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McVeigh allowed to end appeals of death sentence

A federal judge Thursday agreed to let Timothy McVeigh drop all appeals in the Oklahoma City bombing and get a prompt execution date for the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil.

U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch said he will give McVeigh until Jan. 11 to change his mind, after which he will let the U.S. Bureau of Prisons set a date for McVeigh to die by lethal injection.

Generally, condemned inmates are given four months' notice of an execution, which means McVeigh could be put to death as early as May.

"You're making a decision today that may be the final decision on your future," Matsch warned.

"I understand. It is the position I take now. I do not foresee changing this decision by Jan. 11," said McVeigh, who participated in the Denver hearing via closed-circuit television from the maximum-security prison in Terre Haute, Ind., where he is on death row.

McVeigh, 32, offered no clue as to why he made such a request.

He made it clear, however, that he reserves the right to seek clemency from the White House, telling the judge: "The president, as I understand it, has almost unlimited power in this respect."

Matsch warned him that the decision on clemency could fall to Attorney General Janet Reno, who could still be in office at the time.

The last execution carried out by the federal government was in 1963.

Bombing survivor Paul Heath contended McVeigh is trying to mock the U.S. government with his petition for clemency, knowing Washington has not put anyone to death in 37 years.

"He is arrogantly rubbing the government's nose in that fact," he said. "He's mocking all of us."

Outside court, Dennis Hartley, McVeigh's lawyer, said he would not try to persuade McVeigh to file another appeal.

"I will continue to advise against it, but I don't imagine that he'll change his mind and I don't think anybody's going to try to persuade him to change his mind," Hartley said.

Prosecutor Sean Connelly said, "It's a case in which the jury verdict has been repeatedly affirmed and the death sentence has been repeatedly affirmed by the courts." He added: "At this point, it's for the Bureau of Prisons to set an execution date."

This month, McVeigh asked Matsch to stop the appeals process and schedule his execution to take place before the summer.

Matsch, who presided at McVeigh's trial, had the option of approving the request, rejecting it or ordering a competency hearing, in which case experts would have been assigned to examine McVeigh and report back to the judge.

The judge reached his decision Thursday after asking McVeigh a series of questions to establish that he knew his rights and understood the consequences of his request.

As about 100 people in the courtroom watched, the decorated Gulf War veteran responded quickly and tersely, his hands folded on a table in front of him. A telephone sat nearby in case he wanted to consult an attorney, but McVeigh didn't use it.

McVeigh said he had researched previous court decisions on ending the appeals process before helping his lawyers draft the request. He also described his life in a 10-by-8-foot cell, where he eats his meals, exercises and has a TV set.

"I'm under no duress from the condition of my confinement. Nor am I under any duress from the officers who work here," he said.

Connelly told the judge that McVeigh had made a "knowing and voluntary" decision.

McVeigh was convicted of murder, conspiracy and other charges and sentenced to die for the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that killed 168 people and injured more than 500.

He has lost two appeals, at the U.S. Supreme Court and the federal appeals court. But he has not exhausted all appeals.