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McVeigh Execution Delayed

Aired May 11, 2001 - 14:30   ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: And now back to this development in the McVeigh case, Major. He was peppered with questions about the FBI, about the fairness of the death penalty, whether McVeigh will revel in this extra attention. What's the doubt in your mind so far as the message that President Bush was sending out today about the death penalty and this case?

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Two things stood out, Natalie. First of all, the president said Timothy McVeigh is lucky to live in a country like the United States, that at the federal level at least -- and he stressed this, he said, "I've got no control over the way states handle the death penalty" -- but at the federal level, even with a crime this horrific, even with so many lives affected, an entire national convulsed by a crime of this magnitude, this government will take the time to make sure all appropriate steps are taken so that justice is the taken care of according to law. All constitutional guarantees are, in his words, carried out.

The other thing he said is, "I know this is going to cause frustration to many Americans," particularly the victims, the most immediate victims of this tragedy in Oklahoma City. He said, but, they, too, should take some comfort in the fact that when this is carried out, when Timothy McVeigh receives his ultimate justice, it will have been done in full accordance of the law.

The last thing the president said, "Timothy McVeigh has admitted he did this." He has not in any way lost confidence in the FBI or the fact that Timothy McVeigh is guilty. And he agrees with the decision of his attorney general to stop this or at least delay this execution so all procedures can be carried out, Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Major Garrett at the White House, we thank you. And now we go over to Stephen.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Natalie, we have correspondents following these developments in the McVeigh case all over the country, in Oklahoma City, in Denver, in Terre Haute where the execution was originally scheduled for next week, and in Washington too. We are going to take a break now. But when we come back, we will turn to all of them.


FRAZIER: Timothy McVeigh you will recall recently waved all of his appeals, telling his attorneys he would rather be put to death than spend the rest of his life in prison. Today, he is talking to his lawyers again.

We are joined now by CNN's Susan Candiotti, who is in Denver where McVeigh's federal trial took place -- Susan, hello again.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Stephen. U.S. Attorney general John Ashcroft saying that he wants to preserve the integrity and confidence in the U.S. Justice system, as you know, has now postponed the execution of Timothy McVeigh, which had been set more May 16, next Wednesday, at federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

That is because of this startling revelation made public within the last 24 hours, in which the FBI admitted that it had discovered, because of clerical errors it said, that it had not turned over all of its discovery information made during the course of its investigation to Timothy McVeigh's defense attorneys. Both the U.S. attorney general and the FBI continued to insist that none of the information, none of this material, creates any reasonable doubt, as they put it, to Mr. McVeigh's guilt. And may remind everyone, after all, they say that Timothy McVeigh has admitted his role and his responsibility in the Oklahoma City bombing.

We are told that there are at least 3,000 pages of material involved here, more than 500 forms and other documentation, that has been turned over to Mr. McVeigh's attorneys. And the attorney general has also appointed the inspector general to look into how this could have happened. Clearly, Mr. Ashcroft said, the FBI failed to comply with the court's discovery orders.

Now, according to the FBI, how this came about was during the course of it trying to put together archives of all of the information as part of the Oklahoma City bomb investigation, it thought that it had acquired all of the material and was just setting it about to file it away. During the course of this back in December or January, the archivist discovered that there was some material that had not indeed been turned over, original material, including FBI notes, for example, that had not been transcribed, had not been turned over.

And so that had all been put together. And just two days ago, the defense attorneys for Mr. McVeigh were notified that this had happened, as well as the trial judge in this case, trial judge Richard Matsch, who happens to have an office here behind me in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Now, this is one possible venue where Mr. McVeigh's lawyers could come if they wanted to pursue this matter in court. Now, the attorney general himself did not have to come to court because, after all, they said that they set the date for execution. They did not need to come to court to postpone it. Back to you, Stephen.

FRAZIER: Susan, any sign today of judge Richard Matsch, who presided over the original trial? You may have heard our Greta Van Susteren say earlier today that he is sure to be furious at this revelation? CANDIOTTI: Oh, yes indeed. He has a no-nonsense reputation. And, in fact, the FBI is admittedly concerned that it will receive a dressing down from this judge. But we have not heard from him so far. Since his office was notified of these developments, he's had no comment.

FRAZIER: In Denver, Susan Candiotti. Susan, thank you. Natalie.

ALLEN: We have heard comments from the father of Timothy McVeigh, who spoke with Greta Van Susteren today, who said, "I don't know what he," Timothy, "wants. He had made up his mind to die, but now I don't know. I'll handle it one day at a time. That's all they do." That from Bill McVeigh speaking with CNN.

