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McVeigh Mulls Options

Sunday, 13 May 2001 12:00 AM

McVeigh, was "distressed" by the turn in events, Rob Nigh told CNN television, but not surprised and would "make an evaluation" of what steps, if any, he may take.

McVeigh, convicted in 1997 for eight of the 168 deaths in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, was slated to die Wednesday by lethal injection.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Friday he was postponing the execution until June 11 to give McVeigh's defense team time to check FBI documents which were not given them at the time of his trial. The documents only came to light Thursday.

"I know many Americans will question why the execution of someone who is clearly guilty of such a heinous crime should be delayed," Ashcroft said. "I understand the victims and victim's family members await justice. But if any questions or doubt remain about this case, it would cause a permanent cloud over justice, diminishing its value and questioning its integrity."

President Bush said Friday he agreed with that decision.

"I believe very strong the attorney general made the right decision today," Bush said at a press conference shortly after Ashcroft's announcement.

"Any time we're preparing to carry out the death penalty, we have a solemn obligation to make sure that the case has been handled in full accordance with all the guarantees of our Constitution," the president said. "The very foundations of our democracy depend on our ability to assure our citizens that in all criminal cases, and especially in the death penalty, defendants have been treated fairly," said Bush.

Bush expressed concern about the belated discovery of the documents, but said he had no second thoughts about whether there should be a moratorium on capital punishment.

"Not as far as I'm concerned, so long as the system provides fairness, and today is an example of the system being fair," Bush said.

Asked by a reporter what Bush would say to McVeigh if the convicted bomber were "relishing" the government's mistake: "He should say he's lucky to be in America, is what he ought to say; that this is a country who will bend over backwards to make sure that his constitutional rights are guaranteed; that as opposed to rushing his fate, that the attorney general, with my strong support, said we better make sure that all guarantees are fulfilled."

Bush acknowledged the postponement from next Wednesday's scheduled execution date might cause pain to those affected by the bombing. Nearly 300 of the bombing survivors and relatives were signed up to watch the execution at a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility in Oklahoma City via a closed-circuit video feed. A number of other victims and families were planning to be in Terre Haute, some of them as witnesses.

News of the surfacing of the documents produced a quick response from Michael Tigar, attorney for McVeigh's co-conspirator in America's worst incident of domestic terrorism, Terry Nichols.

Tigar told CNN Nichols would ask the court to order the solicitor general what weigh the impact the documents may have on Nichol's case.

"Terry Nichols was acquitted of most of the charges against him," Tigar said. "He's got a real case here."

Nichols, who served in the Army with McVeigh, was convicted of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter in connection with the bombing and is serving a term of life imprisonment.

Ashcroft, speaking at a news conference, said the Justice Department did not believe the production of the items of evidence would change the outcome of the case.

McVeigh, "by his own admission, is guilty of an act of terrorism that stole life from 168 innocent Americans, and these documents do not contradict the jury's verdict in the case," Ashcroft told reporters gathered for a televised news conference.

"However, I believe the attorney general has a more important duty than the prosecution of any single case, as painful as that may be to our nation," Ashcroft said. "It is my responsibility to promote the sanctity of the rule of law and justice. It is my responsibility and duty to protect the integrity of our system of justice."

The attorney general said U.S. prosecutors were not normally required to turn over such documents in most trials. The documents do not bear on McVeigh's guilt or innocence.

In the McVeigh case, however, "the government agreed to go beyond the documentation required," Ashcroft said, adding "It is now clear that the FBI failed to comply fully with that discovery agreement that was reached in 1996.

Ashcroft said he learned of the accidental withholding on Thursday.

Asked whether the incident had "shaken" his confidence in the FBI, the attorney general did not answer yes or no, but instead repeated his commitment to a fair justice system.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, issued a statement Friday saying that the House Judiciary Committee had sent a letter to the FBI on April 25, saying the FBI computer systems are slow, unreliable and obsolete. "The latest development in the McVeigh case only heightens the need for accurate and efficient record keeping," said Smith, who is chairman of the House Crime Subcommittee.

He said Congress would exercise its "full oversight jurisdiction until the problems have been resolved."

An FBI computer review is believed to have discovered more than 3,000 documents and pieces of evidence that should have been turned over to the McVeigh defense team, but were accidentally withheld. The case itself involved more than a million documents and was one of the largest investigations in U.S. history.

McVeigh's attorneys in Denver and Tulsa, Okla., were notified of the problem Wednesday and Thursday in a letter from a Justice Department attorney.

"The FBI has discovered additional materials generated by its field divisions outside Oklahoma City in connection with the OKBOMB investigation," the letter said in part. "The materials consist of FBI reports of investigation ('302s' and 'inserts') and physical evidence, such as photographs, written correspondence and tapes ('1As,' '1Bs' and '1Cs')."

The letter said the department does not believe the material has a bearing on the federal convictions or sentences of McVeigh and fellow conspirator Terry Nichols, who was sentenced to life in prison.

"Many of the materials … involve interviews and information regarding persons whom at one time were thought to resemble the (FBI artist) sketches," the letter said.

The FBI agent who headed the Oklahoma City bombing investigation said Friday that the newly discovered FBI files had never been seen by his task force. FBI Agent Danny Defenbaugh said they were found in FBI field offices during a routine archive process.

McVeigh, captured during a routine traffic stop shortly after the bombing, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1997 in Denver, where the trial had been moved to ensure fairness. He was tried for only eight of the deaths - those of federal agents on duty at the time of the bombing and currently resides on federal death row in Terre Haute, Ind.

The state of Oklahoma did not try McVeigh for the other deaths given the federal sentence.

If the U.S. Bureau of Prisons carries out McVeigh's lethal injection next month, it would be the first federal execution since 1963.

In other developments Friday, McVeigh's father, Bill McVeigh, told WGRZ-TV from his home in Pendleton, N.Y., "It's more than 30 days, we'll see what happens, but it's like starting over."

The elder McVeigh had shunned the media as the execution date of May 16 neared, and Friday morning he had already gone into hiding, but in an abrupt reversal he started granting short interviews Friday afternoon.

"I know he hates prison and has wanted this to be over," he said.

McVeigh's father said that he had said his good-byes to his son in a visit to the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. last month and another visit would break his heart, but he'll make it if his son requests it. "I'll stand by my son 100 percent," Bill McVeigh said.

McVeigh also said he does not believe his son and Nichols acted alone.

"At our last visit I asked him if there was another John Doe, and he told me 'no,'" he said. However, when asked if he believed his son, McVeigh said "no, I don't think he acted alone."

Following the bombing, McVeigh was reportedly seen with an unidentified man renting the truck used to carry the explosives to the federal building in downtown Oklahoma City. Based on a witness description, a drawing of the suspect's likeness was distributed, but the individual was never found.

Neither McVeigh nor Nichols have admitted the third man.

McVeigh, a decorated Gulf War veteran, apparently committed the bombing in retaliation for the Branch Davidian cult siege by the FBI in Texas which cost more than 80 lives.

(Sylvia Cukan in Buffalo, N.Y., contributed to this report.)


Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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McVeigh, was distressed by the turn in events, Rob Nigh told CNN television, but not surprised and would make an evaluation of what steps, if any, he may take. McVeigh, convicted in 1997 for eight of the 168 deaths in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
Sunday, 13 May 2001 12:00 AM
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