Court Eyes Lost Nichols Papers

terry nichols 2000 mug shot
The Supreme Court delayed a ruling in Terry Nichols' request for a new trial in the Oklahoma City bombing case, saying the government must first respond to his assertion that mishandled evidence in Timothy McVeigh's case adversely affected him.

The court's decision Monday to order a response from the Justice Department raised the possibility that the justices would hear the case involving Nichols, convicted as a conspirator in the April 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

This came in the wake of disclosure that the FBI failed to provide McVeigh's attorneys with thousands of documents at the time of McVeigh's trial in 1997.

Lawyers for McVeigh last week asked a federal court in Denver to stay his scheduled June 11 execution for the bombing at a federal prison facility in Terre Haute, Ind.

Also In The High Court
Rulings In Sex Harassment, Death Penalty Cases

The Supreme Court threw out a $300,000 limit on certain types of sexual harrassment suits. Ruling in a particularly serious case of workplace harassment at DuPont, the court said limit, based on the amount someone could have earned had they stayed on the job, was too little compensation.

By a vote of 8-0, the high court sided with a former chemical plant worker who claimed her male colleagues shunned her and sabotaged her work.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor did not participate in the ruling, presumably because she owns stock in DuPont, the company where the plaintiff worked.

Sharon B. Pollard claimed she endured years of mounting abuse that left her traumatized and unable to continue work at a DuPont plant, and that the company did nothing to help her.

Harassment began in 1987, Pollard alleged, when a male co-worker opened a Bible on her desk to the passage: "I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over man. She must be silent."

The justices also threw out - for the third time - the death penalty in the case of a severely retarded man convicted of murder in Texas. Click here to read more.

The high court asked the Justice Department to respond within 30 days to a request by Nichols' lawyers that they filed on May 11, right after the FBI turned over most of the newly discovered documents from its probe into the 1995 bombing of the Alfred Murrah federal buildig, which killed 168 people.

But that order did not address allegations by Nichols' lawyer that the FBI may have deliberately withheld information both from the bombing defendants and from federal prosecutors.

U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, who presided over the Nichols and McVeigh trials, has set a June 6 hearing to consider whether to grant McVeigh a stay of execution on his claims the government committed a "fraud upon the court" by withholding more than 4,400 pages of documents.

Nichols' lawyers want the high court to reconsider its denial on April 16 of his appeal claiming the government withheld information that could have helped his defense at trial and sentencing.

The lawyers want the Supreme Court to grant his request and direct a U.S. appeals court to send the case back to Matsch for further proceedings on how the documents would affect Nichols and to make sure all withheld materials have been produced.

Even before the discovery of the documents, Nichols had been seeking at least an evidentiary hearing before Matsch on his claims that helpful information had been withheld.

McVeigh, 33, is being held in a special death-row unit at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana as he awaits Match's ruling on whether the execution will go forward on schedule.

Nichols, a former U.S. Army buddy of McVeigh, is serving a sentence of life in prison. He was convicted of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of eight federal agents in the building when the bomb went off.

Nichols also is awaiting trial in Oklahoma on separate state murder charges that carry the death penalty.

The court routinely denies nearly every request for a second chance made by losing parties. It is quite unusual for the court to ask for a response to such a request but is still far from an indication that the court will grant Nichols' appeal.

The court denies the overwhelming majority of rehearing petitions, even after requesting a response.

Attorney General John Ashcroft delayed McVeigh's execution until June 11 to give defense lawyers time to look over the new material but said nothing in it would undermine McVeigh's conviction or death sentence.

McVeigh has since asked for another postponement, and he could ultimately follow Nichols' lead and seek a new trial or sentencing hearing.

Ashcroft said he will fight any attempt to delay the execution beyond June 11.

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