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Western Press Review: After The Oklahoma City Blast, A Sigh Of Relief In Denver

  • Don Hill

Prague, 4 June 1997 (RFE/RL) -- An outpouring of press commentary -- mostly in the United States -- has followed Monday's jury verdict that Timothy McVeigh is guilty of mass murder, terrorism and other offenses in the bombing two-plus years ago of the federal building in Oklahoma City in the central U.S. state of Oklahoma.

WASHINGTON POST: There is no room for complaint about how this trial was run

After the national distress over the circus-like murder trial that ended in the controversial acquittal of wealthy athlete O. J. Simpson, many commentaries looked to the McVeigh verdict and trial for redemptive signs for the U.S. justice system.

The Post said yesterday in an editorial: "Even if the verdict had been different, there would be no room for complaint about the way this trial was run. Judge Richard Matsch was in firm control throughout, and his demeanor and strong leadership were reflected in the conduct of the attorneys and jurors. All the participants appeared determined to preserve the dignity of the courtroom and to keep in mind at every moment the gravity of the occasion and their own responsibility to conclude the matter fairly and without undue delay. This, of course, is how trials ought to be conducted and usually are."

The Post said: "In spite of the rage of a nation and the enormity of his crime, Timothy McVeigh was not rushed to judgment. He was accorded all his rights, including fine lawyers and an eminently fair trial."

NEW YORK TIMES: The nation is left with a favorable impression of orderly justice

In an editorial yesterday, the paper said it found the verdict and the conduct of the trial reassuring. The Times contended: "In finding Timothy McVeigh guilty (yesterday) in the 1995 terrorist bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, the jury in the case rendered a verdict that was amply supported by the evidence. The outcome has provided a restorative measure of justice and closure for the blast's survivors and for victims' relatives, many of whom hugged and wept when they heard the jury's finding. It has also provided a reassuring example of the nation's jury system at work."

The editorial said: "The Oklahoma bombing case is not over. There are sentencing hearings and a trial of McVeigh's alleged co-conspirator still to come. Meanwhile, the nation is left with a favorable impression of orderly justice."

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Americans have proved McVeigh wrong

The paper editorialized yesterday: "The government that McVeigh considered so oppressive was required to give him basic advantages so that he might maintain his freedom. He was presumed innocent when he walked into court. He had a multimillion-dollar defense at public expense." The Inquirer concluded: "McVeigh issued a bloody indictment of America. Starting that day, with their bare hands, and in recent days, with their painstaking judgment, Americans have proved him wrong."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: The conduct of the McVeigh proceedings shout for comparision with the Simpson trial

An editorial yesterday reached a like verdict. It said: "Just as (McVeigh trial Judge Richard P.) Matsch shepherded the lawyers and witnesses in a diligent search for the truth in this case, so did the jurors join that quest. The conduct of these proceedings shouts for comparison with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito's conduct of O.J. Simpson's televised murder trial. It was not the TV cameras in the courtroom that made that trial a circus, however. It was the difference between a judge being judicious versus a judge as ringmaster of a circus out of his control. Wednesday the McVeigh jurors will return to begin hearing evidence in the trial's penalty phase. McVeigh faces either life in prison or the death penalty. Whatever the sentence, no one can say that he was not tried fairly."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Government can perform effectively

Columnists Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover comment today that politicians should take note of the national approval that follows competent government performance. They write: "The politicians who run this capital should learn a lesson from the national outpouring of satisfaction with the conviction of Timothy J. McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing. And that lesson is simply that government can perform effectively and, when it does so, earn the approbation and confidence of citizens." They write: "The satisfaction with the handling of the Oklahoma City disaster has been heightened, of course, by the contrast with the belief of most Americans that the O.J. Simpson case was a fiasco."

Germond and Witcover say: "But the national satisfaction seems based largely on the fact that the law enforcement system demonstrated that justice could be certain and even relatively swift."

NEWSDAY: The judge kept the jury focused on the evidence against McVeigh

In an analysis yesterday, Rita Ciolli sang in the same chorus. She wrote: "In Denver, only Tim McVeigh was on trial. Not law enforcement, American society or the victims, as happened in Los Angeles during the O.J. Simpson case, the last time the nation collectively took a look at the judicial system. In a quick and lean trial, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch kept the jury focused on the evidence against McVeigh. Matsch refused to allow the defense to present testimony about international conspiracy theories, right-wing militias or extensive problems with the FBI's crime lab."

She wrote: "The McVeigh trial in many ways is a direct response to the nationally televized trial of O.J. Simpson and trial Judge Lance Ito. Prior to the start of both trials, there were enormous concerns about whether defendants accused of such highly publicized crimes could get a fair trial. Since Simpson was acquitted of committing two murders, there was little argument afterward on the fairness issue. The question became how a fair trial could be conducted without the excess."

ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: The substance of justice was accomplished

The paper warned in an editorial yesterday against reading too much into the McVeigh results. The newspaper said: "The temptation with the guilty verdict in the Timothy McVeigh case might be to draw large-scale lessons about the condition of the American criminal justice system, or even about the health of American society at large. It would be wise to resist that temptation."

The newspaper said: "The lesson is a modest one. Timothy McVeigh committed a heinous act, was accused and had every chance to defend himself, and was found guilty. Unless some unlikely new revelation comes forth, the substance of justice was accomplished. Does this mean, as some news stories suggest, that a public disillusioned about the criminal justice system in the wake of the O.J. Simpson trial has had its confidence restored? Perhaps, but such a conclusion is suspect because it is based solely on two highly publicized, endlessly analyzed cases -- not the day-to-day routine in America's courtrooms."

TIMES OF LONDON: The American judicial system has not been redeemed by the verdict

From the perspective of a distance of an ocean and thousands of miles, a commentary in the London paper says today that U.S. justice remains suspect. Tim Hames writes: "As Timothy McVeigh waits to see if a Denver jury will spare his life, American lawyers line up to argue that his conviction has saved the reputation of their profession. Legal commentators have rushed in front of television cameras to claim that all the sins associated with the trial of O.J. Simpson have disappeared with the decision of 12 good citizens. They should be sued for malpractice. The McVeigh trial has proved little except that the jury remains out on American justice. The content of the two cases were so different as to make comparison absurd. In so far as any lessons can be drawn, they reinforce not repudiate those learnt in Los Angeles."

The commentator says: "None of this is to suggest that Timothy McVeigh is an innocent man brought down by a determined legal establishment. The evidence against him, although circumstantial, was extremely powerful. But in many ways it was no better and possibly worse than that which faced O.J. Simpson." He writes: "The American judicial system has not been redeemed by this verdict. All that has been shown is that, in the right circumstances, a verdict can be obtained that chimes with mainstream opinion."