Tags: Ashcroft: | More | Delays | for | Mcveigh

Ashcroft: No More Delays for Mcveigh

Monday, 14 May 2001 12:00 AM

"We feel that ample time has been provided, and I have no intention of further extending this deadline," Ashcroft was quoted as saying in an interview with The Oklahoman.

Robert Nigh, one of McVeigh's two court-appointed lawyers, said the "12th-hour revelation" that the documents had been found cast doubt on his client's conviction of murdering 168 people in the April 19, 1995, bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City.

"Right now the process that convicted Mr. McVeigh and the process that allowed him to be sentenced to die is in serious question," Nigh said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition."

Ashcroft, the nation's top law enforcement officer, decided last week to postpone the execution until June 11. McVeigh had been scheduled to die by lethal injection this Wednesday at a federal penitentiary in Indiana.

The delay was intended to give McVeigh's lawyers time to review the documents the FBI withheld from them until last week.

On Tuesday, an FBI agent notified bureau and Justice Department officials in Washington about the missing documents. The agent, Daniel Defenbaugh, had been assigned to check copies of documents filed by FBI field offices around the country against those given to the defense during the investigation preceding McVeigh's 1997 trial.

The reasons for the field offices' failure to share all investigatory documents in the case - as the government was legally bound to do, under an extraordinary agreement with the defense - and what the newly issued papers contain have yet to be scrutinized by McVeigh's lawyers.

Ashcroft, who on Friday announced a delay in what would have been the first federal execution in the United States in 38 years, told The Oklahoman that the decision had been difficult.

He said his thoughts were with the families of those killed in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building -- a crime to which McVeigh pleaded innocent at trial nearly four years ago.

"The last thing I want to do is to distress people who have already endured a kind of pain that none of us can even understand, let alone would want to endure," Ashcroft told the newspaper. "I just felt like there had to be a clarity in the mind of the American public that our responsibilities were carried out in advance of this final act to bring closure to this whole episode."

In a new book, "American Terrorist," written by two newspaper reporters, the 33-year-old, highly decorated veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War boasts of blowing up the Murrah Building as revenge for what he saw as abuses by federal agents in highly publicized criminal cases of the mid-1990s.

But, because McVeigh's "confession" was never made to law enforcement officers or in court, it is, in effect, irrelevant, legal analysts say.

Nigh, who was not involved in McVeigh's trial, said his client was being "open-minded" in considering his legal options. Before any decisions are made, the lawyer said, the contents of the additional documents, and the reason they were withheld until five days before the scheduled execution, had to be fully evaluated.

"You have to examine this case in the context of the evidence at trial," Nigh said. "In 1997, when Mr. McVeigh was tried, there was no information concerning any book, or information concerning statements that Mr. McVeigh may have made to persons outside the courtroom. And, in light of that, you have to evaluate this case concerning the evidence and the record that was presented in his case."

Ashcroft, in his newspaper interview, reiterated what other federal officials have insisted in the days since the existence of the additional documents was made public -- that they contain no information that would cast any doubt over McVeigh's guilt.

"We are not of a mind that these documents are in any way exculpatory," the attorney general was quoted as saying.

He said he was trying to assure families of the dead, as well as the dozens of others injured in the explosion six years ago, that McVeigh was unlikely to be granted a new trial based on the documents.

Nigh, the defense attorney, said it was premature to draw such conclusions.

"I have yet to hear that from somebody who has examined each of the documents," he told CNN. "I have yet to hear one person speak that has conducted a complete analysis of the evidence contained within the documents, in the context of the evidence presented at trial. And until that is done, no one can say that it's meaningless."

Another question is how the documents' release -- a "revelation at literally the 12th hour," in Nigh's words -- will affect McVeigh's alleged co-conspirator, Terry Nichols. He is serving a federal life sentence and awaiting trial in an Oklahoma state court for his role in the bombing.

Nichols, an Army buddy of McVeigh's, filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court late Friday night seeking a new trial as a result of the disclosures, according to his lawyer Michael Tigar.

Nigh said it was possible the documents could contain information favorable to McVeigh, Nichols or both, including the possibility that another person - identified early in the case as "John Doe No. 2," and then quickly discarded as a theory by federal investigators - may have taken part in the bombing.

Asked if he accepted the FBI's assertions so far that its withholding of the documents had been an oversight amid a flood of paper filed in arguably the bureau's biggest case ever, Nigh said: "I won't accept anything until there's a complete review of the facts concerning how this could have happened, when the documents were discovered, and why it was that they were not produced to us until literally five days before Mr. McVeigh was to die. Until there is a complete exploration of those questions, and some very concrete answers to those questions, I'm not willing to accept anything."

The late disclosure in such a high-profile case, along with reports that some officials in the FBI may have known about the documents as long ago as March, has given the nation's leading law enforcement agency another black eye. Several embarrassments - most recently the revelation that an FBI counterterrorism expert had been spying for Moscow for 15 years, and the botched espionage investigation into government weapons scientist Wen Ho Lee - had already given lawmakers ammunition to call for changes at the agency.

"When law enforcement makes a mistake, if it appears to be something habitual or something cultural within the system, then we better fix it," Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said on the CBS program "Face the Nation."

"This might have been (a case) of arrogance," he added. "You know, this was such a high-profile case, everybody knew that McVeigh was guilty, why do we have to dot all the i's and cross all the t's? Well, the reason you do it is because you're responsible and it goes right to the credibility of the case."

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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We feel that ample time has been provided, and I have no intention of further extending this deadline, Ashcroft was quoted as saying in an interview with The Oklahoman. Robert Nigh, one of McVeigh's two court-appointed lawyers, said the 12th-hour revelation that the...
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Monday, 14 May 2001 12:00 AM
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