The McVeigh Execution: Decision Day

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Rob Nigh, right, and Richard Burr, attorneys for Timothy McVeigh

As Judge Richard Matsch gets set to decide whether to accpet a delay in Timothy McVeigh's executions, signs are that the case could be in for a long summer. The story so far: Last Thursday, after meeting with their client in Terre Haute, Indiana, lawyers for the convicted bomber announced they would seek a delay of McVeigh’s June 11th execution date. Defense attorney Robert Nigh called the decision to request more time was "difficult" for McVeigh, who was "ready to die." Friday morning, McVeigh’s legal team filed a 300-plus page brief with the case’s original trial judge, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, asking for a delay and also requesting a hearing on their assertion that the FBI continues to withhold documents.

Monday, federal prosecutors responded by asking the courts to dismiss McVeigh's request for a stay, calling the convicted bomber "undeniably guilty." The government insists the new documents have no bearing on McVeigh's role in the deadly 1995 bombing.

Back in Washington, U.S Attorney General John Ashcroft continues his opposition to the delay. "Based on the overwhelming evidence and McVeigh's own repeated admissions, we know that he is responsible for this crime and we will continue to pursue justice by seeking to carry out the sentence that was determined by a jury," Ashcroft told reporters Thursday.

Despite public outcry against their client, who has, since his conviction, confessed to the bombing, McVeigh’s lawyers continue to push their case. Thursday, Nigh insisted that the government must be held accountable for committing "a fraud upon the court" by withholding documents from the defense team.

TIME’s Justice Department correspondent Elaine Shannon spoke with Thursday. She weighed in on McVeigh’s chances for a delay — and on the continuing fallout from the FBI’s foul-up. Do you think McVeigh will get his delay?

Elaine Shannon:The general consensus is that Judge Matsch will grant a stay just to make sure mainstream America believes the process allowed McVeigh to get his day in court.

Will we have to wait long to find out?

One of the lawyers who was formerly with prosecution team said Thursday he would not be surprised to see U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch rule in favor of McVeigh as early as next week. A hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday.

Was there anything surprising about McVeigh’s request?

I think the most interesting part of today’s announcement is that McVeigh’s lawyers are suggesting the documents they are receiving or should have received could corroborate conspiracy theories that there was a mastermind behind the bombing plot. And that leaves open the possibility that the mastermind is still out there.

Would that kind of revelation change McVeigh’s fate?

In terms of McVeigh’s punishment or trial, it doesn’t make any difference if there were other people involved. Legally, if another person is also found guilty of participating in the bombing, that doesn’t make McVeigh innocent.

You mentioned that McVeigh will get something out of this request even in the very unlikely case that it’s denied. What did you mean by that?

At this point, the key for McVeigh is planting the idea that the FBI totally overlooked a mass murderer or two or three. By suggesting such a foul-up, McVeigh can accomplish what he set out to do in the first place: Wreak psychological havoc on the establishment.