Judge refuses to vacate bombing trial gag order
COLORADO–In early May, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch declined a request by media organizations to vacate a gag order barring all participants in the Oklahoma City bombing trial from making any public statements about the proceedings against Timothy McVeigh.
Matsch also denied a request by McVeigh’s counsel to modify the gag order to provide the defense with a limited right to reply publicly about extrajudicial statements or comments. Matsch excluded from the prohibitions McVeigh’s co-defendant, Terry Nichols and his counsel, because Nichols’ trial has not yet begun.
Matsch noted that the press has played a positive role in opening channels of communication and connecting up scattered pieces of information for the public.
However, he stated that there “is no precedent in American history” for the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, and that the intense press scrutiny of the investigation and prosecution requires that “extraordinary measures” be taken to assure that the defendants receive fair trials. Matsch held that the potential for prejudice to McVeigh is “diminished” when news stories are not based on disclosures by counsel or other trial participants.
Matsch explicitly stated that the gag order does not impose any restriction on the newsgathering activities of the media. Two groups of media organizations plan to appeal Matsch’s ruling to the federal appellate court in Denver (10th Cir.). (U.S. v. McVeigh; In the Matter of Petition of Colorado-Oklahoma Media Representatives; Media Counsel: Kelli Sager, Los Angeles)