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McVeigh’s lawyer levels theft claim, says defense concocted ‘confession’

March 4, 1997

DENVER (AP) _ Three days after calling Timothy McVeigh’s reported confession a hoax, the defense team for the Oklahoma City bombing suspect said it had faked the statement and accused The Dallas Morning News of stealing it.

The defense team said the document was concocted to persuade a witness suspected of being involved in the bombing conspiracy to talk to defense investigators.

Stephen Jones, McVeigh’s lead attorney, said it was among hundreds of computer files stolen by the Morning News. He demanded an investigation of the newspaper, and accused the Morning News of breaking into the defense’s computer files to obtain documents for McVeigh and co-defendant Terry Nichols, as well as 25,000 FBI files.

Jones offered no proof that theft was committed and said he could not disclose precisely what documents had allegedly been stolen. Federal prosecutors said no one had formally requested an investigation.

The newspaper denied breaking any laws. Its lawyer, Paul Watler, said the paper used ``lawful newsgathering techniques″ and ``did not hack into Mr. Jones’ computer system and it did not assist anyone else in doing so.″

``We have no fear of criminal repercussions,″ Watler said.

In a story published online Friday, the newspaper cited a defense memorandum that said McVeigh admitted to driving the explosives-laden truck that demolished the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in April 1995, killing 168 people and injuring more than 500.

The memo said he chose a daytime attack to ensure a ``body count.″

Jones responded within hours, saying the document was either a hoax or had been stolen; he suggested the paper had been duped by one of its critics.

On Monday, the defense elaborated. It said the confession was a ploy to elicit statements from someone else the defense suspected.

``The defense believed that this person was willing to talk if the individual believed that he was not suspected by the defense of being a participant in the bombing,″ the defense said in a statement.

That person, the defense claimed, ``had a history of incitement to violence and criminal activity.″

Jones denied that the statement from McVeigh was a confession or even a ``legitimate″ defense memo, but said he could not characterize it further because of a gag order by U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch. He said he found the document in his files after the newspaper published excerpts.

``They knew or should have known that they had stolen documents,″ Jones said. ``They knew or should have known they had no authorized release from Tim McVeigh, Judge Matsch or myself. There is no justification whatever for this criminal act.″

Nichols’ attorney, Michael Tigar, said none of his client’s confidential memoranda or privileged materials have been compromised. He said Jones’ computer records included some of Nichols’ defense files, but only witness statements shared with the prosecution.

McVeigh’s trial is scheduled to begin March 31 in federal court here, with Nichols’ trial to follow. But Jones said he may ask for a 90-day delay as a ``cooling off period.″

The Morning News filed a statement in court saying it would not report any more information from material used as ``the source of the previous articles.″ The paper said it was ``sensitive to the tension between Mr. McVeigh’s fair trial rights and the national public interest in this case.″

Editor Ralph Langer said the purported confession story was of overriding public significance, but additional articles based on the defense reports ``would not rise to the same level of importance.″

Jones also said he would ask the Texas Supreme Court to investigate whether the Morning News reporter who wrote the confession story, Pete Slover, a lawyer, should be disbarred.

Slover pleaded no contest in 1990 to a misdemeanor charge of trespassing after spending nearly two hours alone in the Ellis County clerk’s office after it closed. He told his editors that he entered the building through an unlocked side door to see if a clerk could show him records related to a double homicide.

Newspaper executives called the incident a misunderstanding and said Slover didn’t intend to violate the law. He received six months’ probation, a $1,000 fine and was ordered to perform 150 hours of community service.

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