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McVeigh's Date With Death

Aired June 6, 2001 - 19:30   ET



DR. PAUL HEATH, OKLAHOMA BOMBING SURVIVOR: Monday Timothy McVeigh, the condemned, delusional, suicidal bomber of the federal building will die by lethal injection. It's what he wants. It's what he demanded and it's what justice requires.


ANNOUNCER: Tonight: A federal judge denies Timothy McVeigh a stay of execution. Was it the right decision?


ROBERT NIGH, MCVEIGH ATTORNEY: We will file on Mr. McVeigh's behalf an appeal to the United States court of appeals for the 10th circuit and it is to that issue that we must turn our immediate attention.


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington: CROSSFIRE." On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: Republican Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia, a former U.S. attorney, and in Detroit, Michigan, criminal defense attorney Geoffrey Fieger.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. A federal judge today refused to halt the execution of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. His lawyers vow an appeal, but for now McVeigh is scheduled to die next Monday at a federal prison in Terre Haute. For more on where that appeal stands, we go to CNN'S Susan Candiotti, who is live in Denver. Susan, what in the world are McVeigh's attorneys planning?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Tucker. At this very hour Timothy McVeigh's lawyers are hard at work behind closed doors in a conference room putting the final touches on briefs they plan on filing first thing in the morning before the 10th circuit court of appeals. That is the building that you see before me.

Earlier in the day, a victory for the government: Trial Judge Richard Matsch after hearing about an hour and a half worth of argument ruled after a brief recess that he could find no pattern by the FBI, no scheme to subvert the defense to commit fraud by intentionally withholding evidence from the defense before trial as the defense had claimed.

The judge said even he was shocked at be FBI's blunder however in failing to turn over those materials, but ultimately he said the evidence against Timothy McVeigh is so overwhelming and because McVeigh himself has admitted guilt, he saw no reason to overturn the conviction or to question the jury's verdict and carrying out and issuing the death penalty to Timothy McVeigh.

And so, once they finish up the work on their appeal briefs they will be filed in the morning.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Susan, Bill Press here. Let me ask you a question: The appeal will be filed in the morning. This is Wednesday evening. He's scheduled to be executed early Monday morning. How soon can this appeal be heard and if they are turned down there, how high can they go?

CANDIOTTI: Well, the appeal can be heard very quickly, Bill. As we understand it after formerly filing a notice to appeal, simultaneously the paperwork will come here. Then according to the clerk at this office it doesn't take long for a three-judge panel to get a look at the paperwork and they certainly have the option of holding a hearing, but it's highly unlikely that would happen according to the court clerk. And in fact in very high-profile cases the clerk says they have made a ruling in as little as three hours. So if the defense loses here they could of course turn to the U.S. Supreme Court.

PRESS: OK, Susan Candiotti you've had a long day. Thanks so much for joining us on CROSSFIRE.

CANDIOTTI: You're welcome.

PRESS: And Congressman Bob Barr, let's start with you, if I may. I want to perhaps state the obvious. But I don't care about Timothy McVeigh. I have no doubt that he's guilty. I do care about the integrity of our justice system.

REP. BOB BARR (R), GEORGIA: That's why you ought to be delighted with the decision today.

PRESS: And by the way I think -- I know you do too. So My first question to you simply, why the rush?

BARR: There is no rush. This man was convicted four years ago, Bill. I would hate to see a long case, if you consider a case that's been going on now for four years to be a rush to judgment. This is not a rush to judgment. Every possible angle of this the case has been looked at minutely over and over and over again.

I was in very much in favor of this 30-day delay that the attorney general also requested but it doesn't take that long to review these documents which court did to satisfy itself that there is nothing in here that shows in any way, shape or form that this man was innocent, and that the judgment that was rendered four years ago and which has been looked at exhaustively since then should not stand.

PRESS: But there may be a question there, and again, Timothy McVeigh is in jail. He is not going anywhere. There are people, Bob Barr, who have been on death row around this country a lot longer than he has.

BARR: And that's a serious problem.

PRESS: And let me let you listen to what one of his former attorneys Stephen Jones had to say today about why we might take a little more time. Here he is.


STEPHEN JONES, FORMER MCVEIGH ATTORNEY: What does the system have to lose? What does justice have to lose? And the answer to that question is nothing. McVeigh can still be executed, but you cannot bring the dead back to life.


PRESS: So why not another six months -- nothing to lose?

BARR: What you lose is the credibility of the justice system. What you lose is the finality that the people of this country and the judicial system has a right to expect once a case has be been handled fully in accordance with Constitutional law, with federal law and according to standard rules of procedure. There has been no defect that has been uncovered in this case.

