A federal judge Thursday agreed to let Timothy J. McVeigh drop all appeals in the Oklahoma City bombing and get a prompt execution date for the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil.
U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch said he will give McVeigh until Jan. 11 to change his mind, after which he will let the U.S. Bureau of Prisons set a date for McVeigh to die by lethal injection.
Generally, condemned inmates are given four months’ notice of an execution.
“You’re making a decision today that may be the final decision on your future,” Matsch warned.
“I understand. It is the position I take now. I do not foresee changing this decision by Jan. 11,” said McVeigh, who participated in the Denver hearing via closed-circuit television from the maximum-security prison in Terre Haute, Ind., where he is on death row.
McVeigh, 32, offered no clue as to why he made such a request.
He made it clear, however, that he reserves the right to seek clemency from the White House, telling the judge: “The president, as I understand it, has almost unlimited power in this respect.”
Matsch warned him that the decision on clemency could fall to Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, who could still be in office at the time.
The last execution carried out by the federal government was in 1963.
McVeigh was convicted of murder, conspiracy and other charges and sentenced to die for the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that killed 168 people and injured more than 500.
Bombing survivor Paul Heath contended McVeigh is trying to mock the U.S. government with his indication of seeking clemency, knowing Washington has not put anyone to death in 37 years.
“He is arrogantly rubbing the government’s nose in that fact,” he said. “He’s mocking all of us.”
Outside court, Dennis Hartley, McVeigh’s lawyer, said he would not try to persuade McVeigh to file another appeal.
“I will continue to advise against it, but I don’t imagine that he’ll change his mind and I don’t think anybody’s going to try to persuade him to change his mind,” Hartley said.
Prosecutor Sean Connelly said, “It’s a case in which the jury verdict has been repeatedly affirmed and the death sentence has been repeatedly affirmed by the courts.”
Earlier this month, McVeigh asked Matsch to stop the appeals process and schedule his execution to take place before the summer.
Matsch, who presided at McVeigh’s trial, had the option of approving the request, rejecting it or ordering a competency hearing.
The judge reached his decision after asking McVeigh a series of questions to establish that he knew his rights and understood the consequences of his request.
McVeigh has lost two appeals, at the U.S. Supreme Court and the federal appeals court. But he has not exhausted all appeals.
His Army buddy Terry L. Nichols was convicted separately of involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy and was sentenced to life in prison. He is awaiting trial in Oklahoma on state murder charges that could bring the death penalty.