Chevie Kehoe and his brother Cheyne were leading players in what prosecutors describe as a conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The woman settled her thin frame into the witness chair and looked across the courtroom at her son. "It's got to be told, Chevie," she said heavily. "God won't let me live with it anymore. It's got to be told."
"It," as Gloria Kehoe described it, was a hair-raising recitation of the murders, robberies, thefts, kidnapping and arson that brought her son and a companion to a federal courtroom in Arkansas in one of the largest criminal cases involving the radical right in recent U.S. history.
Chevie Kehoe and his brother, Cheyne, came to national attention following a 1997 shootout with Ohio police that was captured by a patrol car video camera and later broadcast coast to coast. But that incident, the government contends, was only the most conspicuous episode in a much larger pattern of domestic terrorism rooted in hate.
The Kehoe brothers were leading players in what prosecutors describe as a conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government. Since the trial began in early March, prosecutors have presented physical evidence and scores of witnesses to bolster their case, which includes five murders — an entire family in Arkansas were among the victims — and the bombing of the Spokane, Wash., city hall.
Kehoe's father, Kirby, was to have been a government witness. The elder Kehoe was a defendant in the original indictment but reached a plea agreement with prosecutors, as did Cheyne earlier.
The testimony of Gloria and Cheyne was especially compelling. They told of hearing Chevie detail the kidnapping of a Washington state couple in 1995, of building the bomb that he and co-defendant Daniel Lewis Lee allegedly planted outside the Spokane city hall later that year, and of burglaries and money laundering designed to underwrite their "Republic."
And they spoke of the killing of the William Mueller family, including an 8-year-old girl.
Gloria and Cheyne testified that Chevie had related details of the killings: how he and Lee surprised the Muellers in their home, claiming to be agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; how Chevie killed William Mueller with a blow that shattered not only his skull but the rifle butt Chevie used as a weapon; and how Nancy Mueller and her daughter Sarah were stunned with cattle prods and their heads, like William Mueller's, wrapped in plastic and secured with duct tape.
One witness testified that Kehoe was so concerned with racial purity that he investigated his first wife's ancestry, saying he would kill her should he learn that Native American blood flowed in her veins. Others told the jury that Chevie contemplated killing his parents and his brother, Cheyne, for cooperating with prosecutors.
The government's concern about possible retaliation by ideological allies of Kehoe and Lee is apparent. For the time being, parking is not permitted alongside the U.S. courthouse here. No vehicles save police cruisers are allowed even to idle. Anyone entering the courtroom must pass through two metal detectors.
The lawyers and the court personnel wear identification tags never before seen here. When the defendants sit, they are surrounded by a covey of sharp-eyed marshals, some toting M-16 rifles.
In trial, Kehoe and Lee both affect an attitude that seems to mock the gravity of the allegations and the death penalty prosecutors are seeking. They watch witnesses, sometimes intently. But their eyes often wander, until they seem finally to fix on some point beyond the courtroom — perhaps in a world most would find nightmarish.
It is a world they apparently not only coveted, but aspired to create, a nation in which they would be very much at home. They, and others like them.
NOTE: Both Chevie Kehoe and Daniel Lewis Lee were found guilty. In May, a federal jury sentenced Kehoe to life in a federal prison, and Lee was sentenced to death. The jury of nine blacks and three whites gave no indication of why it imposed the harsher penalty on Lee. Prosecutors portrayed Kehoe as the leader of the two, and they had sought the death penalty for him.