Local News

McVeigh Condemned to Die for Oklahoma City Bombing

Posted June 13, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— A jury today condemned Timothy McVeigh to die for the 168 lives he took in the Oklahoma City bombing, siding with prosecutors who called it ``the crime the death penalty was designed for.''

McVeigh did not flinch, did not even blink. He sat with his hands clasped against his left cheek. His father's shoulders slumped. His sister broke into tears. His mother sat silently.

As he was led out of the courtroom, McVeigh stood and waved to his parents and mouthed the words: ``It's OK.'' He made the same small two-fingered wave to the jurors who condemned him, nodding his head up and down. They stared blankly.

The jury deliberated for more than 11 hours over two days before deciding unanimously that the 29-year-old decorated Gulf War veteran should die by injection. The decision is binding on U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch.

``The decision is final,'' Matsch said, adding he would follow through with the actual sentencing at a later hearing. ``You've done your duty and you've done it well.''

In Oklahoma City, along the fence where the bombed-out federal building once stood, cheers erupted from people who had gathered to learn McVeigh's fate. Church bells tolled on the half-hour as the verdict came in.

Lyle Cousins, whose wife, Kim, was killed in the blast, said: ``I think Timothy McVeigh needs to prepare himself to meet God. That's his judge.''

Bud Welch, whose daughter died in the blast, opposed the death penalty for McVeigh. ``The crime that I think he did was one of hatred against the government. And we as a government react with hatred,'' he said.

It was unknown when - or even if - McVeigh will be executed. Appeals could take three years or more. Also, the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on the constitutionality of the 1994 death penalty statute under which McVeigh was tried. He also faces state murder charges in Oklahoma that carry the death penalty.

As the verdict was read, bombing survivors and victims' families in the courtroom gasped and then began to weep, burying their heads in their neighbors' shoulders and holding each other's hands.

Jurors sat with grim expressions, staring blankly. As they were being polled, four of them answered ``yes'' while staring straight at McVeigh. McVeigh leaned back in his chair with his hand up to mouth, and watched.

``The jury has spoken and their verdict is entitled to respect and all Americans should accord it that respect until such time if ever it is overturned by a court of competent jurisdiction,'' defense attorney Stephen Jones said outside the courthouse.

``We ask that the barriers and intolerance that have divided us may crumble, that suspicions disappear and that hatreds cease and that our divisions and intolerance being healed, we may live together in justice and peace. God save the United States of America. God save this honorable court.''

Prosecutor Joseph Hartzler said: ``This is not a day of great joy for the prosecution team. We're pleased that the system worked and that justice prevailed. The verdict doesn't diminish the great sadness that occurred in Oklahoma City two years ago.''

In weighing McVeigh's fate jurors were confronted with two different pictures of the decorated Gulf War veteran: well-meaning, though tragically misguided patriot, or cruel and cowardly traitor.

McVeigh himself never spoke to the jury, although his parents pleaded with jurors to spare his life, describing their son as a friendly, intelligent boy who cared about others.

In the prosecution's death-penalty case, jurors were brought to tears by the horrifying stories of survivors and victims' relatives, who described how their lives were torn apart by the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Mothers and fathers spoke of children violently ripped from their lives. Rescuers told of having nightmares about the victims they couldn't save. A doctor told of how he amputated a woman's leg with a dirty pocket knife.

The prosecution called 38 witnesses to make the case, as prosecutor Beth Wilkinson said, that the slaughter was ``the crime that the death penalty was designed for.''

She urged jurors to ``look into the eyes of a coward'' and muster the courage to sentence him to die for a crime that killed more people than the total number of Americans who died in combat in the Persian Gulf.

The defense called 27 witnesses, many McVeigh's Army comrades, to show that McVeigh was a Bronze Star-winning soldier, a good friend and happy teen-ager until his life changed after the war.

Defense lawyers conceded McVeigh's involvement in the bombing but said letting him live might provide answers to ``the rest of the story'' about the blast.

``Dead men don't tell tales,'' Jones said. ``We don't want a Lee Harvey Oswald here. We don't want an Oliver Stone movie. We don't want a Warren Commission report.''

McVeigh's lawyers said he developed a deep concern about the abuse of power by the federal government. And the seed that grew into the blast was planted at the deadly 1993 siege at Waco.

``It is a political crime. It is an ideological crime,'' Jones said. ``He is not a demon, though surely his act was demonic.''

Jones also hinted darkly that executing McVeigh could cause more bloodshed, and asked jurors ``to make the first step to restore domestic tranquility.''

Prosecutors portrayed that statement as tantamount to a ``terrorist threat'' and implored jurors to ignore it.

By PAUL QUEARY,Associated Press Writer Copyright ©1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.