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Department of Justice Turns Over Documents to McVeigh

By Lois Romano and Dan Eggen
THE WASHINGTON POST -- Six days before Timothy McVeigh is scheduled to be executed for the Oklahoma City bombing, the Justice Department Thursday gave his attorneys thousands of pages of FBI documents that it said were mistakenly withheld before McVeigh’s 1997 trial.

The stunning development caught McVeigh’s attorneys by surprise. They said they are considering their options.

McVeigh lawyer Nathan Chambers said he had spoken to McVeigh after the documents were delivered to his office in Denver, but declined to reveal what McVeigh said. “Mr. McVeigh is going to think about it and decide how he wants to proceed,” he said.

A copy of the Justice Department letter was sent to U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch who presided over Mcveigh’s trial, as well as that of his coconspirator, Terry Nichols. McVeigh’s attorneys would have to file a motion for a stay of execution with the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals if he decided to seek a delay in the proceedings.

Justice Department attorney Sean Connelly said in a letter to McVeigh’s attorneys that “we do not believe anything being produced (bears) on the federal convictions or sentences of Timothy McVeigh or Terry Nichols. Similarly, we do not believe anything in the materials makes even a prima facie showing of either man’s actual innocence.”

Justice Department sources said Thursday night that the missing records were discovered during a routine “archival search” for all records connected to the McVeigh case. According to one source, more than 40 offices had failed to previously send the materials.

About 3,100 pages of documents were turned over, sources said. But two government sources estimated that only 100-200 pages had not been previously seen by defense attorneys.

Sources said that a number of the so-called “302 forms,” which are official reports of interviews conducted by FBI agents around the country, pertain to “John Doe No. 2,” a suspect who was described by witnesses soon after the blast but who never materialized.

FBI officials blame the lapse on the bureau’s outdated computer records system, which apparently did not catch the records during previous searches. The latest call for documents required agents in FBI field offices to manually search their files, officials said.

The FBI, which is in the midst of building a new computer system, has had previous problems disclosing key records.

One recent lapse came during the troubled investigation of former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee.

The jarring turn of events baffled relatives of the victims Thursday night, many of whom were planning to witness the execution on a closed circuit feed to Oklahoma City next week.

“As far as I am concerned he confessed. He said he did it,” said Roy Sells, who lost his wife in the blast. “What do all these papers have to do with it?”

As for whether McVeigh’s lawyers would be able to obtain a stay of execution to give them time to review the documents, Colombia Law professor James Liebman said, “I don’t know think there’s an established standard (for the granting of a stay) in circumstances like this. It’s something that would have to be up to the discretion of the judge.”