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May 2, 1996: Lawyers for Accused Oklahoma City Bombers Argue against Death Penalty for Clients

Lawyers for the accused Oklahoma City bombers (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, July 11-13, 1995, and August 10, 1995) assail the prosecution’s decision to seek the death penalty against their clients. They say that Attorney General Janet Reno, who made the final decision to seek the execution of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols if they are convicted (see October 20, 1995), ignored Justice Department procedures in making that decision. “The government cannot simply ignore its own rules when it decides who lives or dies,” says McVeigh’s lead lawyer, Stephen Jones. Jones accuses Reno of “categorical prejudgment” of the death penalty. Nichols’s lead lawyer, Michael Tigar, calls Reno’s decision “two-faced.” Both note that within hours of the bombing, Reno announced the government would seek to execute whoever carried out the attack (see 4:00 p.m., April 19, 1995 and April 22, 1995); rules adopted in February 1996 allow the attorney general to seek the death penalty in federal cases only after informing defense lawyers and going through a review by an in-house Death Penalty Committee. US Attorney Sean Connelly counters that when Reno announced that “she would prosecute [the bombing] to the fullest extent possible, she was not acting as a judge, she was acting as a law enforcement officer.” Defense lawyers also argue that the 1994 federal death penalty statutes are unconstitutional. Connelly retorts, “If the death penalty is not appropriate in this case, it would be hard to imagine any case where it would be.” [New York Times, 5/2/1996]

Entity Tags: Sean Connelly, Janet Reno, Michael E. Tigar, Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, US Department of Justice, Stephen Jones

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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