Let's go now to CNN's Martin Savidge, who is in Oklahoma City. And, Martin, we hear you have spoken with one of McVeigh's first lawyers there?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's correct, Natalie. While the president was holding his news conference, we had the opportunity to talk to Stephen Jones. as you will remember, he was the lead attorney for Timothy McVeigh during his trial that took place in Denver, Colorado.

It is no secret that the two had been at odds during that trial and have remained at odds ever since. But this is what Mr. Jones had to say about the developments of the last day.


SAVIDGE: What your reaction, first of all?

STEPHEN JONES, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR TIMOTHY MCVEIGH: I think that the attorney general did the right thing. If he hadn't, then there would be the risk that people would criticize the government indefinitely, accuse it of hiding something. If the government is right, that there's not anything in it, in the papers that that they withheld, then the execution will go forward. Stays of execution are not uncommon.

If, on the other hand, there's something that should be looked into or a hearing held, Judge Matsch no doubt in my mind will hold a hearing. He's very fair. So it was the right thing to do.

SAVIDGE: Would this be a time that you go back to your client and say, "I told you so?"

JONES: No, I don't tell clients that. But I will tell you this. This case will be taught in law school for 50 years on the theory that the clients should listen to their lawyers. That's why you have lawyers. And the lawyers know better than the client. If Tim McVeigh had kept his mouth shut and not dismissed his appeals, he would be in the catbird seat today. Now, that may be able to be turned around. But he hasn't made it any easier for the lawyers now.

SAVIDGE: He still does have some control here.

JONES: He has control in the sense that he can still dismiss it. But I think Judge Matsch won't do that, because Judge Matsch is interested in the integrity of the process. He will want to be certain that the right thing is done. And I think that the attorney general recognized that. And that's why that they are not opposing it.

SAVIDGE: What can his defense team do now?

JONES: Well, first what they would say to the judge is, "Well, irrespective of what our client told to reporters, that's not before the court. What is important is the integrity of the process."

The second thing that they can do is Mr. McVeigh could eat some crow. He could simply say, "I was wrong." Or he could start to cooperate and improve his own situation.

So he's not without options. But they're limited.

SAVIDGE: Have we only delayed the outcome here?

JONES: Well, that's not insignificant. I mean, the whole world has been waiting for this execution. So, the government has egg on its face. They've tried to wipe some of it off today. Now the next move is up to the judge and Mr. McVeigh.

SAVIDGE: Do you see this as simply a colossal blunder or could it be something more sinister?

JONES: Well, as Ernest Hemmingway once said, it's worse than a crime, it's a blunder. And that's what we've got here.

But on the other hand, you have to recognize that it's the Oklahoma City FBI field office that came forward. That had to be difficult. But there are men and women of integrity there. And they did the right thing.


SAVIDGE: That was the attorney Stephen Jones. He was the former attorney general for Timothy McVeigh during his trial in Denver, Colorado. They haven't spoken for some time, meaning Timothy McVeigh and the attorney. But I did ask him to sort of give us an insight into the mind of Timothy McVeigh. He believes that his former client would be mentally torn between glee over the predicament that the government finds itself in and yet his desire to go ahead with his plans for the execution.

We turn from Timothy McVeigh to a man who has a very emotional tie to all of these developments, Jim Denny. His two children, and boy and a girl, severely injured in the explosion that took place here. Your thoughts now on what happened with this legal development?

JIM DENNY, FATHER OF CHILDREN INJURED IN OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING: Well, I think first of all, I want to say that I am very, very proud of the FBI and the Justice Department itself. I really think it shows what McVeigh doesn't want it to show, that it really works.

You know, they were putting boxes away from the archives. And they come across boxes that might be pertinent to the trial that weren't turned over at time. And they were honest. They came forward in a very crucial time when they could have looked very embarrassed.

And they might look embarrassed to some. But to me, they look honest. I think that Louis Freeh should be very proud of his FBI and the entire justice system.

SAVIDGE: It's been said that if anybody suffers most as a result of this discovery, it's the family members. What are their feelings?

DENNY: Well, Claudia and I, my wife Claudia and I and our children, have got on with our lives. Claudia and I made a pact right here in the middle of the street 20 minutes after it happened when we thought our children were gone that we were in life together and we were going to go on. And fortunately, God gave us back our children.

But to answer your question, we just have to go on. You know, the inevitable happened. And we find out on April 19 that we lost control of our lives at 9:02 a.m. But we've got control of our lives back now. And we're going to take full advantage of it.

