McVeigh’s lawyers accused the U.S. government of committing “a fraud upon the court” for failing to turn over more than 4,000 documents to his defense team during his trial.
They submitted their request for a delay this afternoon in Denver to U.S. District Court judge Richard Matsch, who presided over McVeigh’s 1997 trial. They did not specify how long a delay they would seek.
Lawyers also said they will request a hearing to look into allegations the government is still withholding documents that could be important to McVeigh’s case.
“There are still critical documents about this investigation being withheld by the FBI,” lawyer Richard Burr said. “We must get to the bottom of this.”
Attorney General John Ashcroft said today the Justice Department would oppose any attempt to delay McVeigh’s June 11 execution.
“Based on overwhelming evidence and McVeigh’s own repeated admissions, we know that he is responsible for this crime, and we will continue to pursue justice by seeking to carry out the sentence that was determined by the jury,” Ashcroft said.
McVeigh decided to request a delay during a two-hour meeting with his lawyers today, marking an apparent change from his earlier plan to drop any legal appeals and ask for an execution date. He was convicted of planning and executing the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people.
Attorney Robert Nigh said McVeigh was “prepared to die,” but changed his mind because “he is convinced … that the Department of Justice and the FBI will not otherwise be held to account unless he takes this action.”
Previously unreleased documents from the Oklahoma City case, including notes and transcripts from interviews, were found at various FBI offices three weeks ago. Ashcroft then delayed McVeigh’s execution, originally scheduled for May 16, to give defense attorneys time to review the documents.
In testimony before Congress, FBI Director Louis Freeh admitted that not turning over the documents promptly was a “serious error” on the agency’s part.
Ashcroft announced last week that all documents in the Oklahoma City case had been located and turned over to McVeigh’s defense team.