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Oklahoma City Bombing Trial

bigbomb Among the multitude of tragedies arising from the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was the controversy over whether the victims and victims' families would be allowed to exercise their rights to attend the trials and to make statements at the sentencing phase.

During the Timothy McVeigh trial, Federal District Judge Richard Matsch initially ruled that, despite specific Federal statutes, victims and survivors had to choose between exercising their right to watch the proceedings and their right to make statements to the court at sentencing.

A federal appellate court held that victims had "no standing" to contest the judge's decision. This led to the subsequent enactment of the federal Victim Rights Clarification Act which was intended to overturn Judge Matsch's ruling. Nevertheless, the Judge ruled that despite the constitutionality of the new law, he would ban any victims or survivors if he determines their testimony would be affected by what they saw in court.

 Despite the fact that Terry Nichols did not object to victims' attendance at trial [read trial transcript], victims and survivors are still fighting to have their statutory rights observed. Those who were permitted to testify during the penalty phase of the trial did so merely as prosecution witnesses, not based upon their own rights as victims. Thus, many were not permitted to testify; some because they might have opposed the government's desire for the death penalty.

Now that the death penalty is no longer an option, Judge Matsch will impose a sentence. Thus, the special rules in death penalty cases no longer apply. Nevertheless, the judge has indicated he has heard all he needs to from victims and may not follow federal law permitting victims to make statements at sentencing. Victims are protesting and a hearing will be held on March 25, 1998.

The victims' lead lawyer, Robert Hoyt, of the Washington, DC law firm Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering hopes for a quick legal victory. "We firmly believe that Judge Matsch will allow the victims to speak once he reviews the change in the federal rules," said Hoyt. "Unfortunately, the victims were forced to file this motion to remind the judge of rights that are already written into federal law. Sadly, until we have a federal constitutional amendment protecting victims of crime, victims will remain second class citizens in our nation's courtrooms."

Judge restricts victim impact testimony in McVeigh trial:

This regrettable situation illustrates why victims' rights must be protected by a federal constitutional amendment; statutes are obviously insufficient to guarantee crime victims' rights. Use these links to follow the case: