Kenny Trentadue as he appeared in a prison photo in the late 1980s and as his battered body appeared at his funeral after his prison "suicide." [Trentadue Family Photos]
An attorney's decade-long search for justice in his brother's murder
finally yields fruit — and breaks through a mass of lies and coverup in
the OKC bombing.
On the grounds of Oklahoma City's Will Rogers International Airport stands
an imposing high-security prison facility known as the Federal Transfer Center
(FTC). On the morning of August 21, 1995, Kenneth Michael Trentadue died there
in cell A-709. The alleged cause of death was suicide by hanging.
Mr. Trentadue's family disputed the suicide verdict from the start, claiming the
evidence indicated that Kenny Trentadue was murdered. In 2001 the U.S. District
Court for the Western District of Oklahoma awarded the family a $1.1 million judgment
against the U.S. government for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The court also issued a scathing criticism of government witnesses for "serious
questions as to their truthfulness" and their obvious "lack of respect
for the solemnity of sworn proceedings." However, because of destruction
of evidence and repeated perjury by government witnesses, the court was unable
to find that Trentadue's death was a homicide.
Now, a decade after his death, explosive new evidence in the Trentadue case
has come forth that may explain why the Clinton Justice Department spent millions
of dollars and went to such extraordinary lengths to cover up the death of a
man who had been arrested for a minor parole violation. The new evidence comes
in the form of memoranda from then-FBI Director Louis Freeh. The memos concern
the biggest case of terrorism in U.S. history prior to the 9/11 attacks: the
bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which occurred
on April 19, 1995, four months before Kenny Trentadue's death.
When the Trentadue family began digging into the circumstances surrounding
Kenny's death, they had no idea that the trail would lead them directly into
the heart of the OKC bombing case. The recently revealed documents provide important
confirmation for a key part of this magazine's thesis regarding that terrorist
act. One of the many troubling facets of the OKC bombing case, developed by
The New American and others, concerned the Clinton administration's strange
insistence that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were solely responsible for
the attack, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary and numerous eyewitnesses
who had seen McVeigh with several "John Does" immediately prior to,
and at the time of, the bombing.
We have divided this story into two parts, the first dealing with Kenny Trentadue's
death, and the second, beginning on page 14, concerning the Trentadue connection
to the OKC bombing.
Murder by "Suicide"
Kenny Trentadue's family learned of his death when Acting Warden Marie Carter
called Kenny's mother in California to report that he had committed suicide.
"We were stunned," Jesse Trentadue, Kenny's brother, told The New
American. "I had just talked with him shortly before [by telephone on the
night of August 19] and he was not depressed. We talked about his upcoming parole
hearing and his new son. He was upbeat, looking forward to being out [of prison]
in a couple months, rejoining his family, resuming his life. Besides, suicide
would be completely contrary to his nature. He was a survivor, a fighter."
Faithful crusader: Jesse Trentadue, shown here in his law office with a portrait of Kenny, has doggedly pursued truth and justice for his murdered brother for more than a decade. [ Trentadue Family Photos]
There were other things about the call from the warden that aroused the Trentadue
family's suspicions. "When the warden [Carter] called, she asked my mother
for permission to cremate Kenny. This was odd for a number of reasons," says
Jesse Trentadue, a trial lawyer in Salt Lake City, Utah. "First of all, it
is expressly against Bureau of Prisons policy to cremate inmates," he told
The New American. "Secondly, as my mother explained [to Carter], even if
she had favored cremation (which she certainly did not), the decision was not
hers to make, legally or morally. That decision would have to be made, she explained,
by Kenny's wife, Carmen Trentadue. That seemed to really unnerve Carter. She said,
'What do you mean? He doesn't have a wife!' My mother responded, 'Oh yes he does,
and an infant son, too! And I have another son who is a lawyer who will be contacting
you, so you better not cremate Kenny.' That seemed to rattle her even more, to
find out that he had a brother who is an attorney."
The family's suspicions grew when prison officials attempted to thwart their
request for an autopsy. When Kenny's body finally arrived at the funeral home
in California, the family was shocked, sickened, and outraged. Their worst fears
were confirmed. "He was so badly bruised from head to toe, front and back,
it was obvious he had been savagely beaten," says his brother, Jesse. "In
fact, it was clear to me that he had been tortured." The family took detailed
photographs of Kenny's body, documenting the extensive injuries. "Those
images of my brother's body are burned into my memory forever," says Jesse,
his voice choking with emotion that still grabs his throat a decade later. On
August 30, 1995, the Trentadues hand-delivered to the Bureau of Prisons Regional
Office in Dallas, Texas, a letter accusing Federal Transfer Center guards of
murder. Enclosed with that letter were copies of the photographs they had taken
of his brutalized body.
