they emerged onto the grassy field where the nine-story building once stood, several jurors shielded themselves from the 90-degree heat. Some bent and placed the roses in a line. Others lingered, wiping tears and hugging whomever was nearby.
Then they looked at mementos and notes on the chain-link fence that surrounds the site.
Diane Leonard, a victim coordinator in Edmondson's office whose husband, Don, died in the blast, told the jurors that survivors now realize they were not the only ones affected by the explosion.
"Over the last three years, we have learned that the true list of victims is endless," she said. "It includes you, the jurors and their families."
Jury foreman James Osgood spoke for the group as he did when the verdict was read.
"What first comes to mind is choices," he said. "Over three years ago, there were 168 people that lost their right to choice by someone who had a choice."