It has been nearly two years since Timothy McVeigh’s execution, but the Justice Department’s handling of the case still is being questioned. The latest wrinkle was reported by the Associated Press, which says that shortly before the execution, the Justice Department received a letter charging that a key prosecution witness had given false testimony. Prosecutors didn’t disclose the material to McVeigh’s lawyers and later sought to recover all copies of the letter in exchange for a lawsuit settlement.
The letter, marked “urgent,” was sent by fax and courier to the attention of Attorney General John Ashcroft on June 1, 2001, by a law firm representing current and former FBI lab employees. At the time, a judge was deciding whether to delay the execution because of evidence the government withheld from his trial.
The letter involved Steven Burmeister, now the FBI lab’s chief of scientific analysis; it was turned over to bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, who faces another trial on Oklahoma state murder charges. The Justice Department denies that McVeigh’s fate was affected by the handling of the letter.