Pope John Paul II has asked President Bush to spare the life of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, scheduled to die in less than a month in the first federal execution since 1963.
McVeigh, 33, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on May 16 for the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people, 19 of them children.
White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said that a letter from John Paul requesting clemency was received this week. She would not reveal the details of the letter.
Legal scholars said it appeared Mr. Bush had no way to intervene in the execution even if he were inclined to.
McVeigh allowed a Feb. 16 deadline to pass without filing a request for clemency. After that the execution date was set. Under federal rules, McVeigh had one month after his execution date was set to ask the president for consideration.
Buchan said Mr. Bush believes McVeigh has been treated fairly.
"The president has great respect for the pope and this is a tragic situation. The president also has deep compassion and sympathy for the 168 victims of the Oklahoma City bombing and their families," Buchan said.
John Paul regularly asks for clemency for death row inmates whose time is running out. In speeches, he has made several pronouncements against the death penalty.
McVeigh revealed this week that he considered killing former Attorney General Janet Reno, a federal judge and an FBI agent to get back at the U.S. government which he believed had become violent against citizens.
In a letter to Fox News, McVeigh said "eligible" targets included Reno, "making her accept 'full responsibility' in deed, not just word," for the deaths resulting from the federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.
"I considered, among other things, a campaign of individual assassination," McVeigh said.
McVeigh said he bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City as a retaliatory strike against a government that he believed had waged violence against its citizens.
"I decided to send a message to a government that was becoming increasingly hostile, by bombing a government building and the government employees within that building who represent that government," McVeigh said in the letter released Thursday.
The bombing occurred on April 19, 1995, the second anniversary of the fire that ended the 51-day standoff at the Waco compound, where sect leader David Koresh and some 80 followers died.
Until recently, the former Gulf War veteran had not admitted his involvement in the bombing or explained his reasons for doing it.
Last month, though, in a book about the bombing written by two reporters who interviewed him, McVeigh admitted his actions. He called the children killed in the blast "collateral damage."
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