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Inmate Pleads Innocent to Plot Charges

January 10, 2003

AMARILLO, Texas (AP) _ A prison inmate charged with plotting to kill the judge who presided over the Oklahoma City bombing trials pleaded innocent Friday.

Christopher Lee Bennett, 28, was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury on charges that he solicited two men in January 2001 to kill U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch.

He pleaded innocent Friday to two counts of soliciting to commit a crime of violence, and a public defender was appointed for him.

Bennett, who has been in a Texas prison serving a 99-year sentence for capital murder since 1995, appeared in court with his head shaved and tattoos across his arms, neck and knuckles.

Officials have not said why they believe he would want Matsch dead. They also haven’t said how he allegedly communicated with the two men, the nature of their relationship or if anyone attempted to carry out the alleged murder plot.

The indictment says only that Bennett tried to persuade two men to kill Matsch. Neither of those men has yet been charged, Assistant U.S. Attorney Vicki Lamberson said Friday.

``I can’t tell you anything beyond what’s in the indictment,″ she said.

Bennett is being held in federal custody.

Matsch gained national prominence when he oversaw the federal trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who were convicted in the 1995 of the federal building bombing that killed 168 people in Oklahoma City. McVeigh was executed in 2001; Nichols was sentenced to life in prison.

The judge also presided over the trial of several members of the Order, an anti-Semitic organization tied to the 1984 assassination of Denver radio talk show host Alan Berg. He presided over political corruption trials and Denver’s busing for desegregation, as well.

Matsch, 72, asked last month to be moved to senior status starting this summer, which will allow him to reduce his caseload.

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