We have no control over our system. But we see it works. And that's important. And justice will be carried out.

SAVIDGE: What were your plans on the day that Timothy McVeigh was to be executed?

DENNY: Well, we were going to go do a few interviews and be done about 9:00 a.m. in the morning. And the kids wanted to go to school. And Claudia and I were going to spend some quality time together, pick them up from school at 3:00, and spend some quality time together as a family.

May 16, when the execution was done, was not going to be a happy day for anybody. I don't think that it's a happy day when you take somebody's life, even a Tim McVeigh's life. And it's not a glorious day. But it's a day we can look at and say, "Listen, our system works."

SAVIDGE: Is it suffering, is it anguish for these families now to wait longer?

DENNY: I think for some it is. And that's a shame. There's not a day goes by that I don't personally wish that I could take some of their pain because our children survived. And that's not survivors' guilt. That's just the way I feel about Oklahomans and the people involved in the bombing.

It's terrible. But I think we realized that our system needs to work and leave no stone unturned. And that's what the FBI is doing in our Justice Department.

SAVIDGE: Your children now are older. And they've come to an age where they can understand what's going on. How do you talk about this? Do you talk about this?

DENNY: Martin, they know that on May 16 was of the scheduled date for Tim McVeigh's execution. They know that he was going to be strapped down on a table and injected and go to sleep.

It's very difficult to explain to a 9- and 8-year-old -- I believe in the death penalty, and so does Claudia -- but it's very difficult to explain to them about trials in our justice system. We emphasize that life is the most important thing in the face of the Earth, but we have justice and we have laws.

Rebecca told me the other day, and I can quote her, she looked me right in the eye, and I said, "What do you think is going to happen to Tim McVeigh after he goes to sleep after the injection?" And she told me that he is going to go to heaven.

I said, "Why do you think he's going to go to heaven?" "Because," she said, "God is all-forgiving." So that's our children. And I'm happy they feel that way.

SAVIDGE: Jim Denny, thank you very much for joining us.

DENNY: You are welcome.

SAVIDGE: The feelings in Oklahoma City now different than what they might have been anticipated with the decision to extend, at least, what was to be the execution slated for Wednesday. Back to you.

ALLEN: Martin Savidge. Thanks, Martin. And now over to Stephen.

FRAZIER: That reference to Rebecca. That was Jim Denny's 8- year-old daughter whose face is still scarred. Those scars will not fade with an execution, nor will the gait improve for his 9-year-old son Brandon, both children injured in the bombing.

All during the events of the today, the markets have been slowly spiraling down. Let's turn to Susan Lisovicz now in New York for an update on what's happening in the financial markets -- Susan.


FRAZIER: We are continuing our coverage now of the developments in the Timothy McVeigh case. In a related development, we have learned that Terry Nichols, the man convicted of helping Timothy McVeigh build his bomb, plans to appeal his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And he has got to move fast. There is a deadline of midnight tonight. CNN's Jeanne Meserve is in Washington now. She joins us with more on this part of the story -- Jeanne, hello again.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Stephen. Before we get to the Nichols part of the story, let me recap for you what happened at the Justice Department. Five days before the scheduled execution of Timothy McVeigh, the Attorney General John Ashcroft strode to the podium and said that he would be delaying the execution until June 11.

The attorney general said that he did not believe that there was anything in the 3,000 pages of documents that have now been uncovered that would create a reasonable doubt about McVeigh's guilt. And he noted repeatedly that McVeigh himself has claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Murrah federal building, which killed 168 people, 19 of them children.


JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: There is no doubt in my mind or in the minds of any individual about the guilt of Timothy McVeigh. He has repeatedly asserted his own responsibility for these acts with a kind of detailed account, which removes any doubt. I have taken these steps in order to assure the American people that they have a right to have confidence in our processes.


MESERVE: John Ashcroft saying that he had taken this step to promote the sanctity of rule of law and justice. President Bush appearing at the White House just an hour afterwards saying he believed that Ashcroft had made the right decision.

Now, John Ashcroft traveled to Oklahoma just about a month ago to meet with victims of the bombing and families of victims. He was making his decision on a closed-circuit feed of the execution at that time. He said today that he understood that those victims and those families would have some problems with his decision today.


ASHCROFT: I know many Americans will question why the execution of someone who is clearly guilty of such a heinous crime should be delayed. I understand that victims and victims' family members await justice.

