The board for the Oklahoma University Chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) voted on Thursday to hire Attorney Stephen Jones to represent them, and to “protect the integrity” of the chapter and its members, according to KOKH TV (Fox 25) in Oklahoma City.
Jones served as Timothy McVeigh’s lead attorney during the Oklahoma City Bombing trial. The bombing killed 168 people. McVeigh was convicted and sentenced to death for killing eight federal officers. The state of Oklahoma did not file charges for the remaining 160 murders since McVeigh had already received a death sentence on the federal charges.
As of Friday morning, Attorney Stephen Jones had not outlined what specific action the fraternity chapter intended to take against Oklahoma University, but he was reviewing paperwork.
Interestingly, Jones challenged OU President David Boren in a U.S. Senate race in 1990. In that contest, Boren, who was the incumbent Democratic Senator, trounced Stephen Jones, running as the Republican candidate, by a crushing 83.2 to 16.8 percent margin.
In 1964, Jones worked as an Assistant to Richard Nixon, prior to Nixon’s service in the White House. Although he ran as a Republican for Senate against David Boren, and although he worked for Richard Nixon, Jones has also defended free speech for left-wing activists. Most notably, in 1970, he defended a student who was arrested for displaying a Vietcong flag on the OU campus, during an anti-war protest. That case was ultimately dismissed.
There is no question that Stephen Jones is an accomplished attorney with a reputation for taking on unpopular cases. The problem for SAE, however, is that the optics of hiring the lawyer who defended Timothy McVeigh are dubious at best. McVeigh was a killer who read The Turner Diaries, a racist novel popular in Neo-Nazi circles. The protagonist in the book blows up an FBI building. McVeigh joined the Ku Klux Klan at one time, but left because he didn’t think the KKK spent enough energy defending the 2nd Amendment.
SAE’s choice to hire Jones to represent them sends a strange message for an organization that is trying to soften its racist image. There are good reasons for attorneys to defend unpopular defendants. However, a fraternity that is already under fire for appearing racist isn’t doing itself any favors by hiring an attorney who’s most recognized case was serving as lead counsel for a racist mass murderer. Not just a murderer, but one who killed 168 people, just 25 miles up the road from the OU campus.