Oklahoma City Bombing Trial
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."
- "Victims want to testify," Denver Post, Feb. 10, 1998
- "Bombing victims ask to speak at sentencing," Rocky Mountain News, Feb. 10, 1998
- "Bombing victims press for chance to speak out," Rocky Mountain News, Feb. 18, 1998
Judge restricts victim impact testimony in McVeigh trial:
- June 3, 1997: Ruling barring certain victims
- June 4, 1997: Examination of Victims Prior to Testimony
- June 5, 1997: Judge Prevents 9-Year Old Boy from Testifying; More Victim Examinations
- Prof. Laurence Tribe on Victims' Testimony, New York Times, June 9, 1997
- "Respect Victims' Rights," New York Times Letter to the Editor, June 12, 1997
- 9-Year-Old's Testimony Excluded -- Matsch Changes Mind, Rules Statement Inflammatory, The Oklahoman, June 6, 1997
- McVeigh Judge Limits Penalty Evidence; Rulings Seek to Avoid `Lynching' by Curbing Emotional Displays to Jury, Washington Post, June 4, 1997
- Witnesses influenced by trial may be barred, CNN
- Judge limits testimony in sentencing phase, USA Today
- "Oklahoma City Bombing Spurs Change in Law," The Mining Company Incest/Abuse Support, June 2, 1997.
- Victims Request Judge to Clarify Victim Clarification Act, Reuters, Apr. 4, 1997
- Judge Permits Victims' Attendance, Washington Post, Mar. 26, 1997
- Judge Reverses Ruling, CNN, Mar. 25, 1997
- Judge Denies Delay Motion, CNN, Mar. 26, 1997
- "Victims-in-court law debated," Denver Post, Mar. 22, 1997
- "Victims get a boost," Denver Post, Mar. 21, 1997
- Victim Bill Passed, Reuters, Mar. 19, 1997
- Judge Controls Closed Circuit Telecast for Victims, The Denver Post, Jan. 30, 1997