Attorney General John Ashcroft says he will not delay the execution of Timothy McVeigh beyond June 11, even if defense attorneys request more time to review newly discovered FBI documents.
In an article published yesterday in the Daily Oklahoman newspaper in Oklahoma City, based on an exclusive interview with Mr. Ashcroft, the attorney general said, “We feel that ample time has been provided, and I have no intention of further extending this deadline.”
Yet the courts, not Mr. Ashcroft, would be the final authority on whether the 33-year-old McVeigh — convicted in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 persons, including 19 children — will have his execution postponed again.
But McVeighs attorneys would have to go to court to seek a further delay.
McVeigh originally had been scheduled to die by lethal injection at 7 a.m. Wednesday. But Friday, Mr. Ashcroft postponed the execution until June 11.
His action came one day after defense attorneys for McVeigh were given 3,135 pages of evidence from the FBI that should have been turned over to them before McVeighs trial.
On talk shows yesterday, members of Congress pushed for hearings to determine the cause of this and other blunders by the FBI, such as its failure to detect years of spying by agent Robert P. Hanssen and a botched probe last year of former nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said he would ask President Bush to create a special commission to look into a comprehensive review of the FBI.
In multiple appearances on the network talk shows, McVeighs lead attorney, Robert Nigh, was asked whether his client would seek a new trial or, at least, a resentencing hearing as a result of the FBIs withholding of documents, which include interview reports and evidence such as photos, letters and tapes.
“At this point, I would say anything is conceivable in this case,” Mr. Nigh said on “Fox News Sunday.”
He acknowledged McVeigh “has not authorized us to go forward with anything at this point,” but said his client is “willing to consider the options.” On CBS, Mr. Nigh said McVeigh has “indicated now that he is at least willing to take a fresh look at things, hear our analysis of the facts contained within the documents, and our legal analysis of his options.”
On Fox, the defense attorney said McVeigh “had no idea the FBI withheld evidence,” when he made his original decision not to appeal the death-penalty sentence handed down by the court. “The facts of the case are now certainly at issue,” said Mr. Nigh.
Mr. Ashcroft strongly disagrees. In his interview with the Oklahoma newspaper, he discounted the possibility McVeigh will win a new trial as a result of the FBI blunder.
“We are not of a mind that these documents are in any way exculpatory,” the attorney general told the Daily Oklahoman.
“This individual has asserted, in his own words, his involvement. These documents are not any basis — that I could in any way foresee — for a new trial,” he said.
But Mr. Nigh said he does not believe McVeighs confession to having carried out the bombing automatically disqualifies him for a new trial or resentencing hearing.
On CNNs “Late Edition,” Mr. Nigh was asked if he saw the potential for a new trial or a reassessment of the death penalty for McVeigh. “Absolutely … quite frankly in this case, I would suggest to you that anything is possible,” he said.
As for the contents of the thousands of pages of previously withheld FBI evidence, Mr. Nigh said yesterday he had just begun reviewing them.
On CNNs “Late Edition,” he declined to confirm reports that some of the material deals with a so-called “John Doe Number Two,” a supposed conspirator who was the subject of news accounts early in the investigation but was never found.
The FBI says the documents were overlooked as a result of an obsolete computer system. Asked on CNN if he believed it was just an innocent mistake, Mr. Nigh said: “I wont accept anything until theres a complete review of the facts concerning how this could have happened, when the documents were discovered, and why it was that they were not produced to us until literally five days before Mr. McVeigh was to die.”
He added: “Until there is a complete exploration of those questions and some very concrete answers to those questions, I am not willing to accept anything.”