AP, Mar. 5, 2003
AMARILLO, Texas (AP) — A man already serving time for murder was convicted of plotting to kill the federal judge in the Oklahoma City bombing trials, allegedly in the hopes that the judge’s death would help the white supremacist movement.
The jury deliberated just 35 minutes Tuesday before finding Christopher Lee Bennett, 28, guilty of two counts of soliciting to commit a crime of violence. He faces up to 40 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.
Bennett, 28, is already serving a 99-year sentence for the 1994 strangulation and beating death of a Hispanic pharmacist.
Prosecutors said Bennett solicited two fellow inmates in January 2001 to kill U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, who presided over the Oklahoma City trials as well as the 1987 trial of two white supremacists convicted of killing a Jewish radio host in Denver.
The inmates testified that Bennett wrote them letters in which he said the slaying would give publicity to the white supremacy movement.
The letter written to inmate Jimmy Stamps said the slaying would send a “clear and unmistakable” message akin to the gruesome 1998 death of a black man in Jasper, Texas. In that case, three white men were convicted of killing James Byrd Jr. by dragging him behind a pickup truck.
“If you think back just two years ago, my brothers in Jasper, Texas, drew national attention … Imagine the publicity that would be generated by that lapdog’s death,” the letter said.
‘A matter of time’
Stamps said Bennett also promised him $50,000 from the Ku Klux Klan for the judge’s murder.
Another inmate from the Clements Unit in Amarillo, Ryan Martin, 26, read from a letter in which Bennett offered him $6,000 for the murder “to get the message out about the Aryan cause.”
A former FBI agent testified that Bennett was angered by the death sentence of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and the sentence of life in prison for McVeigh’s partner Terry Nichols, as well as the punishments of others tried before Matsch.
“He said it was not a joke,” said Scott Hendricks, who interviewed Bennett. “He said Judge Matsch deserved to die, and it was just a matter of time.”
Matsch gained national prominence overseeing the federal trials of McVeigh and Nichols. They were convicted in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that killed 168 people. McVeigh was executed in 2001.
The judge also presided over the trial of members of the Order, an anti-Semitic organization tied to the 1984 assassination of Denver radio talk show host Alan Berg.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Vicki Lamberson said Bennett chose the two inmates because he believed they were getting out of prison soon. Public defender Bonnie Gunden said the letters were only an effort by Bennett to bring attention to his white supremacist beliefs.
“Bennett thought he could get his 15 minutes of fame and publicity for the views he shares, and help out a couple of white boys,” she said.
No sentencing date was set.