Judge denies request to unseal Oklahoma City bombing files

Wednesday, October 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DENVER (AP) _ The federal judge who presided over the Oklahoma City bombing trials refused Tuesday to unseal files in the case or to release defense lawyers' detailed billing statements.

U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch denied a request by CBS to lift a 1996 order keeping various documents secret. He sided with federal lawyers, who argued that keeping the files sealed serves important interests even though the trials are over and Timothy McVeigh was executed in June.

Lawyers for co-conspirator Terry Nichols oppose releasing the files because of his pending appeal.

Stephen Jones, McVeigh's lead lawyer during his Denver trial, said he disagreed with Matsch's decision.

``The trial and appeals are over, and Mr. McVeigh has been executed,'' Jones said in a written statement from his Enid, Okla., office. ``It is hard to imagine what legitimate reason there could be to continue to seal documents which are directly relevant to the issue of the costs of the prosecution, investigation and defense of the case, or evidence which might support or refute allegations of misconduct and incompetence by the FBI, the prosecution or even the defense.''

McVeigh had a falling-out with Jones after his 1997 conviction for murder and conspiracy. Jones was eventually replaced by Nathan Chambers and Robert Nigh, who continued to represent McVeigh until his June 11 execution.

Matsch said parties seeking release of the documents must show why each item should be unsealed.

CBS said in its request that public interest remains high in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building, which resulted in 168 deaths. Much about the attack and the investigation remains unknown, the network said.

Matsch said in a separate ruling that all the expense vouchers submitted by McVeigh's lawyers can be released, but the detailed billing statements and related materials will remain sealed.

The judge has released documents showing McVeigh's defense cost the public more than $13.9 million. He unsealed only summary information about Nichols' expenses because his appeal is still active.

Nichols is serving a life sentence. He was convicted in Denver on federal charges of involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy for the deaths of eight law enforcement officers.

Oklahoma prosecutors have filed 160 state murder charges and are seeking the death penalty.