Justice Department Weighs Document Disclosure, Source Says
WASHINGTON – Lawyers for Timothy McVeigh sifted through documents Wednesday as Justice Department attorneys weighed whether to make public details about the material the FBI belatedly turned over.
"All I can say is that we're working hard," said Richard Burr, a Houston death penalty expert on McVeigh's legal team. "There's a lot of pressure, no question about it."
Burr and three other McVeigh lawyers have been reading through the material, which the FBI turned over about two weeks ago.
More than 3,100 documents were discovered as the FBI was gathering all items that were part of the Oklahoma City bombing investigation. They were supposed to have been turned over to McVeigh's lawyers before his trial, but were not. The discovery led the Justice Department to postpone McVeigh's execution for one month to June 11.
McVeigh's lawyers are trying to determine if there is anything in the documents that might prompt McVeigh to ask for an appeal or stay of his execution.
"If we're in a position to file anything, we need to do so sooner than later," Burr said Tuesday.
The Justice Department and the FBI say nothing in the documents would cast doubt on McVeigh's guilt or conviction. Much of the material consists of interviews and information about "John Doe No. 2," a possible accomplice who never materialized.
Other documents provided no relevant information about the investigation, but were filed anyway, officials said.
Under a court order, the documents cannot be made public. The Justice Department is looking at whether to provide some details about them in a filing in federal court in Denver, where McVeigh's trial was held, said a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Additional items turned up during a final sweep, ordered May 11, of all FBI fields offices and legal liaison offices around the world.
FBI officials have declined to specify how much previously undisclosed material has been discovered among the thousands of documents sent to the FBI's Oklahoma City bureau, where the documents are being gathered.
Meanwhile, an Oklahoma state court hearing for McVeigh co-conspirator Terry Nichols, scheduled for Wednesday, was postponed for one week to allow both sides to review through the FBI evidence.
A federal jury convicted Nichols, 46, on federal involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy charges and he was sentenced to life in prison.
He now faces state charges of 160 counts of first-degree murder for the April 19, 1995, federal building bombing that killed 168 people and injured more than 500. State prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty.
They have complained to a judge about delays in the getting the newly discovered documents.
In a telephone conference with District Judge Ray Dean Linder last week, Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney Sandra Howell-Elliott said the FBI had not complied with her request for the documents.
"We have tried really hard not to air with the court or with the public that we've had difficulties with the federal government from the beginning, but we have," Howell-Elliott said. "It has not been a cooperative effort."