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Originally a member of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s trial defense team, Houston lawyer Christopher Tritico was called into action again in May when he was reappointed by U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch of Denver to assist in McVeigh’s stay of execution request after thousands of unreleased FBI documents surfaced. That appointment put him back in the center of a controversy surrounding America’s most unsympathetic inmate — a terrorist who killed 168 people by bombing the Murrah Federal Building. McVeigh allegedly confessed to the crime in letters and a book published after his 1997 capital murder trial. McVeigh said he carried out the bombing to avenge the government’s mishandling of standoffs with Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas, in 1993 and white separatist Randy Weaver near Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992. Tritico, a partner in Essmyer & Tritico, is dismayed by the stay process. He has harsh words for the judges who considered the stay and believes they may have let their emotions get the better of them. In his June 6 ruling, Matsch found no evidence that the U.S. government schemed to hide FBI documents promised to the defense before trial, a ruling the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. McVeigh was executed by lethal injection on June 11 at a federal death row unit in Terre Haute, Ind. Until McVeigh, the federal government had not carried out an execution since 1963. The day following the execution, Tritico spoke with Texas Lawyer senior reporter John Council about representing McVeigh and his feelings about his client’s appeal and requests for a stay. Texas Lawyer: Tell us your feelings about representing Timothy McVeigh, a duty that must have brought you some anticipated scorn. Christopher Tritico: Actually, I have never received a negative comment. Of course, people say things like, “How could you do that?” But I’ve never been chastised. But actually I was proud to go up and do it, and I would be happy to go up and do it again. But I certainly hope the need never arises again. TL: Do you feel that McVeigh was fairly and adequately represented throughout his trial and subsequent appeals? CT: I think that we did all that we could do in the guilt/innocence phase of that trial and the punishment phase of that trial with extremely difficult facts. Certainly I think the writ and the appeal were handled as well as they could have been. Dick Burr and Rob Nigh [two of McVeigh's appellate lawyers] were fined $10,000 a piece by the 10th Court of Appeals for writing a brief too long — $100 a page. TL: Was a long brief necessary? CT: It was absolutely necessary. And I thought the 10th Circuit was way out of line in sanctioning them in a capital case. Of course McVeigh’s case is going to require a longer brief. TL: What do you feel could have been gained by further examination of the FBI files? CT: All those records are under seal, so I can’t discuss them. But I can tell you that we found information included in there that we were actively pursuing at trial. Judge Matsch refused to allow the evidence in by ruling that we couldn’t link it up. TL: What’s the point in asking for a stay after McVeigh confessed to the bombing in letters and a published book? CT: Two answers. First, Judge Matsch should not have worried about the extrajudicial statements that Tim had made because the issue before him was: Was Tim McVeigh denied a right to a fair trial due to the conduct of the government? Secondly, all we were asking for was — in the motion for stay — time to conduct our investigation. In the end, all we were asking for was a new punishment hearing. Therefore, the book and the letters didn’t matter. TL: McVeigh had strong feelings about the conduct of the U.S. government. Why do you believe he stopped the pursuit of his own appeal, therefore stopping further investigation into withheld FBI files and the FBI’s conduct? CT: Tim told us all along that if he was going to be executed he wanted a couple of days to himself to prepare. We got two harsh rulings in 24 hours, and he decided the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t help him out. He didn’t want to be strapped to the executioner’s table waiting for the phone to ring. TL: Did you witness McVeigh’s execution? CT: I did not. Nigh and Nathan Chambers [another McVeigh attorney] did. That was perfectly fine with me. I have no interest in seeing an execution. TL: Is there a lesson to be learned about the criminal justice system’s handling of this high-profile case? CT: I think there is. There are several lessons to be learned. And the first is the justice system [is] not immune to the emotion that comes in cases like this. I think that several rulings from Judge Matsch during the trial, the 10th Circuit’s opinion on direct appeal, Judge Matsch’s ruling on the writ of habeas corpus, the stay of execution and the 10th Circuit’s opinion on the stay of execution, were all based on what Tim was accused of and the emotion involved therein and not on the law. Secondly, I am offended that we would execute a citizen of this country when there are issues outstanding regarding the fairness of his trial. And finally, it’s my hope that out of this execution, the death penalty debate in the United States is reinvigorated and we’ll take a serious look at whether or not we want the government to kill our citizens.

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