Oklahoma bombing trial compromised

The Dallas Morning News will publish no more excerpts from notes of a meeting between the accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and his defence team, editors said yesterday.

But the paper stuck to its story, published a month before Mr McVeigh's trial, that he had made a detailed confession. In the Denver, Colorado, court, where he faces the death penalty for the killing of 168 people in the 1995 bombing, lawyers for the Texas paper filed a statement saying it was sensitive to his "fair-trial rights", and would publish nothing more of the leaked material.

Mr McVeigh's attorney, Stephen Jones, denounced the newspaper for printing an irresponsible story based on stolen documents which prejudiced the rights of both his client and the bombing victims. It was one of the "darkest days" for American journalism and the criminal justice system, he said. He accused a reporter of breaking into his computer and rifling electronically through 25,000 pages of documents.

They included FBI interviews and sensitive defence conversations with former CIA officers, foreign governments, and representatives of revolutionary terrorist groups around the world, including the Provisional IRA. Mr Jones said he did not know how how the defence would respond, but legal experts agreed the damage was already done.

Published accounts of conversations between a lawyer and his accused client "undermines the whole purpose of having a trial," said Christopher Mueller, a University of Colorado law professor.

The News, whose circulation area includes Oklahoma City, at the weekend published a story based a memorandum written by an unnamed "defence staffer" from interviews with Mr McVeigh in the six months after the bombing. He insisted he alone drove the rented truck laden with explosives to the front of the building, it reported. He said he bought 5,400lb of ammonium nitrate fertiliser for the home-made bomb and sold stolen firearms to pay for it, a confession which closely matches the government case against him. Perhaps most damning, the "defence staffer" wrote of asking Mr McVeigh, a former soldier with far-right political beliefs, why he did not bomb the government building at night, to lessen casualties.

"Mr McVeigh looked directly into my eyes and told me: 'That would not have gotten the point across to the government. We needed a body count to make our point'." Mr Jones yesterday said the memorandum was not a legitimate defence document and "not a confession".

Clearly trying to shift the focus from his client, he demanded a federal investigation into what he called "theft, fraud and deceit".

Most experts expected the trial to go ahead, even as they agreed Mr McVeigh's chances of a fair trial had been severely compromised. "Move the trial? Where?" asked a former Colorado judge, Jim Carrigan. "Maybe Tahiti. You'd have to find someone living under a rock who doesn't know anything about this case."

Even by the free-for-all standards of US court reporting, the News' story was pushing the limit. It appeared just as potential jurors in Colorado, where the case was moved in an attempt to find a more impartial jury, were returning questionnaires to the judge.

But the publication of privileged lawyer-client conversations, with virtually no chance of their ever reaching the jury, in a capital case, appears unprecedented.

"I don't think we should have a system that allows a newspaper to publish such material," said Professor Mueller. "This is not serving the public interest." It is virtually impossible in the US, barring an immediate risk to national security, to obtain a "prior restraint" injunction to stop a newspaper printing.

In any case, shortly after it contacted Mr Jones for comment, the News published its scoop electronically on its World Wide Web page several hours before it went to press. The move underlined the emerging role of the Internet in the news business, even as it heightened the story's impact. Mr McVeigh has pleaded not guilty, with his alleged co-conspirator, James Nichols, who is to be tried separately. Even in public interviews arranged by his defence, he has not directly denied the bombing. "The only way we can really answer that is by saying we are going to plead not guilty," he said in July 1995 after Newsweek reporters asked: "Did you do it?"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower