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Context of 'May 13, 2001: New York Times: FBI’s Failure to Turn Over Documents in Oklahoma City Bombing Case Feeds Conspiracy Theories'

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The Justice Department reveals that it failed to turn over nearly 4,000 pages of documentary evidence to the defense in the trial of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and June 2, 1997). Attorney General John Ashcroft postpones McVeigh’s execution (see January 16, 2001) for 30 days to allow defense attorneys to review the newly released documents. [Douglas O. Linder, 2001; New York Times, 5/11/2001; Washington Post, 5/11/2001; Fox News, 4/13/2005] Apparently many of the documents relate to the FBI’s investigation into the never-identified “John Doe No. 2” (see April 20, 1995, April 21, 1995, April 29, 1995, and June 14, 1995), which the agency now terms a “dead-end” investigation. Sources say many of the documents are “302 forms,” the forms that document the raw interviews conducted by agents with witnesses. [Washington Post, 5/11/2001; Mayhem (.net), 4/2009] The documents were found by bureau archivists in Oklahoma City as they canvassed the agency’s 56 field offices in a final search of records related to the bombing in anticipation of McVeigh’s execution (see June 11-13, 1997). Lawyers for both McVeigh and his convicted co-conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998) were legally entitled to review the records as they prepared for the two trials. Justice Department spokesperson Mindy Tucker issues the following statement: “On Tuesday, May 8, the Department of Justice notified Timothy McVeigh’s attorney of a number of FBI documents that should have been provided to them during the discovery phase of the trial. While the department is confident the documents do not in any way create any reasonable doubt about McVeigh’s guilt and do not contradict his repeated confessions of guilt, the department is concerned that McVeigh’s attorneys were not able to review them at the appropriate time.” The FBI blames its obsolete computer system for the error. Prosecutors say the documents were not material to either case. McVeigh’s former lawyer Stephen Jones says, “I said all along they weren’t giving us everything.” [New York Times, 5/11/2001; Indianapolis Star, 2003] Law professor James S. Liebman, who helped conduct an extensive study of death penalty appeals across the country, says the failure to produce the documents is “something I’ve just never heard of.… I can tell you, it’s extremely rare if it’s ever happened before.” [Washington Post, 5/11/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, James S. Liebman, Mindy Tucker, Stephen Jones, John Ashcroft, Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

New York Times reporter David Stout observes that the FBI’s admitted failure to turn over documents to convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, June 2, 1997, and May 10-11, 2001) will fuel conspiracy theories that will last for years. Attorney General John Ashcroft admitted as much when he ordered a delay in McVeigh’s scheduled execution to review the incident, saying, “If any questions or doubts remain about this case, it would cast a permanent cloud over justice.” Stout writes: “But for some people the cloud has been there all along, and always will be. They will never accept the government’s assertion that the withholding of the documents was simple human, bureaucratic error. And so the 1995 bombing of a federal office building in Oklahoma City seems likely to join the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as events whose truth—in the eyes of some Americans—is forever untold.” Charles Key, a former Oklahoma state legislator who has recently released a statement packed with assertions of a larger conspiracy and government malfeasance surrounding the bombing (see May 4, 2001), has been particularly vocal in his scorn over the document incident, and his contention that it is just part of a larger conspiracy by the government to cover up the truth behind the bombing. McVeigh’s former lawyer Stephen Jones seems to agree with Key; in his recent book (see August 14-27, 1997) Others Unknown: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma Bombing Conspiracy, Jones asserts: “The real story of the bombing, as the McVeigh defense pursued it, is complex, shadowy, and sinister. McVeigh, like the government, had its own reasons to keep it so. It stretches, web-like, from America’s heartland to the nation’s capital, the Far East, Europe, and the Middle East, and much of it remains a mystery.” Others go even farther in their beliefs. Charles Baldridge of Terre Haute, Indiana, where McVeigh is incarcerated awaiting execution, says, “I won’t say that McVeigh didn’t do it, but he wasn’t the brains, he wasn’t the one who orchestrated it.” Asked who orchestrated the bombing, Baldridge replies, “The government.” Many people believe that if the government did not actually plan and execute the bombing, it allowed it to happen, in order to use it as an excuse for passing anti-terrorism laws and curbing basic freedoms. Many of the same conspiracy theories that sprouted in the aftermath of the Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After) are now appearing in the public discourse about the Oklahoma City bombing, Stout notes. [New York Times, 5/13/2001]

Entity Tags: John F. Kennedy, Charles Baldridge, Charles R. Key, David Stout, Martin Luther King, Jr., Stephen Jones, Timothy James McVeigh, John Ashcroft, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998) demands a new trial, saying that the recent cache of documents “unearthed” by the FBI relating to the bombing investigation (see May 10-11, 2001) supported his defense. Many of the documents concern the FBI’s investigation into a suspect known as “John Doe No. 2” (see April 15, 1995, 9:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, 3:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, April 18, 1995, April 20, 1995, April 21, 1995, April 29, 1995, and June 14, 1995), which the agency now terms a “dead-end” investigation. [New York Times, 5/27/2001; Mayhem (.net), 4/2009] Lawyers for both Nichols and convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) will receive the documents. [New York Times, 5/27/2001]

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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