CARLSON: Geoffrey Fieger, I want to read you two quotes, both of them come directly from Timothy McVeigh and I think they sum up this case pretty nicely. The first, this is from "American Terrorist," the book about Timothy McVeigh. I'm quoting now, "I bombed the Murrah building," said Timothy McVeigh. And the second is, "The truth is," said Timothy McVeigh, "it was just me." In other words, I did it. I did it alone. Case closed. Nobody disputes this. What in the world, apart from allowing McVeigh to give more lectures on the militia movement would be the reasoning behind delaying an execution he admits he deserves?

GEOFFREY FIEGER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: The very reason that Mr. Jones stated and I think Mr. Barr is missing. The integrity of the system. I wouldn't give McVeigh one opportunity to make himself a martyr. And the system can only lose.

The power of the United States government is so great and McVeigh in the scheme of things is so insignificant that any suggestion that there could be a cover-up, any suggestion that evidence has been withheld, and in fact, even in the sentencing phase, because these documents might have been relevant not simply in the adjudication of guilt, but they might have been relevant in terms of the sentencing of death because Mr. Nichols do not get death under similar circumstances. There's absolutely nothing to be lost by the justice system and frankly McVeigh stands to gain by this so called swift justice because he can become a martyr and then they can always talk about what was withheld.

CARLSON: So, if I understand your reasoning, Geoffrey Fieger, it's that in order to limit McVeigh's influence on American society, to keep him from being a martyr, as you put it, we need to keep him alive so he can continue to proselytize on behalf of this belief system that led him to kill almost 200 people. He needs to keep spewing forth this propaganda in order to minimize its effect. That appears to be what you're saying.

FIEGER: No, no. These things were written a long time ago. They're not under oath and I'm not impressed by any of these writings. I would lock him a cage. I wouldn't give him any communication ability and I'd make him look at the photographs of the victims for the rest of his life.

CARLSON: You would look him in a cage?

FIEGER: Literally.

CARLSON: Quite a civil libertarian are, it sounds like.

FIEGER: Very good, but -- you and me should talk about that -- but in fact, the issue here is much greater than that. If the United States government, the FBI -- and I disagree with Judge Matsch today -- he says others should be responsible for investigating the neglect if you will, or misdeeds of the FBI. I don't agree with that.

The FBI is an arm of the prosecutor, the investigatory arm of the prosecutor. I think a lot more investigation -- Matsch couldn't possibly have determined whether FBI at this point intentionally withheld documents and that has been the assertion. This issue is much to big. And if they can do it in this high profile of a case, what can they do in cases where the rest of world isn't looking with this spotlight upon a case? Can you imagine what kind of misdeeds can be done under those circumstances? That's why we have to protect rights in this type of case.

PRESS: Congressman Barr, let me ask you about these documents. You said something about the credibility of the justice system. I think if anybody's damaged the credibility of the justice system it's the FBI.

BARR: And I don't disagree with that.

PRESS: OK, so they say now that there's 4,000 pages of nothing basically -- nothing relevant -- in all these documents. So "The L.A. Times" today has gone through a great deal of them, and they pointed out -- I will just pick out three that they mentioned. They mentioned about 12 that were particularly interesting.

There's an interview with one man who says a whole cash of guns that he had was stolen by Terry Nichols to raise money for these bombing materials. Another interview with a guy who identifies a McVeigh ally who says, he's the one that stole the guns. He knew all about the plans. There's another interview with a reporter from Oklahoma who identifies still another gentlemen who was allegedly involved in the bombing. Now don't you think those are relevant enough to this case that they ought to take time to find out what the hell they're all about?

BARR: Bill, I mean, I don't know. There were hundreds of thousands of pages of record in this case. I have no idea whether these little tidbits that you and "The Los Angeles Times" have pulled out of these very few documents have any meaning in the larger context. What I would much prefer, though, is to rely on the judge himself, unlike you or me, who sat through months of evidence, who has gone through hundreds of thousands of documents -- he looked at this stuff and he knows a lot more about it than you or I do, and he said there's nothing in here that would go in any way, shape or form to the guilt of this man or to the justification for carrying out this sentence.

PRESS: Well, I haven't been around the justice system as much as you have, but I don't think that judges are perfect either, Congressman Barr. And if there's a chance, if there's a chance that these documents could prove that there was somebody else involved, or that Terry Nichols was more involved than he said he was, who's now in jail for life, don't you think it's good to find that out while McVeigh is still alive?

BARR: Why would keeping this scum bag alive help...

