Newsweek Poll: Public Split Over Reason for FBI Error in McVeigh Case

85 Percent Say There Are at Least a Few as Dangerous as McVeigh (32 Percent Say Many); 72 Percent Favor His Execution But 72 Percent Would Not Watch

NEW YORK, May 12 /PRNewswire/ -- The American public is evenly split over the reason for the FBI's failure to disclose some evidence in the Oklahoma City bombing case to defense lawyers for convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh, according to the latest Newsweek Poll. Forty percent say the incident was the result of an accident or bureaucratic error while 43 percent say it was an attempt to conceal something embarrassing to the government or law enforcement -- even if it wasn't relevant to McVeigh's guilt or innocence, the poll shows. Still, only 39 percent say the FBI error reduces their confidence in the FBI and the criminal justice system; 56 percent say it doesn't effect their confidence.

Seventy-nine percent of Americans polled say the error does not make them less supportive of the death penalty in general and 72 percent say McVeigh should still be executed. Fifty-five percent of those polled say the developments make them think other co-conspirators were involved in the bombing.

How many people share McVeigh's anti-government views and are capable of acts of violence like the Oklahoma City bombing? At least a few, say 85 percent of Americans -- including 32 percent who say there are many. In addition, 31 percent of those polled believe everyone has the potential to do evil things and 20 percent believe most people do.

McVeigh is now scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on June 11. Forty-six percent of Americans in the latest poll say the execution should not be shown on television at all; 34 percent say it should be shown on closed-circuit TV only for the families of the victims to watch. If executions like McVeigh's were televised for the general public, a 72-percent majority say they wouldn't watch it under any circumstances; 27 percent say they probably would -- including 4 percent who wouldn't want others to know, according to the poll, which is part of the coverage of the McVeigh case in the May 21 issue of Newsweek (on newsstands Monday, May 14).

On that same topic, if executions like McVeigh's were televised so that anyone could watch, a 56-percent majority say it would have more of a negative effect by turning capital punishment into entertainment and making celebrities of death row inmates; only 24 percent say it would have more of a positive effect by deterring people from committing murder and other violent crimes.

In the latest Newsweek Poll, 25 percent say they oppose the death penalty in all cases, up from 19 percent in a June 2000 Newsweek Poll and 17 percent in 1995. Forty-three percent say it should be limited to cases of the most brutal murders, mass murders and serial killings (up from 38% in June 2000). Only 13 percent say it should apply in all murder cases and just 14 percent say it should be used for all of those convicted of murder, other especially violent crimes and major drug dealing (down from 23% in June 2000).

Almost half (49%) of Americans polled say new DNA evidence suggesting that many people sentenced to death have been wrongly convicted has a major effect on their views toward the death penalty and 39 percent say the same about recent news about mistakes in crime labs leading to wrongful convictions in capital cases. Thirty-three percent say religious belief that that it is always wrong to take a human life has a big impact on their views (including 56% of those opposed to the death penalty) and 13 percent say the Pope's most recent statements against capital punishment are a major influence. Twenty-five percent say a major factor is the lack of evidence that the death penalty lowers the murder rate.

In this Newsweek Poll, President George W. Bush's job approval rating dropped to 50 percent, down from 57 percent one week ago.

For this Newsweek Poll, Princeton Survey Research Associates interviewed 1,056 adults aged 18 and older by telephone on May 10-11, 2001.The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.