Preventing A Lynching

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DENVER: Asserting that he does not want Timothy McVeigh’s sentencing hearing to turn into “some kind of lynching,” Judge Richard Matsch blocked the prosecution's plan to introduce some highly emotional material, including wedding photographs of victims and a father’s poem about his dead child. Arguments centered on the federal Victims Rights Act, which allows crime victims to attend trials and testify about the crime's impact. The act was hastily shoved through Congress in March in response to Matsch's refusal to allow anyone who attended the trial to testify during its criminal phase. Though a federal appeals court upheld Matsch’s view that seeing the defendants in court could taint a victim's testimony, Congress effectively overrode the court by allowing victims to watch the trial on a closed-circuit television in Oklahoma City, and then testify if they wished during the punishment phase. Seeking to avoid a lengthy court fight that would have delayed the start of McVeigh's trial, Matsch bowed to Congress, but he still believes the law allows him to restrict any witness he thinks has been prejudiced by hearing testimony during the criminal phase of the trial. While a detailed list of those to be called has been sealed by the court, prosecutors are expected to use as many emotionally wrenching stories from victims as Matsch will allow. For the defense, the almost impossible task will be to convince jurors that although McVeigh was responsible for the deaths of eight federal agents -- a capital offense -- he doesn't deserve death by lethal injection. TIME's Patrick Cole reports that while it isn’t known whether McVeigh will take the stand in his own defense, his father and sister are expected to testify.