But if any questions or doubts remain about this case, it would cast a permanent cloud over justice, diminishing its value and questioning its integrity. For those victims and for our nation, I want justice to be carried out fairly.


MESERVE: And Ashcroft said the inspector general at Department of Justice will be conducting an inquiry to find out why it took so long to find and deliver those documents.

And joining me now is senior Washington correspondent Charles Bierbauer with more on the case of Terry Nichols, whose lawyers are going to take action before midnight. Tell us what they are going to do.

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are going to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court asking for a new trial. This is something they have done before and been denied. But now they have new evidence and new terms for asking for a retrial for Terry Nichols.

Remember, Terry Nichols is serving a life sentence for conspiracy and for involuntary manslaughter. Nichols was not in Oklahoma City at time of the explosion, but was complicit in helping McVeigh obtain materials that were needed to construct this bomb.

So his lawyers feel that they have a better situation now as a result of this information. One of his lawyers is Michael Tigar.


MICHAEL TIGAR, ATTORNEY FOR TERRY NICHOLS: This is what the FBI does. They lie to the prosecutors. We caught them doing it again and again and again. They decide what their own prosecutors need.

And, in this case, I guess I have gotten past being angry. I'm kind of resigned to it and trying to do everything that we can because Terry Nichols was acquitted of most of the charges against him. He has got a real defense here on the merits. And this could be the things that makes a difference.


BIERBAUER: Well, Nichols' lawyers are angry, I would suggest. And one of the things that they are going to be looking for in these documents is any indication of this so-called John Doe number two, the unidentified mystery man, if there was such a person, who might have been involved in the conspiracy. And that could be used to sort of lessen the assertions and charges against Nichols.

That's why they feel that they hey positive element to work with here. But, of course, the Supreme Court has to decide whether or not to take that case.

MESERVE: Charles Bierbauer, thanks so much. And now, Natalie, back to you in Atlanta.

ALLEN: And during McVeigh's trial, we heard from one witness, the only witness who has been able to directly link McVeigh to a critical piece of evidence, the truck that carried the explosives to Murrah federal building. CNN's Susan Candiotti recently visited with this witness to get his views six years later.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Eldon Elliot (ph) visited the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial a year ago, the memories were painful.

ELDON ELLIOT, WITNESS IN MCVEIGH TRIAL: It's sad, really sad. I think that it will always bother me.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): Do you think you will ever forget it?

ELLIOT: Probably not. CANDIOTTI (voice-over): It was Eldon Elliot who ran the Ryder outlet in Junction City, Kansas, where the bomb truck was rented. The driver used a false ID, Robert Kling. He left no fingerprints behind.

Elliot was watching television two days after the attack when he saw Timothy McVeigh led away by the FBI.

ELLIOT: I said, "That's him."

CANDIOTTI (on camera): No doubt in your mind?

ELLIOT: No doubt in my mind. I knew right away that that was him.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): At the trial, Eldon Elliot was of the only eyewitness who could tie McVeigh directly to the bomb truck.

(on camera): When you looked into his eyes in the courtroom, what did you see?

ELLIOT: He just looked like another person. You just can't imagine that as nice as he seemed and looking at him, you wouldn't think that anyone could do that.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Now in semi retirement in Arizona, Elliot often wears this shirt he had made up.

(on camera): "Ryder Truck: We remember our customers."

(voice-over): Elliot saw McVeigh twice at his Ryder shop, once when McVeigh paid for the rental and later when he came back to get the truck. Elliot says the second time, there was a second man.

ELLIOT: A lot of times I wake up thinking, trying to think who that second person could have been.

CANDIOTTI: The FBI says McVeigh came in alone. Elliot insists that there was someone else.

ELLIOT: I don't know if he was just with him there, brought him out, if he was in on it, I don't know. You always wonder.

CANDIOTTI: Elliot says he is not sure he wants to be watching the news the day McVeigh is scheduled to be executed for killing 168 people.

(on camera): Do you think he is deserving of that punishment?

ELLIOT: Yes, I do.


ELLIOT: Because no one -- no one should take that many lives.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Susan Candiotti, CNN, Oklahoma City.


ALLEN: Timothy McVeigh's execution moved today to June 11. And we'll continue to bring you updates on this astonishing development in this case.

Keep it here to CNN. Thanks for watching "CNN Live" today. I am Natalie Allen.

FRAZIER: "TALKBACK LIVE" is going to continue coverage of these remarkable events today. Bobbie Battista will pick up with "Talkback Live." I am Stephen Frazier. Thanks for joining us today.

ALLEN: Good afternoon.



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