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McVeigh Asks for Stay of Execution

Aired May 31, 2001 - 16:05   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Once resigned to death, Timothy McVeigh is back to fighting federal government. Today, he launched a legal attack against the FBI and asked a federal judge for a stay of execution. His lawyers say government agents defrauded the court that convicted McVeigh of the Oklahoma City bombing. We'll begin today with CNN's Susan Candiotti. She's in Terre Haute, Indiana, where Tim McVeigh does remain on death row -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Joie. In fact, convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh is setting the wheels in motion. At any time now, we are told, that his Denver-based attorneys will soon be filing a motion 340 pages long. It is under seal, and that it will ask a trial judge there to stop his June 11 execution.

And it also asks the court for a hearing at which, his attorneys say, they would put on evidence that the government is intentionally withholding evidence from them. Now if you are confused by all of this because you say, now wait a minute, Timothy McVeigh has already said he was prepared to die. In fact, he told two authors that he was totally responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing. His attorneys say, well, perhaps you are right. However, they say, he is doing this because he wants to prove a point.

ROBERT NIGH, MCVEIGH ATTORNEY: It is upon principle, Mr. McVeigh has decided to seek court relief. And it is based upon the government's failure to produce evidence in his case. He is convinced that the Department Of Justice and the FBI will not otherwise be held to account unless he takes this action.

CANDIOTTI: In fact, his attorneys say that Timothy McVeigh says that he wants to protect the integrity of the criminal justice system. His lawyers went on to charge that the government, the Justice Department as well as the FBI are committing fraud by withholding evidence from them, and they claim they have evidence -- proof of it.

RICHARD BURR, MCVEIGH ATTORNEY: It is quite clear to us that people have been investigated carefully by the FBI and they have never produced one piece of paper concerning those people. And we must get to the bottom of this. This proceeding is designed to do that.

CANDIOTTI: As an example of not turning over evidence, McVeigh's lawyers point out that within the last 24 hours the government turned over to them yet another document, something called a 302. That's an FBI form that sums up an interview with a particular witness. And this after the government said it had indeed turned over everything. The Justice Department explains that in fact they have turned everything over and that this document had nothing to do with the Oklahoma City Bomb case -- Joie, back to you.

CHEN: Susan, we have questions for you from the live Web chat under way right now. Stephen Smith asking: "How bad could it be for the FBI if McVeigh can overturn his execution order?"

CANDIOTTI: Well, it's a question as to whether he will be able to do that. However, that's up to the trial Judge Richard Matsch. Naturally, the FBI admits that it's embarrassed by this whole affair. It admit that it made a grave error. It doesn't like what happened but it continues to insist that there should be no further delay, no further postponement, and they also insist that there is no credible evidence in any of this that -- no credible evidence that would call into question his execution. It will be up to the trial judge to determine whether there will be a stay.

CHEN: Susan Candiotti for us at Terre Haute, Indiana. Get more on the McVeigh case from CNN legal analyst Roger Cossack is standing by for us. Roger, let's talk right away about this question that Susan just posed about the possibility of success for the lawyers in the McVeigh case.

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Joie, I don't think that the possibilities are very high if you are looking at the ultimate result being that McVeigh is not going to be executed. I think that the chances of that happening, at least with what we know, are probably pretty slim.

But if you are asking me, do I think that there is going to be a delay in his execution? Do I think that there will be time for the defense lawyers to go through all of this information? Do I think that there will be many arguments and perhaps arguments that could stretch on and perhaps even get to the Supreme Court? The answer is yes.

It's a very tough hurdle for the defense to show that the evidence that was withheld, if it wasn't withheld, would have caused a different result in the trial. And that's basically that what they have to show. It's not just enough to show that evidence wasn't turned over. They have to show that that evidence would have caused a different result. That is a high hurdle.

CHEN: Roger, we have questions from the Web chat now. Shirley Curtis asking: "Who's decision is it as to whether McVeigh gets a new trial?"

COSSACK: That would be up to Judge Matsch. Initially, he is, of course. the judge who heard the trial and that is where the jurisdiction lies in this case for the lawyers to go before Judge Matsch and make and a motion.

CHEN: Who is in Denver, by the way. COSSACK: I am sorry, yes, he is in Denver. What will they happen they will go into court, they will file their papers which they've done already under seal. They will tell the judge all the information that they have and ask for a hearing so that the judge can make the further decision.

The government will respond, the judge will make his decision. In doing so he may delay the execution so that there is plenty of time for each side to brief and bring their cases. If one side loses you know there will be an appeal, and that's why I say this ultimately could end up to the Supreme Court. We just don't know, but you can see what the future can uphold -- can hold here, that this could go on for a while.

And I must tell you that the government's in a tough spot. Look, it's the FBI's fault that they did not turn this material over. You know, it may not amount to much, we don't know. Maybe it does amount to plenty. But if they would have turned it over we wouldn't be in this spot.

CHEN: Roger Cossack, our CNN legal analyst. Thanks for being with us today.

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