Mcveigh Lawyers Weigh New Trial over FBI Records
With Oklahoma City bombing victims angry at a delay in his execution, condemned bomber Timothy McVeigh's lawyers are looking at ways to win a new trial based on newly discovered FBI documents.
Defense attorneys suggested on Sunday that McVeigh, who has confessed to what officials call the worst act of terrorism in U.S. history, might reconsider his previous willingness to die for killing 168 people with a truck bomb that destroyed a federal office building in April 1995.
But a former McVeigh trial lawyer said he expected the legal confusion raised by the late discovery of more than 3,000 pages of FBI investigation reports to blow over and the rescheduled execution to go ahead next month.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, who postponed the May 16 execution date on Friday after the FBI admitted it overlooked the documents, said he would not order another delay even if defense lawyers want more time to review the documents.
Defense attorney Robert Nigh said that in a meeting with his client on federal death row in Terre Haute, Indiana, McVeigh left the impression he might rethink his decision last year to skip further appeals and agree to his own execution.
"Well, he gave me the definite impression that he's at least willing to keep an open mind for the time being," Nigh told CNN's Late Edition on Sunday.
"When he had made his decision to forgo further appeals, the case had been decided against him by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and the Supreme Court. But those decisions were made before it was clear that the FBI had withheld evidence. And in light of that disclosure, it is only reasonable for him to reevaluate his position," Nigh said.
NO LEGAL ACTION AUTHORIZED
On the "Fox News Sunday" program, Nigh said McVeigh has yet to authorize any legal action.
McVeigh, 33, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection on Wednesday for bombing the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in retaliation for the deaths of about 80 Branch Davidians in an FBI siege of their Waco, Texas, compound in 1993 and another FBI standoff in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in which the wife and son of white supremacist Randy Weaver were killed by federal agents.
The discovery last week of more than 3,000 pages of FBI documents, tapes and other items that hadn't been given to McVeigh's lawyers forced Ashcroft to grant a reprieve, delaying the first federal execution in 38 years until June 11.
A federal judge has delegated to the U.S. government the power to set the execution date. But that authority could return to the courts if McVeigh decides to launch a legal challenge as a result of the misplaced documents.
Nigh said the next step for the defense team will be to go through the FBI material.
Ashcroft and others including Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating have maintained the documents do not cast any doubt on McVeigh's guilt.
McVeigh confessed to detonating the homemade fertilizer-and-fuel bomb in interviews with the authors of a recent book, "American Terrorist," in which he said about his impending execution that "my objective was a state-assisted suicide."
LAWYER: CONFESSION IS KEY
Many bombing survivors and McVeigh's former defense lawyer, Stephen Jones, said they expected the execution to go ahead next month.
Jones said the fact that McVeigh has confessed and that he had waived his last appeals rights were major hurdles to any effort for a new trial.
"There is the enormous difficulty of trying to prove that this new information would make any difference in the trial of a man who has said in the most dramatic way 'I did it'," Jones told Reuters. Jones defended McVeigh in his 1997 trial but had a falling out with his client after the conviction.
Paul Heath, a bombing survivor and psychologist with an Oklahoma City practice, said McVeigh wanted to die in hopes of being seen as a martyr and revolutionary against the federal government.
"He's the one who demanded to be put to death. He's going to do it," Heath said.
But other survivors and relatives of the dead remained angry that the FBI blunder pushed off the execution that many had been hoping would finally silence McVeigh.
"This isn't a little mistake. This is a huge mistake. I was angry to the point where I couldn't sleep. ... We wanted him to die," said Kathleen Treanor, who lost her daughter and both her parents in the blast.
A leading Senate Democrat urged President Bush on Sunday to order "a top-to-bottom review" of the FBI after a string of missteps, including the missed McVeigh documents and the arrest of FBI agent Robert Hanssen on charges of spying for Moscow.
Sen. Charles Schumer, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary subcommittee with oversight of the FBI, told CBS his panel had decided to hold hearings into how the McVeigh documents were overlooked until now.
Asked about the comments, a White House spokeswoman said Bush was awaiting the results of a investigation by former CIA and FBI director William Webster into the Hanssen case and a separate probe by Ashcroft into the McVeigh documents -- OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters)
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