Cowboy Prosecutor Hopes to Rope McVeigh for Oklahoma Trial

Stetson-wearing Bob Macy wants to try convicted bomber on state charges, but critics call it a waste of money - and unconstitutional

Only time and the federal-appeals process stand between convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and execution.

But that's not good enough for Bob Macy.

The way this Stetson-wearing district attorney in Oklahoma City sees it, 160 counts of first-degree murder are still unanswered in this town. He's determined to see Mr. McVeigh tried on state charges.

His quest is touching off a debate in legal circles and at lunch counters across the country. To critics, trying McVeigh again after he has already been sentenced to death would be a waste of taxpayers' money and perhaps unconstitutional - a violation of the "double jeopardy" clause that prohibits punishing a person more than once for the same crime.

But the law-and-order-minded Mr. Macy believes Oklahomans have a right to see their charges carried out and that a second trial could serve as a "safety valve," in case McVeigh's conviction is overturned on appeal.

"This was a crime in Oklahoma City," he says. "The victims were all Oklahomans. I think it's only proper the trial be conducted in front of an Oklahoma jury and an Oklahoma judge."

The federal case against McVeigh centered on 11 federal charges. They did not include charges for the deaths of 160 of the 168 who perished in the bomb attack.

Rationale for new trial

Typically in cases like this, state authorities drop their prosecution if a satisfactory result has been obtained in federal court. But uncertainties still surround the new federal death-penalty statute, and Macy and others believe Oklahoma's capital-punishment law is more clear-cut.

"Legally this is one of the first tests of a number of aspects of the federal death-penalty law," says Paul Rothstein, a Georgetown University law professor in Washington. "It's a test of how far the victims and families have a right to put in so-called victim impact material, the impact they felt as a result of the crime."

Macy contends the state trial would not be a mirror reflection of the federal case. He says he would use several different witnesses and "a lot of evidence" that wasn't presented in the Denver trial.

Everything but chaps

With his trademark ribbon-bow ties, Western cut suits, and cowboy hat that rests on a shock of white hair, Macy looks like someone out of casting central for Western district attorney. Actor Wilford Brimley, a close friend, has studied Macy in action to prepare for any roles on the big screen.

Both men rope cattle on the national rodeo circuit. Macy can often be seen on his favorite quarter horse, Jack, getting ready for the next competition. He also knows his way around a courtroom. In 17 years as the district attorney here, he's tried more than 60 capital cases - 52 resulting in convictions.

As much as his legal record, however, Macy is known for his style and hutzpah. There was the time, for instance, that a jury acquitted six defendants of shooting at three police officers, one of whom was Macy's son.

Though Macy didn't prosecute the case, he walked up to the defendants and stared into their eyes as the verdict was read.

Colleagues and police officers had to subdue the enraged Macy, who was carrying a pistol.

"I wanted to look into the eyes of the guy who took shots at my son," he said at the time. "I didn't reach for my gun. That's what they kept me from doing."

Macy shrugs off complaints that a new bombing trial is unnecessary and a waste of time, money, and emotion. He received $650,000 from the state to pursue the case, which he says could go to trial next spring.

Nor do he and other supporters of a state trial believe it would violate the double-jeopardy clause. They point out that two different sets of charges are involved - federal and state.

In cases like this, "there can be more than one bite at the apple," says Mr. Rothstein.

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