Judge Grants McVeigh's Request for Execution Date

Reuters/December 29, 2000
By Keith Coffman

Denver - A federal judge granted convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh's request to drop all appeals of his conviction and death sentence and said he would set an execution date early next year.

Judge Richard Matsch gave McVeigh until Jan. 11 to change his mind and reinstate the appeals, but the convicted 32-year-old bomber said he did not expect to change his mind.

McVeigh was convicted in 1997 of planning and staging the worst act of terrorism ever to take place on American soil -- the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in which 168 people were killed and 500 injured.

The former soldier, who prosecutors said staged the bombing to avenge the government's bloody 1993 showdown with the Branch Davidian religious sect in Waco, Texas, had been pursuing appeals of his convictions to the U.S. Supreme Court (news - web sites) until his unexplained decision earlier this month to drop them.

Dressed in a beige, short sleeved prison shirt with a long sleeved white shirt underneath, McVeigh respectfully answered Judge Matsch's questions during the 38-minute hearing Thursday. He was connected to the court via television from the federal death row prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

Asked if he understood the proceedings, McVeigh said, "Yes, sir." He frequently leaned forward and appeared to listen intently. At no point did he discuss details of the crime or admit his guilt.

Judge Matsch's told McVeigh, "I believe you to be competent with nothing irrational about your decision. I formally accept it and you still have until Jan. 11 to come to a different decision." McVeigh said he understood that he could change his mind and continue with his appeals. But he added, "I do not foresee changing that position by January 11."

If executed, McVeigh would become the first federal prisoner to be put to death in the United States since 1963.

Outside the court, McVeigh lawyer Dennis Hartley said he also did not expect a change of heart from his client. "I advised against it and I will continue to advise against it but I don't expect him to change his mind," Hartley said, offering no explanation for McVeigh's decision other than he had managed to "extricate himself from the legal process."

Federal prosecutor Sean Connelly told reporters outside the court that McVeigh's conviction and sentence were fair and that the case had already been "thoroughly reviewed" by Matsch and appeals courts. "I think this case is an example of the justice system working well," Connelly said. "The trial, sentence and conviction have been carefully reviewed."

Throughout his trial, McVeigh kept silent, ever the perfect soldier, as prosecutors laid out a case of an angry extremist who built a bomb in a truck and left it to explode in front of the Murrah building. During the trial, prosecutors laid out the case that McVeigh was furious with the government over its botched handling in 1993 of a confrontation with the Branch Davidian cult and had planned the bombing as revenge.

Some 80 cult members died in a fire that ended a lengthy siege at the sect's compound in Waco, Texas. Prosecutors said McVeigh and his U.S. Army buddy Terry Nichols, who was tried separately, meticulously planned the Oklahoma City bombing, buying racing fuel, ammonium nitrate fertilizer and a detonator cord to build a bomb in the rented Ryder truck that McVeigh left in front of the federal building.

When the explosion ripped through the building, 19 children in a day-care center were among the victims.

McVeigh left open the option of applying for executive clemency, but clemency actions are not filed until all appeals are exhausted, Hartley said. McVeigh lost his first round of appeals when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case and allowed to stand lower court rulings upholding the conviction.

In October, Matsch denied McVeigh's second appeal, rejecting his argument that his trial attorney, Stephen Jones, was ineffective and had a conflict of interest because he was shopping around for a book deal during the trial.

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