McVeigh appeal seen as attempt to make him martyr

DENVER - Some people think Timothy McVeigh wants to become a martyr for anti-government causes. Others believe the convicted Oklahoma City bomber wants to control the only thing he can - his execution date.

Ever since his arrest just 90 minutes after the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that killed 168 people, McVeigh has never admitted involvement or given any reason for his actions.

And McVeigh isn't saying why he has asked a federal judge to stop his appeals process and set an execution date.

U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, who presided over McVeigh's trial, ordered a hearing on that request for Thursday in his Denver courtroom. McVeigh will participate by a videoconferencing link from a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., where he is on death row.

No federal prisoner has been executed in 37 years.

''I think death is too easy for him. My wish would be that he would have to spend the rest of his life in jail,'' said Marsha Kight, whose daughter was killed in the blast.

The 32-year-old Gulf War veteran became angered by government actions including the raid on the Branch Davidians compound near Waco, Texas, and the FBI standoff with Randy Weaver and his family at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Prosecutors argued at his trial that McVeigh hoped the bombing would capitalize on anti-government sentiment and ignite a revolution.

''I think he always perceived himself to be a political person, and this would be the ultimate political statement, to give up his appeal and become a martyr,'' said legal analyst Andrew Cohen, who watched McVeigh's murder trial.

McVeigh realized the fight was over when he lost two appeals, speculated Denver attorney Scott Robinson, who also has observed McVeigh's court proceedings.

''He has always seen himself as a soldier of the anti-government movement, and the most misguided thing a soldier can do is die for misguided principles,'' Robinson said.

''What he really wants is to determine his own date of death, and that is the only power he has now,'' Robinson added.

The key issue at Thursday's hearing is whether McVeigh is competent and realizes he is giving up his right to appeal, said attorney Dennis Hartley, who represents McVeigh.

Unless the judge finds McVeigh mentally incompetent, he has the right to end his appeals.

Co-defendant Terry Nichols was convicted of federal charges of manslaughter and conspiracy, and was sentenced to life in prison. He faces state murder charges.

Hartley says he advised McVeigh against requesting an execution date, but will be at the hearing to advise McVeigh on legal issues, not to object.

Hartley refuses to discuss his client's reasons. ''That's a personal thing, a right of privacy,'' he said.

On the day of the bombing, which also injured more than 500 people, McVeigh wore a T-shirt bearing the phrase: ''The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.''

McVeigh did not testify at his trial, but during sentencing he made a brief statement, quoting from a 1928 opinion written by Justice Louis Brandeis in a wiretapping case: ''Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.''

During a televised interview last March, McVeigh said he was angry and bitter over the Gulf War. He said his anger deepened when Randy Weaver's wife and son were killed during the standoff with federal agents at Ruby Ridge in 1992, followed eight months later by the Waco standoff.

McVeigh said at the time that if his appeals failed, he was prepared to die.

Kight doubts McVeigh will ever take responsibility for what happened.

''He has always blamed the government for his actions. If he says anything, it will be the same thing,'' she said.

Hartley said any statement about his case will be up to McVeigh.

''I don't expect the judge to question him about his reasons,'' Hartley said.


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