Oklahoma City Bomber Considers Options
WASHINGTON – Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh may reconsider his decision not to challenge his execution, according to his attorney, Rob Nigh.
"He's distressed about this in that he knows the impact that it has upon his family and those who care about him," Nigh said after consulting with McVeigh.
Attorney General John Ashcroft on Friday ordered a one-month postponement of McVeigh's execution.
McVeigh will be put to death on June 11, Ashcroft said.
President Bush and Ashcroft are meeting today at Camp David, certain to discuss the FBI's foul-up in the Oklahoma City bombing case. Ashcroft had been invited to the presidential retreat in rural Maryland earlier this week, aides 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.
Lawyers for conspirator Terry Nichols filed an appeal Friday with the U.S. Supreme Court based partly on the newly-discovered documents.
Ashcroft has ordered a full investigation of the FBI bungling. In addition, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said his panel will hold hearings after the Justice Department's inquiry ends.
"The American people need to be confident that our federal law enforcement agencies adhere to the highest standards of integrity, professionalism, and competence," Sensenbrenner said.
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 McVeigh is "lucky to be an American."
"This is a country that will bend over backwards to make sure that his constitutional rights are guaranteed, as opposed to rushing his fate," the president said. 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. "I take him at his word."
McVeigh's attorney, Nigh, left open the possibility that his client would reconsider his earlier decision against challenging the execution.
"He is keeping all of his options open," Nigh told reporters after Ashcroft's announcement on Friday. "He has indicated in the past that he did not want to delay. ... He's willing to take a fresh look and evaluate the information."
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 our 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.
Lawyer Nathan Chambers said Friday that the McVeigh team faces a lot of work and decisions. "We haven't imposed any deadlines," Chambers said. "We have a number of options we're considering."
And Michael Tigar, lawyer for McVeigh's co-defendant Terry Nichols, says he plans to file a new appeal on behalf of his client with the Supreme Court based on the finding of the documents. Nichols was convicted of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to life in prison.
The FBI mistake has delayed the first federal execution since 1963, though it is considered unlikely to overturn McVeigh's murder conviction.
McVeigh murdered 168 people when he detonated a truck filled with explosives outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Chambers said the FBI materials could prompt a request for a stay.
McVeigh's trial judge, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch of Denver, could not be reached for comment. Court clerk James Manspeaker said the defense would have to go to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, also in Denver, to file a motion to consider new evidence.
If permission was granted, the case then probably would revert to Matsch, Manspeaker said.
The legal standard for granting such a motion requires the court to determine the verdict could have been different if the jury had been allowed to see the documents.
"The prosecution proved everything to me," said McVeigh juror Doug Carr, 45. "If there was something left out that's in those files, I don't think it was that significant."
The finding of the documents has embarrassed the government and angered survivors and families of the Oklahoma City bombing.
"We needed this death penalty," said Aren Almon Kok, whose daughter came to symbolize the 1995 blast through a photograph of her lifeless body in the arms of a firefighter.
"For someone to make this mistake ... to find them less than a week before he dies ... is unbelievably unfair," she said in Oklahoma City.
Kathleen Treanor, who lost her 4-year-old daughter and in-laws in the April 19, 1995, bombing, criticized the FBI for bungling the case and giving McVeigh the chance to extend his life further.
"I'm appalled," she said. "The FBI knew from the very beginning that this was a huge case. How could they have possibly made a mistake this huge?"
In a letter to McVeigh's attorneys, the Justice Department said the documents consist of FBI reports, including interview notes known as "302s," and photocopies of physical evidence such as "photographs, written correspondence and tapes."
The documents came from 45 FBI offices in the United States and one in Paris.
The Justice Department said the mistake was discovered after an FBI archivist requested bombing-related materials be sent to the Oklahoma field office.
The department asked defense attorneys to notify them if they believe the documents throw McVeigh's guilt into question.
"While the department is confident the documents do not in any way create any reasonable doubt about McVeigh's guilt and do not contradict his repeated confessions of guilt, the department is concerned that McVeigh's attorneys were not able to review them at the appropriate time," the agency said.
Chambers, who has worked on McVeigh's case since December 1998, said he learned about the documents Wednesday, when he received a telephone call from Sean Connelly, a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver.
"Here we are a full six years after the bombing and less than a week before Mr. McVeigh's scheduled execution and these reports mysteriously appear. So it's a cause for concern," Chambers said.
The lead prosecutor in the McVeigh trial, Joseph Hartzler, was traveling and unavailable for comment Thursday, Justice Department spokeswoman Chris Watney said.
Hartzler told NBC News, however, that McVeigh is "a master of self-deception and self-worship."
"If he wanted the death penalty he could have stayed in the truck, or walked into the building," Hartzler said. "He doesn't want to die, he's just giving into it because it's inevitable and somehow he thinks this is his way of declaring victory or something."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.