Two days later, on September 1, the Bureau of Prisons issued a press release
announcing that Trentadue's death had been "ruled a suicide by asphyxiation"
and further stating that "other cuts and abrasions found on … [Trentadue's]
body would indicate persistent attempts … to cause himself serious injury
Screwing Down the Lid
The Trentadue family knew they were dealing with a major coverup of Kenny's murder
and would be in for a real fight. But they didn't realize how serious and deadly
the fight would become. In the weeks, months, and years that followed, they would
have to deal with official misconduct at the highest levels of the federal government,
including destruction of evidence, altering of evidence, "loss" of evidence,
obstruction of justice, lying, perjury, subornation of perjury, and threats and
intimidation directed at them and their witnesses. Kenny's cellmate, Alden Gillis
Baker, who swore out a deposition that he had witnessed Trentadue's murder, was
found hanging in his cell before he could testify in the family's civil suit against
the government: another suicide. Still another inmate, Nick Arcabusso, was told
he would end up the same way if he told anyone about hearing a guard boast that
he "killed Trentadue."
Coverup king: Former FBI Director Louis Freeh presided over the massive coverup surrounding the Oklahoma City bombing and the apparently related murder of Kenny Trentadue. Newly discovered memos by Freeh on the OKC bombing are at the center of a major court case. [ AP/Wide World Photos]
Here is a partial list of the incredible circumstances and evidence
surrounding Kenny Trentadue's "self-inflicted" injuries and "suicide":
• It is undisputed that when discovered, Kenny Trentadue's body was covered
in blood with head-to-toe, front-to-back trauma. Even the bottoms of his feet
were bruised. His throat had been slashed, and he had suffered three massive
blows to his head that ruptured his scalp to the skull.
• The Oklahoma State Medical Examiner, Dr. Fred B. Jordan, testified
that in 37 years of practice he had never seen a hanging with so much trauma.
Even the government's nationally recognized pathologist, Dr. John Smialek, described
Trentadue's death as "weird" because of the extensive trauma and massive
• Dr. Fred Jordan testified that Trentadue is the only case of an alleged
hanging in which he has found a fractured hyoid bone, the small, horseshoe-shaped
bone at the base of the tongue that supports the muscles of the tongue. According
to Dr. Jordan, Trentadue's fractured hyoid was "more consistent with strangulation
than hanging." Dr. Miles Jones, an independent forensic pathologist hired
by the Trentadue family, stated that in his professional opinion Trentadue's
death was a homicide and that he died by strangulation. Dr. Carlos A. Mier,
the physician's assistant at the prison who first examined the body, wrote that
Trentadue's death was due to "strangulation."
• Dr. Miles Jones stated that the bruise on Trentadue's anal verge was
most likely the result of Trentadue having been kicked. Dr. John Smialek testified
that this injury to Trentadue could only have occurred as the result of an "assault."
• Dr. William Gormley, of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, reviewed
the autopsy of Trentadue's body and stated his belief that "the deceased
was assaulted." However, because of the destruction of the crime scene,
he concluded that the manner of death should be listed as "unknown."
Oklahoma law mandates that the death scene be preserved. Federal law likewise
requires that any inmate suicide be investigated and that prison authorities
handle the death scene "with the same level of protection as any crime
scene in which a death has occurred to insure that available evidence …
is preserved … for subsequent investigators." In this case, federal
authorities rushed to destroy the "suicide" scene evidence. When Trentadue's
body was discovered, he was wearing blood-stained khaki pants and a blood-stained
T-shirt. But when his body was turned over to the Oklahoma Medical Examiner
at 7:00 a.m. that morning, he was wearing only blood-stained boxer shorts. An
FBI Memorandum later revealed that FBI Agent Jeff Jenkins left the "clothing"
in the trunk of his car until it putrefied and that "Jenkins took the smelly
bloody clothing out of his car and now had it in the FBI office." But the
clothing disappeared and has never been seen since.
By law, a "psychological reconstruction" must be done of every inmate
suicide. This psychological reconstruction is an in-depth investigation and
report on the alleged suicide, including method, means, motive, etc. This was
not done in Trentadue's case.
