Today's Papers

A McVeigh Out?

Both USA Today and the Los Angeles Times lead with the formal request filed Thursday by Timothy McVeigh’s lawyers for a stay of his execution, now scheduled for June 11. Attorney General John Ashcroft repeated yesterday that he will fight any further delay. The Washington Post fronts McVeigh but leads with new data released by federal health officials showing that after more than a decade of relative stability, the AIDS contraction rate is on the upswing among gay men, particularly among gay black men. The New York Times fronts McVeigh and AIDS, but leads with imminent and possible changes in Texas law that seem likely to make Texas’ system of capital punishment fairer and perhaps even to lessen its execution rate, now the nation’s highest. The changes include substantially increased DNA testing for defendants and prisoners (the governor has already signed this into law), more money and tighter standards for lawyers assigned to indigent defendants, and increased payments to people wrongfully imprisoned. (The governor is expected to sign off on these, too.) The paper reports that the governor has not yet decided what to do about another bill on his desk–which would make Texas the 14th state to ban the execution of the mentally retarded.

The McVeigh leads note that his lawyers accuse the FBI of committing a fraud on a federal court when it withheld some 4,000 pages of case documents from the defense. The LAT goes high noting that yesterday the judge warned the FBI not to reinterview witnesses or encourage them not to cooperate with defense lawyers. The USAT lead points out that the McVeigh filing quotes the trial judge’s request to the government in 1997 that it turn over to the defense “everything that is known in all the archives and all the data banks.” And the LAT story adds that the filing quotes the government telling the judge at that time, “We have disclosed our entire investigation in this case.” Both the NYT and WP fronters report that McVeigh’s goal may well not be to win a new trial but a new non-capital sentence. Both the NYT and LAT note that his lawyers referred yesterday to the influence the possibility of unknown co-conspirators–the apparent subject of much of the withheld FBI material–had on some members of the Terry Nichols jury in their sentencing of Nichols to life in prison, not death.

The USAT lead saves until the last sentence the claim of McVeigh’s lawyers that their client had switched from his previous stance of abandoning all legal obstacles to his execution because “the most important thing in his life is to bring integrity to the criminal justice system.” The LAT lead puts this in the subheadline.

The WP lead somewhat underplays the role gay blacks play in the new AIDS data, which revealed that they have an infection rate three times that of gay men in general. The Post keeps this angle out of the main headline. This is particularly curious in that the story has the U.S. surgeon general, comparing the fresh finding that 32 percent of young gay blacks are already infected (compared to 14 percent of Hispanic gays and 7 percent of white ones), to “Botswana’s level of infection.” The NYT fronter is by contrast headlined “SWIFT RISE IN HIV CASES FOR GAY BLACKS.” The LAT relegates the findings to Page 22. An ominous detail that the NYT has: The bad-news study does not include the U.S. prison population.

The LAT fronts the heart attack death yesterday of Faisal Husseini, a senior Palestinian official widely taken to a force of moderation in the current Middle East morass. The LAT headline calls him “pragmatic,” while the headline over the NYT insider (online at least) calls him a “champion of peace.” Both stories report that Husseini had spent time in Israeli prisons, but the NYT never says why–but it should have. The LAT has the details: He was once imprisoned for training guerrillas and hiding weapons in his home for Yasser Arafat and once was held without being charged with anything.