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Judge Agrees to McVeigh's Request for an Expedited Death Sentence

Aired December 28, 2000 - 4:08 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh has gained a sympathetic ear in his bid to set an execution date. A federal judge in Denver has just approved McVeigh's request to stop all appeals, and expedite his execution for the murders of 168 people.

We get the latest on this from Denver. Here's CNN's Lilian Kim.

LILIAN KIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Lou. Through a video conference call from a federal penitentiary in Indiana, Timothy McVeigh appeared in federal court here in Denver. After a number of questions, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch granted McVeigh's request stop his appeals process. Before announcing his decision, Judge Matsch told McVeigh, quote: "You can change your mind." McVeigh said he was well aware of that.

The judge asked him if anyone influenced his decision. McVeigh said, no, in fact, he said he is under no duress or coercion by prison workers or anyone else. He asked if anyone pushed him into making this decision. McVeigh said, no. Quote, he said, the people he talked to, in fact, "opposed my decision." He also asked if he was under any medication, and McVeigh said he is under heartburn medication, but he hasn't taken in the last 24 hours.

Now, we spoke to Dennis Hartley, Timothy McVeigh's lead attorney, and here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DENNIS HARTLEY, MCVEIGH ATTORNEY: I don't like standing here and talking to you under these circumstances. I would rather be talking to you about the issues that we were raising on appeal, not the imminent death of my client.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KIM: If McVeigh does not file for an extension for a notice of appeal by January 11th, then a date will be set for execution by lethal injection. McVeigh, however, said, quote, "I do not foresee changing my decision by January 11th."

What's interesting is that McVeigh did leave the door open for himself. He did not waive his right for executive clemency, and that, of course, is made by the president of the United States. That is the latest from Denver, Colorado. I'm Lilian Kim. Lou, back to you.

WATERS: All right, Lilian Kim in Denver.

Roger Cossack, our legal analyst is here. What happened today? You just spent a whole hour on this.

(CROSSTALK)

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You're right. That's right.

WATERS: But you got this decision by the judge in the past. What does it mean, exactly.

COSSACK: Well, here's what happened. Basically, McVeigh went to court and he asked if he could withdraw the appeals that he's had. He has filed a number of appeals, most of which have been unsuccessful, and he had a few pending and probably they were going to be unsuccessful, too. And he said, look, I don't want any more appeals which really meant that I'm prepared to have a date set for my execution.

The judge has to find out whether or not he is competent to make that decision, to understand that what he is really saying is set an execution date. The judge asked him a number of questions that would lead to that, whether -- why -- whether he was doing this for his own free will; was anybody forcing him to do this.

All the questions he answered and he said, yes, I'm doing this on my own free will and I understand exactly what this means. The judge said, fine. You can withdraw your appeal. It's a personal right, but you have until January 11th to change your mind. After that, he told Timothy McVeigh, I will set a date for your execution.

WATERS: I heard some of the folks you were talking to, not all, but some think that McVeigh is just seeking attention through all of this?

COSSACK: Well, you know -- of course, and there is that part with him and we don't know. I mean, obviously this a guy, none of us know him. I certainly don't know him and who knows what's in his mind. But if you believe what allegedly he's written and what he allegedly believes, this a guy who did this for some twisted purpose. Now whether or not he's doing this for a twisted purpose to become a martyr, who knows?

WATERS: So, he has until January 11th, he could change his mind.

COSSACK: January 11th to change his mind.

WATERS: And if he doesn't change his mind, the judge then sets the date of execution?

COSSACK: The judge will then set a date for execution. Now, I suppose the good question is what happens if the judge sets an execution date of May 1st and on April 27th, he says, you know what? I've changed my mind again, and I'd really -- come to think of it, I really do want those appeals.

I guess that the time, the judge would have a hearing. I'm not sure which way it would go. Obviously, the notion of taking someone's life is a very serious issues in this country and who knows what the judge would decide. But as for now, he has no appeal, and as of January 11th, if he doesn't change the mind, the judge will set a date.

WATERS: OK, Roger Cossack, legal analyst. I'm sure we'll be back on this subject again.

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