McVeigh Judge Can Be 'Very Scary'

Seventy-year-old Richard Matsch is known as a tough judge, seemingly straight out of the Old West. He represents law and order in these parts — and may well do so for the rest of the country as well when he rules on Timothy McVeigh's request for a stay of execution.

Lawyers who have argued before Matsch say he is the quintessential Western judge: a straight-shooting, law-and-order jurist who rules by the book and is impervious to outside pressures.

"He does not care whether the heavens fall because of his rulings," says David Lane, a defense attorney who has argued more than 100 cases before the judge.

Lane says both sides better be well-prepared for today's proceedings.

"Judge Matsch can be a very scary judge to appear in front of if you don't have the facts," he said.

A Political Conservative

Matsch, who will turn 71 this month, is a political conservative who was appointed to the federal bench by President Nixon in 1974. But his record reveals that he can be extremely critical of law enforcement when warranted.

"He's not going to let the government walk out of that courtroom with any feeling other than that they did not comply with the law," said Greg Graf, a former federal prosecutor who has also appeared before Matsch. "And they're going to have their tail between their legs when they leave."

Lane agreed.

"He does not hesitate to smack the government all over the courtroom when the government needs to be smacked all over the courtroom," said Lane.

Respect From Both Tables

At the same time, Matsch wins the respect of lawyers on both sides of a case.

"Judge Matsch is respected by both defense attorneys and by prosecutors simply because he calls it as he sees it, right down the middle based on the law, based on the facts as he sees them, and he has the courage to do whatever it takes to get done," said Lane.

That may be just what the McVeigh defense team is hoping for.

Matsch may rule shortly after today's session, perhaps even from the bench. But any decision is expected to be appealed almost immediately.

"This is one of those cases where there's not a lot of room for compromise," said ABCNEWS legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. "He either grants a stay or he doesn't, and I think as soon as he makes his ruling, it's very likely that the losing party will start an appeals process that may well wind up in the United States Supreme Court."

Number of Documents, Gravity of Case Favor McVeigh

McVeigh's attorney's filed more than a dozen pages on Tuesday in response to a brief filed earlier in the day by federal prosecutors.

Judge Matsch, those who know him say, is no doubt carefully reviewing all the documents presented to him.

"I think its almost a foregone conclusion that Judge Matsch is going to grant McVeigh a stay because Judge Matsch is going to want to personally go through the documents," said Lane.

Graf agrees.

"Judge Matsch really does believe that he is a separate but equal agency of the government in that he has a constitutional role of assuring that the process is fair ... He expects the government to behave properly and follow the rules, and he understands they have a higher burden and a higher ethical standard than the defense does."

Toobin said Judge Matsch would certainly be very careful with his decision.

"It's always safer in a life-or-death situation for a judge to grant a stay, hear a full recounting of the evidence, and then let an execution proceed," he said. "An execution is the ultimate final act of the judicial system, and judges are very reluctant to let one go forward if there are any open questions at all."

A Close Look at the Documents

Much of the judge's decision will be based on just what is in the thousands of pages of previously undisclosed documents at the heart of the controversy, he said.

"No neutral party has looked at these documents yet. We've only heard spin from the government, and spin from the defense," he said. "Judge Matsch may give a signal of how significant he thinks these documents really are, and that's going to be very important."

In the end, Lane says Matsch will be ruled by his desire to do everything possible to ensure the integrity of the legal process — even for Timothy McVeigh, who has been reviled and vilified for the 1995 attack that left 168 dead, including 19 children, and hundreds injured.

"Judge Matsch would not hesitate to vacate Tim McVeigh's death sentence if he believes the withheld evidence would have possibly affected the outcome of the penalty phase determination of death," said Lane.

McVeigh is scheduled to die on June 11. ABCNEWS' Steve Walsh, Bill Redeker and ABCNEWS Radio contributed to this report.