McVeigh goes back to court seeking delay of June 11 execution
DENVER (AP) – Timothy McVeigh asked a judge Thursday to delay his execution, accusing the government of withholding evidence in a ”fraud upon the court” that denied him a fair trial in the Oklahoma City bombing.
U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch scheduled a hearing for Wednesday, five days before McVeigh’s scheduled June 11 execution. The judge ordered prosecutors to respond by Monday evening.
The request was a sharp reversal for McVeigh, who had abandoned his appeals in December and asked for an execution date for the 1995 bombing that killed 168 people and injured hundreds of others in the nation’s worst act of domestic terrorism.
A few hours before the hearing, McVeigh met with his lawyers at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., and decided to go ahead with the request. Attorney Robert Nigh said it wasn’t an easy choice.
”He was prepared to die,” Nigh said.
The attorneys said the FBI is withholding information even now, three weeks after the Justice Department began turning over more than 4,400 pages of FBI documents McVeigh’s defense should have had before his 1997 trial.
The lawyers said they were given FBI material as recently as Wednesday and just five days ago received 11 computer discs containing 16 hours of audio and visual material.
Four former FBI agents have come forward to suggest information was withheld, a fact noted in McVeigh’s court filing. His attorneys also said some evidence may have been ”intentionally destroyed” or not documented.
”The government’s false statements that everything had been obtained and produced worked a fraud upon the court and defeated Mr. McVeigh’s right to a fair trial and sentencing,” the court filing says.
Attorneys said a delay would give McVeigh time ”to make fair use of the evidence so recently produced.”
Attorney General John Ashcroft said none of the FBI documents raise doubt about McVeigh’s guilt or establishes his innocence. He has said the FBI produced ”every relevant document in its possession” and turned them over to the defense.
Ashcroft also said the Justice Department would oppose efforts to overturn McVeigh’s conviction or death sentence, or to force a new trial.
”Based on the overwhelming evidence and McVeigh’s own repeated admissions, we know that he is responsible for this crime and we will continue to pursue justice by seeking to carry out the sentence that was determined by a jury,” said Ashcroft, who cut short a European trip and plans to return to Washington on Saturday.
McVeigh had faced lethal injection May 16. But the execution was postponed by Ashcroft after the Justice Department admitted it had kept material from McVeigh’s defense, a mistake discovered by an archivist.
Outside the courthouse, prosecutor Sean Connelly said, ”We categorically deny there was any fraud on the courts.”
Defense lawyers suggested the FBI was keeping private files on people investigated in the case. During the hearing, they asked Matsch to withhold details of their witnesses from prosecutors to prevent FBI agents from interfering in their investigation.
Matsch told Connelly to make sure the FBI does not try to pressure defense witnesses.
”There are a lot of accusations about that agency and the conduct of its people,” Matsch said. ”I want to be confident this word gets out.”
Connelly said the FBI cannot force people to cooperate with McVeigh’s attorneys. ”Some people contacted by McVeigh’s investigators are chilled by that,” he said.
McVeigh admitted his guilt in a book released in April, but Nigh said such views were never aired by McVeigh during his trial or appeals.
Asked why McVeigh changed his mind, defense attorney Richard Burr said: ”He right now thinks the most important thing in his life is to help bring integrity to the criminal justice system.”
”For many years, McVeigh has been deeply concerned about the overreaching of federal law enforcement authorities. When that overreach became apparent to him in his own case, it overrode other considerations.”
In Oklahoma City, Pat Ryan, who was U.S. attorney during the bombing, said nothing raised by McVeigh’s attorneys takes away from the evidence that McVeigh was responsible for the bombing.
”If death penalty crimes were ranked one to 100, this is 100,” he said. ”There has never been anything worse committed on American soil and Timothy McVeigh is going to get the death penalty at the end of the day.”
Martha Ridley, whose daughter died in the bombing, said she didn’t believe Nigh’s statement that the decision to seek a stay wasn’t meant to hurt the bombing victims.
”I think that’s a crock,” she said. ”That is just McVeigh and his games … He’s lived six years plus longer than what my daughter did.”
Kathleen Treanor, whose 4-year-old daughter died in the bombing, said she wasn’t surprised by McVeigh’s decision. She said she’s still reeling over the FBI’s mistake.
”To be perfectly honest, I can’t really say he got a fair trial at this point,” she said. ”It’s back in the judge’s hands now.”
Attorneys for co-conspirator Terry Nichols filed a motion late Thursday asking Matsch for a separate hearing on Nichols’ request that the new evidence be turned over to Oklahoma authorities for use in his state murder trial in the bombing.
”A hearing is necessary because, notwithstanding the government’s hasty and repeated assurances that all discovery has been produced, there is strong reason to believe this is not the case,” said John Richilano, Nichols’ attorney.
Richilano said problems were found with the new information handed over by the FBI May 16 that included a missing page. Prosecutors told Nichols’ attorneys the missing page was the result of a page numbering error but later said they found it and turned it over.
On the Net:
Text of documents filed on McVeigh’s behalf: http://wire.ap.org
Portions of McVeigh filing: http://www.co.uscourts.gov/dindex.htm
Justice Department: http://www.usdoj.gov
Bombing memorial: http://www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org
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