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THE MCVEIGH VERDICT

Clinton Hails Verdict as 'Long Overdue'

Reaction: President directs comments to survivors, families of victims. He also praises Reno, law enforcement for their work on the case.

June 03, 1997|ROBERT L. JACKSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — President Clinton hailed the conclusion of the first Oklahoma City bombing trial Monday as a "long overdue day" for the survivors and families of those who died in the nation's worst act of domestic terrorism.

The president, who has made combating international terrorism one of his highest priorities, said he was especially proud of the work done by Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, the prosecutors, the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

After a year in which the FBI was tainted by disclosures of problems at its crime laboratory and the lack of any firm conclusions about last summer's explosion of a Trans World Airlines jetliner off Long Island, leaders of the federal law-enforcement community privately expressed satisfaction with the verdict against Timothy J. McVeigh.

But official public reaction in the nation's capital was clearly muted in recognition of the horrific nature of McVeigh's crime and the fact that jurors must return to the courtroom again to determine if he should be executed.

Reno, who was rebuked by some defense lawyers and civil liberties advocates for promptly announcing after the 1995 bombing that she would seek the death penalty, withheld any statement on the verdict.

Aides said Reno was conscious that a gag order on the proceedings issued by U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch was still in effect. In addition, jurors have not yet voted on McVeigh's punishment and co-defendant Terry L. Nichols must stand trial later this year.

FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, who has spoken out strongly against acts of terrorism, withheld any statement on the same grounds as Reno.

Members of Congress seemed unusually subdued, too, partly because of the gravity of the incident. Many were still en route to Washington after the Memorial Day recess.

Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.), a strong law-enforcement advocate, would say only that "it was the right verdict" and that "the country is better served by having him convicted."

Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), whose constituents include bombing survivors and families of the victims, called for McVeigh's execution. Counterterrorism laws enacted last year should guarantee "McVeigh won't be sitting on death row making endless appeals for the next 15 to 20 years" if the jury recommends death, he said.

Clinton, in a written statement, said he could not comment on the verdict.

"But I will say that this is a very important and long overdue day for the survivors and families of those who died in Oklahoma City," he said.

"Two years ago, I spoke to the families of the 168 people who lost their lives at the [Alfred P.] Murrah federal building," the president continued. "I told them that, though they had lost much, they had not lost everything--and that they had not lost America.

"I pledged then and I pledge now that we will stand with them for as many tomorrows as it takes. Today, I say to the families of the victims: no single verdict can bring an end to your anguish. But your courage has been an inspiration to all Americans. Our prayers are with you."

The Anti-Defamation League said that the verdict "sends an unequivocal message to would-be terrorists that the American people will not tolerate terrorism on our own soil."

The ADL, dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred and bigotry, warned that "thousands of . . . right-wing anti-government extremists remain active, promoting an agenda of violence, hatred and paranoia." It called on Congress to enact laws to "criminalize the paramilitary activities of militia groups."

The organization also applauded Matsch "for the dignified manner in which he presided over the proceedings."

In Los Angeles, the Simon Wiesenthal Center expressed similar views.

"This verdict should serve as a wake-up call to all Americans to recognize the dangers of extremism and the extremist movement," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Mark Weitzman, officials of the center.

"Timothy McVeigh's criminal action was fueled by those who would tear down and destroy the very fabric of American society by instituting a race war that pits individuals against government and race."

Cooper and Weitzman concluded that "our sympathies once again stand with the families of the 19 children and 149 other victims who are the saddest reminders of where the fires of hatred can lead."

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