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Ashcroft Delays McVeigh Execution

First reported on May 11, 2001:

Attorney General John Ashcroft on Friday ordered a one-month postponement of Timothy McVeigh's execution.

The Oklahoma City bomber will be put to death on June 11, Ashcroft said.

The Justice Department had recommended that Ashcroft delay the execution after it was discovered that the FBI had failed to turn over documents to McVeigh's defense team. The department, which oversees the federal Bureau of Prisons, has the authority to temporarily delay the execution without a court order. 

The Justice Department on Thursday handed McVeigh's lawyers 3,135 documents it said should have been provided during the discovery phase of his 1997 trial in Denver. Ashcroft has ordered a full investigation of the FBI foul-up.

McVeigh had been scheduled to be put to death in a Terre Haute, Ind., federal prison on Wednesday, May 16.

At the White House, President Bush held a press conference after Ashcroft's announcement and said he believes "strongly" that the attorney general made "the right decision." 

Bush said it is "very important for our country to make sure that in death penalty cases people are treated fairly." 

He said the government has the obligation to make sure that the death penalty is carried out in accordance with all of the guarantees of the Constitution.

Bush also reasserted his belief that McVeigh is guilty.

"Mr. McVeigh himself has admitted to the crime," Bush said. "Mr. McVeigh said he did it. I take him at his word."

Earlier, Ashcroft told reporters that it's his duty to promote the sanctity of the rule of law and justice — and that it's a duty more important than the prosecution of any single case. But he conceded that carrying out that duty may be "painful" to the nation.

"It is now clear that the FBI failed to comply fully" with an agreement to hand over all documents in the case, Ashcroft said. "I want justice to be carried out fairly." 

At the same time, Ashcroft asserted, "These documents do not contradict" the jury's verdict convicting McVeigh. 

"There is no doubt in my mind, or anyone's mind about the guilt of Timothy McVeigh," Ashcroft said. 

"If any questions or doubts remain about this case, it would cast a permanent cloud over justice," Ashcroft said at the Justice Department.