McVEIGH EXECUTION POSPONED DUE TO FBI SLIP-UP
by Bill Johnson
American Reporter Senior Correspondent
Oklahoma City, Okla.
OKLAHOMA CITY, May 11, 2001 -- Timothy McVeigh, who had rejected any fur= ther appeals of his death penalty for the federal building bombing, was giv= en a 30-day stay of execution Thursday after the FBI revealed it had withhe= ld some evidence at his trial.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft told a Washington news conference t= hat McVeigh had admitted his guilt and that it seemed clear the withheld pa= pers would have no bearing on his conviction. But to make sure there is "a = justice system that has the full faith and confidence of the American peopl= e," Ashcroft said he was delaying McVeigh's scheduled execution from next W= ednesday until June 11.
That would give defense attorneys "time to review the documents and mak= e any decisions" they might make, he said.
Ashcroft also said he had directed the inspector general of the U.S. De= partment of Justice to make a "careful study" into why the documents had no= t been provided to McVeigh's defense. Ashcroft did not use the word "invest= igation" in connection with the "study."
President Bush said at a later news conference he thought "the attorney= made the right decision" in postponing the execution. Bush said it was nec= essary when a person's life was at stake to make sure everything was carrie= d out properly and legally.
The FBI revealed Thursday that numerous documents that should have been= provided to McVeigh's lawyers prior to his trial in Denver's U.S. District= Court were, in fact, not handed over. The error was found when papers deal= ing with the April 19, 1995, bombing were being collected in Oklahoma City = for archiving.
Letters reporting the withheld evidence were sent by the = FBI toU.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, who provided over McVeigh's trial= inDenver, and to McVeigh's attorneys.
Ashcroft said the "documents do not contradict" McVeigh's statements of= guilt or the verdict of the jury. The April 19, 1995, bombing killed 168 p= eople and injured more than 500 others. As Ashcroft pointed out, it was the= worst terrorist attack ever in the United States.
But, Ashcroft said, the government had gone much further than normal in agreeing with the defense that every document generated by the go= vernment would be turned over to McVeigh's attorneys before the trial. It i= s clear, Ashcroft said, "the FBI failed to comply fully" with this agreemen= t.
McVeigh, 33, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection at 7 a.m. = May 16 at the federal prison facility in Terre Haute, Ind. McVeigh in De= cember dropped any further appeals of his death sentence, declined to seek = executive clemency and said he was prepared to die for his cause.
McVeig= h, a decorated soldier in the Gulf War, later turned agains this government= and said it could not be trusted. There was early speculation that McVeigh= would latch on to the FBI's failure to bolster his claim and might change = his mind about an appeal.
Some sources wondered whether McVeigh's attorneys might seek a new tria= l. U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, who presided over McVeigh'strial, sa= id there were no pleadings of any sort dealing with McVeigh before him at t= his time. He said there was nothing he could or would do until or unless su= ch papers were filed.
But Stephen Jones, McVeigh's trial attorney, said McVeigh may have clos= ed some options by talking so openly with two reporters who wrote a book ab= out the bombing and by refusing to continue the appeals process.
Jones also said he believed Ashcroft's actions were proper and correct.=
There has not been a federal execution since 1963.
The FBI indicated the papers that had been found consisted of 302 forms= filled out by agents after interviewing people. Prosecutor Sean Connelly s= aid later the information consisted of "FBI reports of investigations ... a= nd physical evidence, such as photographs, written correspondence and tapes= ."
An FBI archivist discovered the more than 3,100 withheld pages coll= ected from 40 FBI offices throughout the country. The FBI office here was a= ccumulating the papers for archiving. It was believed they also were being = gathered for possible use in the state murder trial of Terry Nichols, McVei= gh's convicted bombing conspirator.
"We do not believe anything in the materials makes even a prima facie s= howing of either man's actual innocence," Connelly wrote.
Connelly said = much of the material covered reported sightings of John Doe 1 and John Doe = 3.
The Justice Department shortly after the bombing released sketches of= two men, identified as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2, who were wanted forthe b= ombing. Agents later decided McVeigh was John Doe 1 and that therewas no Jo= hn Doe 2.
McVeigh was arrested some 70 minutes after the bombing about 70 miles n= orth of Oklahoma City when he was stopped by a state trooper because he had= no license tag on his car. He was jailed in Perry after the trooper saw a = pistol inside McVeigh's jacket and apparently was within hours of being rel= eased when the FBI identified him as one of the wantedmen.
Nichols was convicted by another Denver federal court jury ofinvoluntar= y manslaughter and conspiracy charges. He was sentenced to lifein prison.
Under federal law, McVeigh and Nichols could be tried only for the deat= hs of the eight on-duty federal agents who died in the building's rubble. =
The Oklahoma County district attorney's office has filed 160 first-degre= e murder charges against Nichols and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for= later this year.