PROSECUTORS say FBI stalling release of documents

Friday, May 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A frustrated Oklahoma prosecutor says the federal government has not cooperated with the state's prosecution of bombing conspirator Terry Nichols on murder charges.

Sandra Howell-Elliott, Oklahoma County assistant district attorney, also claims the FBI is stonewalling her request for newly discovered bombing documents _ information the state must turn over to defense attorneys before Nichols' preliminary hearing can begin.

``We are not getting any cooperative effort from the FBI,'' Howell-Elliott said during a telephone conference Wednesday with defense attorney Brian Hermanson and state District Judge Ray Dean Linder.

``We have tried really hard not to air with the court or with the public that we've had difficulties with the federal government from the beginning, but we have,'' Howell-Elliott said. ``It has not been a cooperative effort.''

Her comments are part of a transcript of the telephone conference that was made public Thursday.

Howell-Elliott said problems began when prosecutors tried to move Nichols to Oklahoma from a federal prison in Colorado, where he was serving a life sentence on federal conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter charges for the bombing, she said.

Nichols was transferred to the Oklahoma County Jail on Jan. 31, 2000.

``That was a hard-fought battle just to get them to release him to us so that we could begin proceedings,'' Howell-Elliott said.

``It's been us basically begging the federal government for whatever they could do for us so that we might be able to proceed, because they came in shortly after the bombing and took over the investigation and the state officials were cut out of it,'' she said.

``We cannot be held with our hands tied because the federal government has refused to help us.''

Linder postponed Nichols' preliminary hearing, which was set to begin Monday, after the Justice Department revealed that more than 3,000 documents were not turned over to lawyers prior to the federal trials of Nichols, 46, and bomber Timothy McVeigh.

The preliminary hearing will determine if there is sufficient evidence to hold Nichols for trial on 160 counts of first-degree murder for the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which killed 168.

Criminal court procedures require prosecutors to disclose to defense attorneys any materials they plan to use at a preliminary hearing. The disclosure must come within five days before the start of the hearing.

But Howell-Elliott said she has not turned over the material because she has not received it in spite of assurances from FBI and Justice Department officials that the documents would be made available.

``We're really running into a lot of roadblocks,'' she said.

The FBI has provided the documents to attorneys who are handling the federal appeals for Nichols and McVeigh.

``I have no doubt they are fully understanding of the importance of these materials to us in the state proceedings and they have basically ... just said 'too bad,' that they'll get them to us when they feel like it's important for them to get them to us,'' Howell-Elliott said.

Linder has suggested that he might subpoena federal employees if the documents are not delivered to state prosecutors by next week.

Special Agent Lori Bailey, spokeswoman for the FBI office in Dallas, said the agency was in the process of reviewing the new documents and that the bureau has no timetable for turning them over.

``We're working as fast as is humanly possible,'' she said.

Howell-Elliott said prosecutors have asked members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation, including Sens. Don Nickles and Jim Inhofe, for their help.

She also has asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to intervene and has repeatedly telephoned the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Oklahoma City.

``I think they're in a position where they're not going to be taking our calls any longer because we are kind of getting to be pests about it,'' she said.