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Judge Denies Motion by McVeigh Attorneys to Change Trial Venue

By Tom Kenworthy
The Washington Post
DENVER

A federal judge Monday rejected appeals by accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh to block, delay or move his trial because of a flurry of news reports that he had confessed to his own defense lawyers.

"I have full confidence that a fair-minded jury can and will be empaneled and that those selected will return a just verdict based on the law and evidence presented to them," U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch wrote in a five-page opinion.

Matsch's ruling clears the way for McVeigh's trial to begin as scheduled on March 31. He and his co-defendant Terry L. Nichols, who will be tried later, face the death penalty on murder and conspiracy charges stemming from the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building that killed 168 people and injured more than 500 others.

Matsch pointedly rejected arguments by McVeigh's lead attorney, Stephen Jones, that damaging accounts of his client's purported "confession" had made a fair trial impossible and had deprived him of the right to counsel by breaching the attorney-client privilege. Jones asked the court last Friday to dismiss the charges against McVeigh or, failing that, to delay the case for a year or move it to a distant locale.

But Matsch said it is unlikely that the recent accounts in the Dallas Morning News and Playboy magazine have had as widespread or decisive an impact on the Colorado jury pool as Jones fears. He said that careful questioning of potential jurors should weed out those whose ability to weigh the evidence impartially has been compromised.

"The two published stories and the publicity surrounding them must be considered in the full context of all that has been said and done in connection with this case," wrote Matsch. "There is no reason to believe that fair-minded persons would be so influenced by anything contained in this recent publicity that they would not be ready, willing and able to perform the duty to follow the law and decide according to the evidence presented in a vigorously contested trial."

Neither Jones nor the prosecution team had any response to the ruling.