Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Timothy McVeigh & Terry Nichols: Oklahoma Bombing

Death Bed

The McVeigh execution at Terre Haute bears the grisly hallmarks of an event anything but somber.

McVeigh himself set the tone of the occasion by insisting his death be televised. In his continuing quest for martyrdom, he wants to prove that the people who despised him for killing were willing to endorse his death. He penned:

"Because the closed-circuit telecast of my execution raises these fundamental equal access concerns, and because I am otherwise not opposed to such a telecast, a reasonable solution seems to be obvious: hold a true public execution — allow a public broadcast."

McVeigh has support, and networks have tried for the rights. Web site operator ENI was suing the U.S. government over the right to broadcast the execution. But the feds said it would be unconstitutional.

It is likely only bombing survivors and relatives of those killed may watch over an encrypted closed circuit TV system. About 30 others will personally watch the ritual in the execution chamber.

Before McVeigh enters the chamber, he will have had a meal of his choice — which must not include alcohol or cost more than $20. He will then have about four final hours to wait.

In keeping with his wishes, there will be no autopsy, providing he then signs an agreement that reads:

I, Timothy McVeigh, hereby certify; that no abuse has been inflicted upon me while I have been in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. I hereby waive any claim of such abuse.

The lethal injection table
The lethal injection table (AP)

That done, he will be physically examined, removed from his cell and marched to the chamber. There, he will be strapped to the deathbed and a lethal IV line will be attached to a needle inserted into a vein. Three injections will follow.

First, sodium pentothal, to render him unconscious. Then, pancuronium bromide to collapse his lungs. And finally, potassium chloride to arrest his heart. The entire process should be over in less than 10 minutes. It will be viewed "live" by 30 witnesses, including 10 selected media reps.

For the privilege of being there, reporters can choose superior service. For $1,146.50, they get golf cart transportation around the grounds, a phone, ice water, and a comfy chair for three days. They get to sit in a tent, but all they'll see is the main building. Those who can't afford the price also get admission to plain tents provided by the government. If they want tables and chairs they'll have to bring their own.

An area has been set aside for demonstrators from a variety of groups — the largest comprising those against the death penalty. Others will include pro-death penalty advocates and animal liberationists. The latter have already attempted to force the government to provide McVeigh with a vegetarian meal only. They argue no more blood — including that of animals — should be spilled.

Whether the event will bring closure or open old wounds has been debated since the death penalty was handed down.

Many have chosen not to watch the closed circuit broadcast — including Timothy McVeigh's father. Although he would be allowed to attend the live event, he will honor his only son's request to stay away. In any case, it's not in his character to be involved in the execution — in an interview with USA Today he said, "What good would it do for me to go out there? Would you want to see your son die?" The elder McVeigh wishes his son would at least express remorse and prefers to remember him as a smiling toddler. He constantly asks himself "why?"

The memorial in Oklahoma City which commemorates the victims
The memorial in Oklahoma City which
commemorates the victims (AP)

Dan Eggen and Lois Romano wrote in the Washington Post, "Of the approximately 2,000 relatives and survivors of the April 19,1995 bombing who legally qualify to witness the execution, only about 15 percent have expressed a desire to do so". One woman said that until she saw McVeigh breathe his last, she would be unable to put the event behind her. The National Organization for Victim Assistance backs her belief, citing anecdotal evidence that many find it a "satisfying experience."

Bud Welsh, who lost a daughter, told Romano and Eggan, "I went through a period of vengeance for 10 months after Julie was killed... I didn't even want trials; I just wanted them fried. But you can't reconcile anything if you're consumed with rage... How can watching someone being strapped down with needles in him bring any peace or make anyone feel good?"

But the issue is too emotive for an easy solution.

For many, any reminder of the event inflames anger. Many advocate banning books touching on the subject — the most recent example being Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck's American Terrorist. In the book, the authors interviewed McVeigh extensively, and it was here he publicly admitted to the bombing and verified its history.

His tiresome rantings and self-aggrandizement as patriot and hero simply verify his delusional persona. But banning this book could be counter-productive. That McVeigh finally admitted his guilt ends any shadow of a doubt, and curtails the endless conspiracy theories. This in itself should reinforce our faith in the authorities that brought him so swiftly to justice.

And, because the book exposed the workings of his twisted thinking, criminal profilers have gained more valuable insights into the mind of a terrorist. Hopefully, this will help others identify potential terrorists before they strike. As President Bush observed at the opening of the commemorative Oklahoma museum:

"We all have a duty to watch for and report troubling signs."

If peace is to be found in Oklahoma City, it is here — at the hauntingly beautiful memorial commemorating the victims of Oklahoma City. At night, the chairs – one for each of those lost — appear to float in air. Like hopes for solace.


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