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Media Access To Oklahoma Bomb Trial Argued

Fri., Nov. 15, 1996, midnight

Reporters should not be allowed to sit in the same room with victims of the Oklahoma City bombing and watch the closed-circuit telecast of the trial, lawyers on both sides of the case argued Tuesday.

Reporters only want to put survivors and relatives of victims under a microscope, and that would violate their privacy, prosecutors said. “I’m just saying that for the dignity of the victims, … the media should not be allowed access,” prosecutor Vicki Behenna said.

When Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols go on trial separately in Denver, bombing victims and their families will be able to watch on closed-circuit television from a courtroom in Oklahoma City.

News organizations have asked U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch to let reporters into the room on behalf of the public, arguing that the media have a right to monitor the trial and victims’ reactions.

Matsch did not issue an immediate ruling.

A new federal law requires closed-circuit telecasts of trials moved more than 350 miles. The law was enacted for victims of the Oklahoma City bombing after the case was moved to Denver because of heavy publicity.

Michael Minnis, an attorney for the news organizations, noted the law was established for those who cannot afford to attend the trial - and he said that includes many small newspapers and radio stations in Oklahoma.

Minnis said the media also help assure the community that justice is being done and provide an outlet for community anger.

McVeigh and Nichols could get the death penalty if convicted in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The attack killed 168 people and injured more than 500.

Stephen Jones, McVeigh’s attorney, said he told Matsch it would be impossible to go to trial before May 1. He said the judge agreed to hear arguments about a trial date and to set a date if both sides can’t agree.

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