by Bill Johnson
American Reporter Correspondent
Oklahoma City, Okla.
December 28, 2000
DENVER, Dec. 28. 2000 -- A federal judge agreed Thursday that Timothy McVeigh may forego any further appeals, setting the stage for an execution date to be set for the man who blew up the Oklahoma City federal building. After a half-hour spent questioning McVeigh closely, U.S. District 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 his 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 of his attorneys participated via a closed-circuit television setup from the federal prison near Terre Haute, Ind., where McVeigh is on death row. Other attorneys were in the courtroom.
Matsch presided over McVeigh's trial and set the Thursday hearing to make sure McVeigh was competent to waive further appeals. The judge questioned McVeigh about the prison conditions, whether he had been coerced into making his request and whether he fully understood the ramifications of his 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 decision."
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 urged 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 available through my attorneys if something comes to mind, but not today."
Asked specifically whether the position he took in his filing was still his position, McVeigh said, "It is the position I take now. And as guidance 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. McVeigh said he did, and that he would confer with his lawyers on what he should do about that.
The judge also asked McVeigh whether he realized there would be a new president and possibly a new attorney general early next year and that the decision on executive clemency might be made by them. Again, McVeigh said he was aware of that.
There has been debate about just what was on McVeigh's mind ever since 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 whether McVeigh should die. While some say they are just waiting for the day; others, like Paul Heath, who barely escaped the shattered building, wants McVeigh 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 who wants to be in control of his own destiny.
McVeigh has never admitted involvement in the bombing, and he was not 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 bitter 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 Ridge, Idaho, and the fiery deaths of Branch Davidian members after another federal standoff near Waco, Texas.
Near the end of his questioning, and after the lawyers said they had nothing to add, the judge told McVeigh it was "my finding here that by your demeanor and manner and by the answers you have given to me to these questions, you have demonstrated that the decision that you have made and communicated 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 of the Alfred P. Murray Federal Building for The American Reporter since it occurred.