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Unrepentant McVeigh Gets Death Penalty

By Tom Kenworthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 15, 1997; Page A01

DENVER, Aug. 14 -- Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh, appearing as unrepentant and enigmatic as when his legal saga began more than two years ago, today was formally sentenced to die as he stood in the same courtroom where a Colorado jury found him guilty in June of the worst act of domestic terror in American history.

Dressed in khaki pants and a tan short-sleeved shirt, his hair freshly shorn, McVeigh spoke only briefly when afforded the chance a few moments before U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch imposed the death sentence. Despite expectations he might express remorse or offer some insights into his motive for bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, McVeigh merely repeated a quotation from a 1928 Supreme Court dissenting opinion written by the late Justice Louis Brandeis.

"If the court please, I wish to use the words of Justice Brandeis dissenting in Olmstead to speak for me," McVeigh told the court. "He wrote, `Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.' That's all I have."

Neither McVeigh nor his attorneys offered any interpretation of Brandeis's words, written in a wiretapping case, Olmstead v. United States. In that dissent, Brandeis also wrote: "If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy."

McVeigh's appearance in court today came a little more than two months after he was convicted on 11 death penalty counts for planning and carrying out the bombing that claimed 168 lives and injured more than 500 other people. The same jury, 11 days later, recommended the death sentence that Matsch today formally imposed.

Relatives of victims of the bombing, who had rushed to Denver after hearing that McVeigh might finally break his long silence, said they were disappointed that his brief statement contained no hint of remorse or further explanation of why he carried out the bombing.

"I wish we could have heard more from him," said Marsha Kight, whose daughter perished in the blast.

McVeigh also failed to shed any further light on his dissatisfaction with his lead attorney, Stephen Jones. However, Matsch today released copies of a letter to him from McVeigh in which the convicted bomber spoke of his "problems and difficulties" with Jones and of his preference that three of his other attorneys represent him on appeal.

Matsch, in his reply, said that it would be up to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to appoint his counsel during the appellate process but that Jones would have to remain as his attorney until that time.

Jones, accused by McVeigh in an interview with the Buffalo News this week of botching the case, declined to discuss the dispute with reporters following today's court session. "It's simply not appropriate for me to comment on those matters," said Jones, who has filed notice of his intent to appeal the guilty verdicts returned on June 2.

In his interview with the Buffalo News, McVeigh said Jones had "screwed up badly" and that he wants him "off my appeal." The interview, and the letter to Matsch, could be a prelude to an argument on appeal that he was the victim of ineffective counsel.

Prosecutors chose not to address the court during today's sentencing hearing, but afterward chief prosecutor Joseph H. Hartzler cautioned reporters. "Don't interpret his words as those of a spokesman or a statesman," he said.

Today's hearing took just nine minutes, and McVeigh appeared animated and jovial throughout until Matsch summoned him to the lectern facing the bench and imposed the death sentence.

"It is the judgment of the court that the defendant, Timothy James McVeigh, is sentenced to death on each of the 11 counts of the indictment," Matsch said.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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