PRESS: Because he may have some information on that case that's relevant, Congressman.

BARR: Oh, he would love that. He would love for you to keep him around for the next 20 years so every time some little bit piece of evidence comes up and gets you all excited he's there to analyze it for you. I don't think our justice system demands that, and this man certainly doesn't deserve it.

FIEGER: Frankly, congressman, I think you're -- I think you're wrong, though. I think McVeigh really wants to be martyred and I think you're giving him what he really wants. The suggestion that he wants to be locked away for the rest of his life -- I think the real reason he's demanding it and he's manipulated the system to this point is he does want to be martyred. And this is going to further that martyrdom if there's a suggestion that there's a cover-up, if there's a suggestion that there is something being withheld, that there is new evidence.

Any of those suggestions are much -- that's a much more important issue than McVeigh's life, much more important.

BARR: But I don't think this furthers that at all, Geoffrey. The fact is, if there is other evidence there that goes to the guilt of another person, that may have a bearing on Mr. Nichols' case and his sentence, the justice system, and the defense lawyers, the prosecutors can follow all of that up. But there's no reason to keep McVeigh sitting around here at taxpayer expense so that he can give more interviews, write more books, because I think that that's what he's really...


FIEGER: Actually -- no, truthfully -- you're a lawmaker. Truthfully, the procedures involved in executing him are far more expensive than not executing him, even in the short term. Really. The cost to the taxpayers is much less if we keep him locked in a cage while we looked at what happened here in terms of the FBI.

BARR: I don't think so.

PRESS: All right, gentlemen, we are going to take a break here, and we want to tell you that Congressman Bob Barr has been kind enough to agree to stick around after the show. We've got a lot more questions for him. You'll get a chance to throw them to him yourself at -- in our chatroom at And when we come back, let's examine here what is the best decision for the families of the victims of that Oklahoma City bombing. We'll be right back with more CROSSFIRE.



MARSHA KIGHT, MOTHER OF BOMBING VICTIM: Killing McVeigh 168 times would still not fill the void that I have in my heart at losing my child.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. For families of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, it's been a see-saw. As we just heard, some of them believe McVeigh's execution will serve no purpose. Most of them, however, support his punishment, and the sooner, the better.

Will it happen as scheduled on Monday? Should it? Or should his defense attorneys be given more time?

Debating the fate of McVeigh tonight: Republican Congressman Bob Barr, from Georgia, former U.S. attorney, and defense attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who joins us from Detroit -- Tucker.

CARLSON: Geoffrey Fieger, let's take this from the abstract to the concrete. I want you to listen to the voice of one of the bombing victims.


CARLSON: His name is Dr. Paul Heath. Here is what he had to say about the decision today.


DR. PAUL HEATH, OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING SURVIVOR: At least today I am reassured that the Constitution of the United States is still in place. It gave him every protection that it gives anybody accused and he was found guilty.


CARLSON: So here, Mr. Fieger, is the answer to your question, and the question you posed was what's the hurry. Well, there are people, human beings, who are affected by this, like Dr. Paul Heath. Why should they have to sit and endure and pay for the spectacle of this character going through endless appeals when we know he's guilty?

FIEGER: Well, I answered that question about paying for him, and Dr. Heath is wrong about the Constitution. The Constitution isn't damaged in allowing the appellate process -- that is through Judge Matsch to the 10th Circuit to the Supreme Court is the constitutional process. So he's wrong about that.

But one second after Timothy McVeigh -- and I've thought about this a lot Tucker -- takes his last breath nothing will have been changed. Those victims, the children, the adults, all the families destroyed, nothing will have been changed. Timothy McVeigh will be dead, but they will still have to live with the loss. And...

CARLSON: Well, that's easy for you to say, because you're not one of them. They think a lot will be changed...

FIEGER: Well, I'll tell -- I'll tell -- quite honestly, I think, we've executed quite a number of people throughout the years, and I doubt anyone who's even witnessed now the execution of those who killed their loved-ones can honestly say that the void has been removed as a result of executing or killing another person.

CARLSON: Well, wait a second, again. It's a bit much to put yourself in the position of people who lost family members in Oklahoma City that day and say, gee, their pain won't be assuaged by this. How do you...


FIEGER: Well, because if it was, if killing one person assuages the loss by someone of their loved-ones, then something's really strange. McVeigh means nothing to him. Even taking him out of this world should mean nothing in terms of the emptiness and the loss that they feel.

If they can fill the void of the loss of their loved-one by the taking life of a scum bag, McVeigh, something is seriously wrong. And it -- so we're really talking, Tucker, about pure and utter vengeance. We really aren't talking in the long term. One year from today, if McVeigh's been dead for a year, every single one of those people will feel the loss just as intensely as when McVeigh was breathing.

CARLSON: Well, you ought to ask them about that.

PRESS: Plus, congressman, I'd point out that not all of the families of the victims agree that McVeigh should be executed or agree that there should be no delay. So, I mean, you can't choose which ones you agree with and which ones you don't.

Let me quote another one, Jannie Coverdale, who lost two grandsons in this tragic bombing, as quoted in the paper this morning saying: "I'm wondering now, if Tim is executed, will we ever know. We have been fighting so long for the truth I have no confidence in the government now."

Here's a family member who is saying let's get to the truth and take the time to get to the truth. Why don't you listen to that voice, congressman?

BARR: Well, what I'm listening to is our judicial system, and our judicial system is telling me and it's telling you, if you just listen to it, that this man was found guilty by a jury of his peers after an exhaustive trial. There have been exhaustive review of all of this material.

Yes, the FBI made a serious mistake and that is something that we ought to look into. We should have very serious and continuous and long-term oversight and make some changes in federal law enforcement as a result in what has been pointed out in this case.

But that has nothing to do with this case, where we find ourselves right now. Had there been anything in that material, Bill, that you could have hung your hat on, the judge would have found it.

PRESS: I gave you several things you could hand your hat on.

FIEGER: At least give -- Bob -- at least give the accused who risk the loss of a life, at least give him the same appellate rights we gave to Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush in the election. Let them go through the 10th circuit...

BARR: Talk about apples and oranges! This is a man who said...

FIEGER: No, it's not. Same appellate rights.

BARR: He is. His lawyers have already said he's going to 10th Circuit immediately, that court will take it, they will make a decision, and if it is adverse to his lawyers' interests, then they will take it to the Supreme Court. He is going to appeal this right away.


PRESS: Can I ask you one quick question? Because they always say the death penalty is important because it's a deterrent. Do you think if there's one crazy guy out there, as crazy as McVeigh, that killing McVeigh in any way will stop him from doing whatever he wants to do?

BARR: If you are asking me, are there crazy people...

PRESS: No, I'm asking you, will this death penalty deter anybody? BARR: If you are asking me if there are crazy people out there that will not be deterred by a death sentence being carried out, the answer is obviously yes, but there are also people out there who do pay attention to what happens to people who are convicted of a death sentence and executed...

FIEGER: I can promise you though...

CARLSON: Let me ask you a question...

FIEGER: If you don't exhaustively examine the withholding of documents, then there will be thousands of people out there who think the government withheld evidence.

CARLSON: Let me ask you: everyone has beaten up the FBI, they made a mistake on the other hand.

FIEGER: No! This wasn't a mistake.

CARLSON: Hold on for a second, let me ask you: it was the FBI that admitted its mistake and turned over these 4,000-some documents. So, if it was a conspiracy, it was a pretty bad one. And in fact, it was a self-correcting system.

FIEGER: That doesn't mean it was self-correcting. He's been convicted and he's on death row, and they admitted it. But we want to eliminate any shadow of a doubt. The standard of proof in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt.

But when the government comes forward and the FBI is the government, and admits post-sentencing of death a few days before an execution -- look, we happen to have all these documents -- no one believes, first of all, they just discovered them the previous day. A lot of people believe that they were probably known about for quite some time, but nobody had the guts to come forward and say, wait a second, we got these documents and we didn't turn them over.

That's the confidence in the system. Remember, McVeigh is insignificant. People will believe that, if they do it in McVeigh's case, what will they do it in a small guy? A guy who nobody is paying attention to.

CARLSON: Well, we may have to save that question for a further CROSSFIRE. Geoffrey Fieger and Bob Barr, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

Bill Press and I will be back to bat around the implications of all this.

Like MacArthur -- but sooner -- "we shall return" for our closing comments. See you in a moment.


CARLSON: Bill, these 4,000 pages of documents. Two things we didn't talk about: pictures from a swimsuit calendar and information from a psychic claiming that spirits were responsible for the bombing. I hope Timothy McVeigh's lawyers track down the psychic.

PRESS: Obviously, all of that is nonsense...

CARLSON: Of course.

PRESS: But information that there might have been someone else involved, Terry Nichols might have been more involved, is worth investigating. You know...

CARLSON: What about the spirits? The spirits might have been involved.

PRESS: Baloney. I don't believe in the death penalty, but if you are going to do it, you have to be sure you do it right. Rushing into this is a big mistake.

CARLSON: If you are going do it, you have to do it!

PRESS: Right. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson, join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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