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McVeigh Attorney Holds News Conference

Aired May 11, 2001 - 15:32   ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Going immediately now to Terre Haute, Indiana, of course, where the federal penitentiary is, where Timothy McVeigh is, where he was awaiting execution next week. Obviously, that's been delayed now. Let's listen to his attorney, Robert Nigh.

ROBERT NIGH, MCVEIGH ATTORNEY: ... Mr. McVeigh had made the mental and psychological preparations for death. He had said his good-byes to his family and to his friends. He is distressed that he has had to put these people that he cares about through this process and may only have to put them through it again.

In light of these recent failures in the system of justice and equally prevalent failures in other federal death penalty cases, not only is a stay appropriate in Mr. McVeigh's case: I believe that a moratorium on all federal executions is in order.

President Bush indicated in his press conference that it is time for the cycle of violence to stop. Let us stop the cycle of violence and let us say that we will no longer kill in the name of justice.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Did he indicate whether he wanted a delay?

NIGH: He had indicated in the past that he did not want a delay.

FRANKEN: But today?

NIGH: Now that it has occurred he is willing to take a fresh look and evaluate the information.

FRANKEN: Is there the possibility that he may in fact want to initiate further legal proceedings to fight the death penalty?

NIGH: It is certainly possible. He is going to make an informed decision upon the information contained within the documents and the discussions that we have with him.

QUESTION: Does he have the documents?

NIGH: I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Does he have the documents?

NIGH: He does not have them physically at this time, no. QUESTION: Will he get them soon? Will he read them himself?

NIGH: He will assist us in that process, most certainly.

FRANKEN: As his attorney, sir, do you believe -- is it possible that some of these documents, contrary to what the government is saying, may in fact be exculpatory.

NIGH: It's impossible to say what they contain until there's been an adequate opportunity to review them all in the context of the documents themselves, but in the context of the evidence in the case.

QUESTION: Is 30 days enough time for you to look at this, Mr. Nigh?

NIGH: Thirty days would be enough to read them: 30 days most likely would not be enough to conduct the analysis that has to be conducted.

QUESTION: Will you ask for a further stay?

QUESTION: So what -- can I follow on what you said? So what then do you do? If you find something, do you then go to the court and ask them, or are you going to do that right away? What can we expect?

NIGH: The first step is to see what we have.


NIGH: Then in addition we will perform an analysis and see what legal steps should be taken as a result of the information contained within the documents, and also we'll consult with Mr. McVeigh in terms of his wishes.

FRANKEN: Sir, I'm trying to get a situation. Up until today or yesterday, he was saying that he no longer wanted to fight his execution. Has the possibility been renewed that he might decide to fight it?

NIGH: Mr. McVeigh is very resilient. He is capable of evaluating new information and making decisions based upon new information.

As I said, he's distressed about this in that he knows the impact that it has upon his family and those that care about him. And quite frankly, it's a distress with the impact that it has on others.

FRANKEN: But if you don't mind my belaboring this, sir, is it possible -- is it possible that he might decide to fight the execution?

NIGH: I'm going to answer this question.

QUESTION: You say he's distressed about the others. Whom are you speaking of? NIGH: Well, he is cognizant of the degree of preparation that has occurred in anticipation of his execution by members of this community in Terre Haute, by yourselves and members of the media, and by other people affected by his execution. And a process that has this many failures is difficult.

FRANKEN: Would some of those, sir, be the family of the victims?

NIGH: I think they would be included in persons that are affected by this.

QUESTION: Could you characterize his reaction? Anger, frustration, amusement even? What was his...

NIGH: Well, it certainly was not amusement. I believe there was a degree of frustration for the reasons that I've explained. I can't say that there was anger. I can also not say there was a great degree of surprise.


NIGH: This -- this kind of thing unfortunately happens far too often in the criminal justice system. I cannot tell you the number of times that we were assured that we had every document that we were entitled to under the terms of the agreement, and those assurances were hollow. Mr. McVeigh was familiar with that.

QUESTION: Does he feel any vindication at all that the Justice Department did not treat him properly? Does he feel any vindication at all?

NIGH: I don't think vindication would be a proper way to describe it.

I'm sorry. What was the question over here?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) in some way indicate that he still had some preference to have the execution (OFF-MIKE)?

NIGH: He is keeping all of his options open. Wednesday I think would be out of the question even if he wanted it to happen that way. But I believe that he's keeping all of his options open.

FRANKEN: Does he have a say-so, sir, given the Bureau of Prisons authority to (OFF-MIKE)?

NIGH: Not under the current set of circumstances.

FRANKEN: Is it possible you would go to court and to try to change that?

NIGH: No, not that decision.