Aware that a Psychological Reconstruction Team was on the way to examine Trentadue's
cell, prison officials ordered inmates and staff to clean the crime scene. The
prison staff members later testified that they cleaned extensive blood spattering
and bloody hand prints off the cell walls, floor, and other surfaces.
Notes and Nonsense
One of the government's main pieces of evidence supposedly indicating Trentadue's
intent to commit suicide was a "suicide note" he allegedly had scrawled
on the cell wall with a pencil. However, the message makes no sense and was
not signed with Kenny Trentadue's name. Moreover, the government has offered
two different versions of the note, neither of which could be called, unequivocally,
a suicide note. According to the government's first report, the note said: "My
mind is no longer its friend, love Paul." The government later claimed
that that note was a suicide note written by Trentadue to his Hispanic wife,
Carmen, and that it read: "My mind is no longer its friend, love Familia."
(Familia is Spanish for "family.") However, Kevin Rowland, a homicide
investigator for the Oklahoma Medical Examiner, says that when he saw the note
on the cell wall it was signed "Tom Linx."
Dr. Fred B. Jordan, the Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Oklahoma, wrote in his notes that he told the Assistant U.S. Attorney in Oklahoma City, "I felt Mr. Trentadue had been abused and tortured." [AP/Wide World Photos]
Perhaps more significantly, before handwriting analysts from the FBI Crime Lab
could examine the note, the cell wall was painted over. This was done despite
the government's contention that Trentadue's cell was a "secured scene, sealed
with crime tape within the custody and control of the FBI."
What about the pencil that Kenny Trentadue supposedly used to write the note?
There were no fingerprints on it. In fact, according to the government, except
for Trentadue's fingerprints on his personal papers, there were no other fingerprints
in the cell. According to the government's scenario, Trentadue, despite inflicting
massive trauma upon himself, still had presence of mind (as well as some unexplained
motive) to thoroughly clean all his fingerprints from his cell before hanging
The presence of another person's blood in Trentadue's cell is another undisputed
physical fact for which there has been no accounting. FBI Agent Tom Linn testified
that "we found two blood types" in Trentadue's cell. According to
Linn, one of the blood types was Trentadue's and the other belonged to an unknown
person. When asked why no effort was made to identify the other person whose
blood was found in the cell, Linn responded that "we did not have a suspect
to take a sample from." No suspect? That excuse is patently ludicrous,
of course. The FBI didn't need to put out an APB or troll the Oklahoma highways
and byways for suspects. The obvious suspects were the very small cohort of
prison staff and inmates who had access to Trentadue's cellblock during the
very limited time period when he died.
In 1997, as the Trentadue case was going before a federal grand jury, officials
of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI determined to take serious measures
to discredit Jesse Trentadue, who was serving as counsel for the Trentadue family
in their civil case against the government. The government enlisted the aid
of James Hauser, a prison inmate, to help them indict Jesse Trentadue. Hauser
promised the Department of Justice that he would place a "yoke of silence"
around Jesse Trentadue's neck by testifying that the family lawyer had paid
inmates to perjure themselves. Hauser was polygraphed by the FBI. He failed
that polygraph, but was nevertheless presented to the grand jury to give perjured
"It was just incredible the lengths to which they were going to stop us,"
Jesse Trentadue told The New American. "As we started out on this case,
I was kind of naively trusting the FBI and DOJ to get to the bottom of this
and help bring those responsible for my brother's murder to justice. But it
got weirder and weirder as we went along. I mean, here are these government
officials committing very serious crimes, the kind that can send you to prison.
Why? That was the big question that had been haunting him and other family
members from the very beginning of this harrowing ordeal. The evidence keeps
sending him back to the Oklahoma City bombing for answers to that question.
"I never intended to get involved in the OKC bombing issue and really
don't want to go there," Jesse Trentadue told The New American. "I
don't have a dog in that fight. I'm just a hillbilly lawyer trying to get justice
for my brother who was murdered. But it seems I don't have any choice, because
that's where the evidence keeps pointing."
The Trentadue case may end up being the case that finally breaks the logjam
of lies behind the coverup that has suppressed the truth about that deadly terrorist
attack for more than a decade. Already it has pried loose many long-hidden documents
that belie some of the government's central claims about the bombing. Over the
past year, Mr. Trentadue has won key court decisions ordering the FBI and Justice
Department to turn over dozens of documents he has requested. The government
has repeatedly stalled and appealed the decisions. But the government is running
out of stalling options, and a court decision expected in November may finally
break loose documents that have been protecting the guilty for far too long.