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Lawyer for McVeigh Clain Morning News Stole Files

By Tom Kenworthy
The Washington Post
DENVER

The lawyer for accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh Monday charged that a Dallas newspaper had stolen virtually the entire defense file in the case and said he may ask for a 90-day delay in the trial.

Attorney Stephen Jones said the files obtained by the newspaper included some 25,000 FBI investigative reports, all the independent investigative work done by the McVeigh defense and the lawyers working for his co-defendant, Terry L. Nichols, who will be tried after McVeigh. The Morning News reported Friday that confidential defense notes show McVeigh admitting to the 1995 bombing and saying he did it during the day to ensure a high "body count."

Paul Watler, a Morning News lawyer, dismissed Jones's charges, saying the paper had engaged in "lawful" and "routine newsgathering techniques We have no fear of criminal repercussions because we have engaged in no wrongdoing of any kind."

Ralph Langer, the paper's executive editor, called Jones' allegations that "flat wrong Obviously we wouldn't publish a story - particularly a story of this significance - without having done our homework. We are confident of what we have."

After discussions with Jones over the weekend, the Morning News said in an affidavit with the U.S. District Court here that it has placed the documents in the custody of its counsel and would not use them for any further stories on the bombing case.

Langer said in an interview that the other documents were not as newsworthy as the material he published and that "we thought we would take it off the table" with the announcement of no further stories.

Meanwhile, the McCurtain Daily Gazette of Idabel, Okla., which has broken several stories about the bombing probe, threw a new wrinkle into case. Publisher Bruce Willingham, while denying allegations that one of his reporters passed the defense material to the Morning News, said the defense notes were partly a fabrication used by McVeigh's team to gain information from a source.

"It has long been our understanding," Willingham said, "that the so-called McVeigh confession is a document prepared by a member of the defense team for a specific and limited purpose. The contents of that document are a mixture of fact and fantasy purposely and skillfully created so as to allow a member of the McVeigh defense the opportunity to gain access and information from a single source in their complex investigation."

Over the weekend, Jones seemed to embrace such a theory when he said the Morning News had told him who its confidential source was and that it was someone who had a grudge against the paper and was trying to "set this newspaper up." But Langer called this account "absolutely, positively not true," saying the paper never disclosed the source's identity to Jones.

Jones, at a Denver news conference Monday, excoriated the Morning News for what he said was illegal and unethical behavior that could jeopardize McVeigh's right to a fair trial. He said he had asked Patrick M. Ryan, the U.S. attorney in Oklahoma City, to investigate what he said was theft of the defense's computerized records. The Dallas paper, said Jones, was guilty of "fraud, theft, and deceit."

He added: "It isn't a confession by Tim McVeigh. It wasn't then. It isn't now."

But Jones appeared to back off his charge that the documents were a "hoax," as he said Friday when the Morning News posted the account on its Internet site. Monday, he acknowledged that the document was indeed in the defense's file, but said it had no legitimacy. Jones said he could not describe it further because of a "gag order" imposed by the judge.

The Morning News, said Jones, had potentially jeopardized both defense investigators involved in interviewing confidential intelligence sources overseas and sources working for groups like the Irish Republican Army and Islamic terrorist groups. Jones has frequently contended that the bombing may have been the work of international terrorist groups.

Accusing the newspaper of extreme "recklessness," Jones said "our entire investigation was in jeopardy." He said he had filed a complaint with the Texas state bar association concerning the conduct of Pete Slover, the Morning News reporter who broke the story and who is also an attorney. Slover did not respond to requests for comment.

Watler, the Morning News attorney, said some of Jones' charges "don't necessarily reflect reality." Langer, the paper's editor, said he approved the controversial story because "we concluded this was so significant we had an obligation to publish it."

While suggesting he would ask for a three-month continuance to allow for what he called "a cooling-off period," Jones also raised the possibility of seeking a non-jury trial before Judge Richard P. Matsch. That would require the approval of both the judge and the Justice Department. A source close to the case said the prosecution would likely oppose any delay.