QUESTION: Mr. Nigh -- excuse me. What was your advice to him as far as how to conduct himself over the next 30 days? NIGH: I haven't had to give Mr. McVeigh advice on how to conduct himself. Mr. McVeigh is fully capable of doing that himself. The advice that I have always given him would be to press until you can press no more. He has not always accepted that advice, but that would be consistent with what I urged him to do today.

QUESTION: But he feels like he might press on at this point, did you get that sense?

NIGH: He certainly is willing to consider the options and evaluate the information as it becomes known. He's willing to look at the material, to listen to our analysis of the material, to hear us about his legal options, and then make an informed decision. And he has indicated a willingness to do that.

QUESTION: Is this a situation where you had to convince him to take advantage of this delay and seek further ones?

NIGH: No. He was willing to do that without me having to urge him to consider all the options. It's in his nature to be resilient.

That's about all I have time for. Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Did he indicate when he will decide whether to (OFF- MIKE)?

NIGH: I'm sorry. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you, Bob.

CHEN: To put in context what you've been watching here on CNN, if you haven't been following us through the day, there has been a delay in the execution of Timothy McVeigh announced earlier in the day by Attorney General John Ashcroft. You just heard there speaking outside the federal prison at Terre Haute, Indiana Robert Nigh, who is one of the attorneys for Mr. McVeigh. He spoke with Mr. McVeigh about the delay and the decision there and what would happen next, what Tim McVeigh's perspective is.

Let's get the latest now from CNN national correspondent Bob Franken, who's at Terre Haute, and Bob pressing for a lot of answers there with Robert Nigh. What did you hear?

FRANKEN: Well, first of all, his description repeatedly of Timothy McVeigh as distressed. He said that his distress, according to the attorney, was that so many people had in fact prepared for this. And under questioning, he said that included McVeigh's concern, he suggested for the families of the victims. Of course, there are so many of the families of the victims who actually wanted to watch this execution.

In addition to which, he left open the possibility that McVeigh, who had said he no longer wanted to fight the plans to execute him, might reconsider. "He's resilient," said Nigh, and he's going to look at the material and see what action is further warranted. Now, Nigh is a very aggressive opponent of capital punishment. You could hear that, of course, in his comments. But this has thrown everything into turmoil. There is no way, said Nigh, that they can fight this extension, but they have to decide if they want to fight after that -- Joie.

CHEN: Yeah, Bob, I noticed in Robert Nigh's comments that he said that given the circumstances he -- that is Mr. Nigh -- thought a moratorium on federal death penalty operations would be in order given the circumstances there. I noted that you, all of you as reporters, were pressing him very hard on an answer about what Timothy McVeigh wanted to do, but it seemed like Nigh wasn't quite prepared to say, yes, he will go this way or not.

FRANKEN: Well, what they -- what they have is a lot of material to look through. Clearly, Mr. Nigh had not had the chance yet to analyze it -- at least, that was the impression he was leaving -- nor had McVeigh. So they say they need time just to digest what's there.

When Nigh was asked whether he felt that any of the material was in fact material that might have helped McVeigh's defense, the Justice Department says that it really would have made no difference. He said he was not really able to answer that question. That, of course, is a key question.

CHEN: Now, we know that Mr. Ashcroft in announcing this delay has set it now for June 11th. That would be the earlier date, I guess, possible. Does this change anything about McVeigh's status within the prison system? Has he moved anywhere else? Does he remain there until this is resolved somehow?

FRANKEN: Well, he's been here. Whether he is actually physically taken out of the cell he's in would be an administrative decision that I'm sure the Bureau of Prisons wouldn't even let us know. But he is still who is under sentence with a new date set for his execution. The question becomes whether McVeigh will try and extend it beyond that, or whether in fact lawyers will somehow interfere, or whether there is some sort of legal strategy that will come out of seeing the documents.

We have two elements here. First of all, people are astonished that this happened. Secondly, there has to be an analysis by the defense attorneys in particular to see if in fact there is anything which might have undermined the prosecution of McVeigh and helped the defense.

CHEN: CNN national correspondent Bob Franken for us in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Again, following up here, the latest information we're getting from Terre Haute, Indiana, Robert Nigh, the attorney for Timothy McVeigh, who met with his client this afternoon to talk about -- talk with him about the Justice Department's decision earlier in the day to delay his execution, which, of course, was scheduled for this coming Wednesday. It has now been delayed until June 11th, based on some errors by the FBI in turning over all the information involved in the case to Mr. McVeigh's attorneys.

Again now his execution has been delayed at least until June 11th. Robert Nigh, the attorney for Tim McVeigh, says his client is resilient and is keeping his options open.

We'll continue to follow this story and get much more coverage of this. We're going to take a break and then return to TALKBACK LIVE.



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