WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department asked the U.S. District Court judge overseeing the Oklahoma City bombing case yesterday to step aside to reduce the possibility of appeals raised by defense lawyers.
Lawyers for the defendants, Timothy J. McVeigh and Terry L. Nichols, had asked late last month that Judge Wayne Alley remove himself from the case and had questioned whether he could be impartial because of his personal ties to the bombing.
His courtroom, across the street from the federal building that was destroyed in the bombing April 19, was heavily damaged, and a member of his staff was cut and bruised in the blast. The judge was not in the courthouse at the time, and he has said that he saw no reason to step aside.
In court papers filed yesterday, prosecutors said there was no legal requirement that Judge Alley step down. But it nonetheless urged him to do so out of an abundance of caution, raising a possibility that his participation in the trial could create unwarranted legal issues.
"It is of paramount importance that the nation have complete confidence in the integrity of the verdict ultimately reached in this case," the government said, "and that partisan detractors not be permitted -- however wrongly -- to raise questions about judicial fairness."
The government's petition was signed by U.S. Attorney Patrick M. Ryan and other prosecutors.
"There is too much at stake here to risk even an erroneous reversal, with all its attendant costs to the people of the United States, and most importantly, to the victims of this terrible crime," the government said. "Failure to recuse could cause delay, uncertainty and unwarranted focus on a matter that is collateral to the overriding issue of these defendants' guilt or innocence."