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Court Rejects McVeigh Appeal

March 8, 1999size>
The Supreme Court Monday left intact Timothy McVeigh's conviction and death sentence for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more - the worst such attack on U.S. soil.

The court, without comment, rejected an appeal in which McVeigh argued his trial was tainted by jury misconduct and news reports that he confessed to his lawyers.

McVeigh was convicted of first-degree murder, conspiracy and weapons-related charges in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. A three-judge federal appeals court panel upheld his 11 convictions and death sentence in September.

The ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sends a message that "the rules of law may be applied on a sliding scale when the crime is unspeakable and public outrage is great," McVeigh's Supreme Court appeal contended.

At McVeigh's 1997 trial, prosecutors said he and co-defendant Terry Nichols carried out the bombing in revenge for the April 19, 1993, deaths of about 80 people in the siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.

Prosecutors said McVeigh, now 30, chose the Oklahoma City building because he believed people responsible for the Waco siege worked there and because the building was an easy target. Nichols was convicted of conspiracy in a separate trial and sentenced to life in prison.

McVeigh's appeal said pretrial news reports that he had confessed to his lawyers created an "extraordinary" threat to his fair-trial rights. Four jurors indicated in pretrial questioning that they had seen the reports.

"No such procedure should send Mr. McVeigh to his death," his appeal said, adding that the judge's manner of instructing and questioning prospective jurors made it impossible to determine whether they were biased.

McVeigh's jury-misconduct allegation centered on a comment by one juror to others during the trial.

An alternate juror told a court official that jurors discussed which of them would decide the case and which would serve as alternates, and that one juror said: "It wouldn't be very hard. I think we all know what the verdict should be."

McVeigh's appeal said the trial judge should have questioned the juror or held a hearing on whether the juror was biased.

His lawyers also said prospective jurors should have been asked whether they had any opinions about what sentence should be imposed if he were convicted. Otherwise, the appeal said, "we risk having an 'Oklahoma City bombing case' exception to the rule of law."

Justice Department lawyers said the bombing "caused extraordinary harm" and that courts took "extraordinary steps" to ensure McVeigh a fair trial, including disqualifying the original judge and moving the trial to Denver.

Prospective jurors were examined thoroughly for signs of bias, they said, calling the jurors remark a "passing, ambiguous comment."

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