Despite the failure of the Federal Bureau of Investigation initially to provide his lawyers with some 3,000 pieces of evidence garnered in the days after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, Timothy McVeigh will still probably be executed, if not as scheduled on May 16, then some time in the near future. In a room in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, McVeigh will be strapped to a gurney, a needle put in a vein in his arm and two doses of intravenous drugs administered, one to induce unconsciousness and another to stop his heart. His will be the first execution of a federal prisoner since 1963.
His execution will be witnessed by those relatives of his 168 victims who care to watch. Meanwhile, other people will be gathering outside the prison to express their opinion of the proceedings, some in support of putting McVeigh to death, others against what they call state-sanctioned murder. There may be more death penalty adherents milling around outside the prison than opponents. Polls and studies show that although an increasing number of Americans are opposed to the death penalty, in McVeigh's case one such study, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, shows 75 percent of those surveyed are in favor of McVeigh's execution.
McVeigh was convicted of planting a truck bomb in front of the Murrah Federal Building on Apr. 19, 1995--two years to the day after a fire destroyed the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, during an FBI raid. More than 80 people died in the fire that appears to have been set by Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, but many people across America felt then, and still do, that the raid was bungled by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. McVeigh was one of them. Instead of grousing about it, writing letters to his Congressmember or calling for the removal of Attorney General Janet Reno, with whom ultimate responsibility for the Waco raid lay, however, McVeigh decided to make his unhappiness with the workings of the law enforcement branch of the federal government known in a different way. For two years after the Waco raid McVeigh, a Gulf War veteran, and an Army buddy, Terry Nichols, discussed their options and decided on a target, and shortly after 9 a.m. on Apr. 19, 1995 the bomb, made of fertilizer and fuel oil and left in a rental truck outside the Murrah Building, exploded, reducing the north side of the building to rubble. Many people who weren't killed outright were buried under tons of concrete and steel. Among the victims were children at a federal day care center in the Murrah Building
Queens is more than 1,500 miles away from Oklahoma city, but even here the ramifications of McVeigh's deed spread like ripples from a stone thrown in a pond. Many people throughout the borough knew someone who knew someone who had a relative or friend killed or injured in the bombing or who needed extensive recuperation time after crawling through the ruins of the building to search for more victims for days and nights on end. One man's evil act disrupted and destroyed countless lives, some in ways that are not evident now and won't be for many years to come. But the damage is done, and it will continue to reverberate long after McVeigh breathes his last. The children who innocently played at the day care center, some of whom were only just born when the Waco raid occurred, are perhaps the most heartrending victims. Some have bodies and minds that will never again be whole and complete.
Whatever McVeigh's opinions about the Waco incident, most Americans doubtless find it difficult to see how blowing off the side of a nine-story building, killing 168 people and wounding scores of others somehow avenged the Branch Davidians. Even surviving Branch Davidians disavowed McVeigh's act. "I don't think what happened to us justifies any further terrorism or crimes or death of innocent people," a Branch Davidian declared.
McVeigh apparently doesn't feel the same way. He has shown no remorse for his deeds, at least not to anyone who has interviewed him as the day of his execution nears. His attitude may be among the best justifications for his execution: someone who could refer to the smallest victims of the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in American history as "collateral damage" is obviously lacking that indefinable quality that lets a person consider him- or herself a human being.
The arguments against the death penalty still bear consideration. No, it won't bring the victims back. No, it won't really bring closure to the loved ones left behind. And no, it won't deter other such crimes from being committed. What it will do is demonstrate that we value and respect the lives of the men, women and children killed and wounded. And it will deter one such act. Timothy McVeigh will never again bomb another building. And for this we may be thankful.