McVEIGH CAN DIE, JUDGE SAYS
by Bill Johnson
American Reporter Correspondent
Oklahoma City, Okla.
DENVER, Dec. 28. 2000 -- A federal judge agreed Thursday that Timot= hy McVeigh may forego any further appeals, setting the stage for an executi= on date to be set for the man who blew up the Oklahoma City federal buildin= g. After a half-hour spent questioning McVeigh closely, U.S. Dist= rict Judge Richard Matsch held "that there is nothing inherently irrational=
about a person making a decision to accept the judgment of a court."
But McVeigh does have some wiggle room. He plans to seek executive = clemency once an execution date is set and he has until Jan. 11 to change h= is mind on filing another appeal. As for not seeking the appeal, though, he= told the judge. "I can say that I do not foresee changing that decision by= Jan. 11."
McVeigh, a 32-year-old decorated Gulf War veteran, was sentenced to= death for the April 15, 1995, bombing that killed 168 people. He lost all = his earlier appeals.
The hearing was held in federal court here, while McVeigh and one o= f his attorneys participated via a closed-circuit television setup from the= federal prison near Terre Haute, Ind., where McVeigh is on death row. Othe= r attorneys were in the courtroom.
Matsch presided over McVeigh's trial and set the Thursday hearing t= o make sure McVeigh was competent to waive further appeals. The judge quest= ioned McVeigh about the prison conditions, whether he had been coerced into= making his request and whether he fully understood the ramifications of hi= s action.
As for being coerced, McVeigh said, "Quite the opposite: The only = pressure I have felt is from those that were opposed to me making this deci= sion."
The judge also asked McVeigh's lawyers whether they saw any reason = why he could not grant McVeigh's wish. The lawyers, who previously had urge= d McVeigh not to waive further appeals, told the judge they did not.
"Now, let me make this very clear in the plainest language that if = you do not file with this court a request for an extension of time to file = a notice of appeal on or before Jan. 11 of 2001, then a date will be set to= put you to death by lethal injection. Do you understand that is what will= happen?"
McVeigh replied, "I understand."
Matsch continued: "I've asked you a lot of questions. Do you have = any question that you would like to ask me?"
"I don't believe so, your Honor," McVeigh said. "I know you're avai= lable through my attorneys if something comes to mind, but not today."
Asked specifically whether the position he took in his filing was s= till his position, McVeigh said, "It is the position I take now. And as gu= idance to the court, I can say that I do not foresee changing that decision= by Jan. 11."
Matsch made certain that McVeigh knew his court-appointed attorneys= were to help only with any appeals, not with seeking executive clemency. M= cVeigh said he did, and that he would confer with his lawyers on what he sh= ould do about that.
The judge also asked McVeigh whether he realized there would be a n= ew president and possibly a new attorney general early next year and that t= he decision on executive clemency might be made by them. Again, McVeigh sai= d he was aware of that.
There has been debate about just what was on McVeigh's mind ever si= nce it became known that he wanted to end the appeal process. Some of those= who were in the federal building when it blew up believed McVeigh wants to= be seen as a martyr to the radical anti-government forces.
Even survivors and relatives of those killed are divided over wheth= er McVeigh should die. While some say they are just waiting for the day; ot= hers, like Paul Heath, who barely escaped the shattered building, wants McV= eigh to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Marsha Kight, who lost a daughter in the bombing, called McVeigh a = "cold and calculating killer" who knows full well what he is doing and whow= ants to be in control of his own destiny.
McVeigh has never admitted involvement in the bombing, and he was n= ot asked about that by Matsch on Thursday. McVeigh has said the government= is ultimately to blame for what has happened.
In a television interview earlier this year, McVeigh said he was bi= tter over the Gulf War. He said his anger at the government deepened after = the federal siege and the shooting death of Randy Weaver's wife in Ruby Rid= ge, Idaho, and the fiery deaths of Branch Davidian members after another fe= deral standoff near Waco, Texas.
Near the end of his questioning, and after the lawyers said they ha= d nothing to add, the judge told McVeigh it was "my finding here that by yo= ur demeanor and manner and by the answers you have given to me to these que= stions, you have demonstrated that the decision that you have made and comm= unicated to this court is a decision that has been made knowingly."
Bill Johnson, a 42-year veteran of the Associated Press, has covered the= Oklahoma City bombing ofthe Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building for The Amer= ican Reporter since it occurred.