Government approves closed-circuit telecast of McVeigh execution
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Timothy McVeigh’s execution for the Oklahoma City bombing will be shown on closed-circuit television to the more than 200 survivors and victims’ relatives who want to watch him draw his last breath.
Attorney General John Ashcroft announced his decision Thursday, saying it may help the group ”close this chapter on their lives.”
”It just pleases me to no end,” said Dan McKinney, whose wife, Linda, died in the bombing. ”I’m very thankful. I don’t know what we would have done if we didn’t get to see it.”
The U.S. government has not carried out an execution since 1963. McVeigh’s lethal injection at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., on May 16 will also mark the first time it has broadcast an execution.
The broadcast will be shown at a still-undetermined site in Oklahoma City.
Ashcroft said the FBI and other agencies will make sure the broadcast is not recorded or pirated. He described the broadcast as ”state-of-the-art videoconferencing.”
”The Oklahoma City survivors may be the largest group of crime victims in our history,” Ashcroft said. ”The Department of Justice must make special provisions to assist the needs of the survivors and the victims’ families.”
The bombing on April 19, 1995, killed 168 people and injured hundreds in the deadliest act of terrorism ever on U.S. soil. Some 250 victims and family members had expressed a wish to watch McVeigh die – many of them saying it would help them deal with their grief – and a smaller group petitioned the government for the broadcast.
The execution chamber at Terre Haute had seats for only eight victims’ witnesses before Ashcroft on Thursday raised that number to 10.
McVeigh, 32, has said he is not opposed to a closed-circuit telecast and has suggested that his execution be televised nationally. He has dropped all appeals but will have one last chance to seek a stay of execution two hours before he is scheduled to die.
Those watching the broadcast will be able to see McVeigh on the execution table and hear any final statement he might make.
Some in Oklahoma City wish he did not have that right.
”Anything that he says now is something to try to open our wounds deeper,” McKinney said. ”It’s not going to work. He’s done all that he can do to me. After May the 16th, that man can never, ever, to any degree, bother me again.”
Tom Kight, whose daughter Frankie Merrell died in the bombing, said he will watch the broadcast. He plans to sit with Jannie Coverdale, whose two grandsons died in the daycare center of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
”I just don’t know how I’m going to react,” Kight said. ”Nobody does.”
Several states, including Oklahoma, have shown executions on closed-circuit television at prisons where the executions were held. Those telecasts have been for small groups of family members who could not fit into the execution chambers to watch in person.
Ashcroft said that in the weeks leading up to the execution, McVeigh will be able to talk to the media up to 15 minutes a day by telephone. He said the calls cannot be recorded.
”As an American who cares about our culture, I want to restrict a mass murderer’s access to a public podium,” Ashcroft said. ”As attorney general, I don’t want anyone to be able to purchase access to the podium of America with the blood of 168 innocent victims. Please do not help him inject more poison into our culture. He’s caused enough senseless damage.”
Several broadcasters had requested interviews with McVeigh. NBC, through spokeswoman Alex Constantinople, said it was disappointed in Ashcroft’s decision.
”We certainly understand the critics,” she said. ”At the same time, we’re a news organization. It’s our job to ask pointed, relevant questions about why he didn’t appeal the death sentence and why he feels the way he does.”
Priscilla Salyers, a bombing survivor who accompanied Ashcroft on a tour of a victims’ memorial Tuesday, said she has never wanted to travel to Terre Haute for the execution, preferring to watch it with the rest of the survivors and victims’ families.
”That is more what I need, to be with my support,” she said. ”We are a strong group, a strong community.”
Paul Health, a survivor and one of the original petitioners, said he was proud of the government Thursday.
”The Constitution wins again, the same Constitution that Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier planned to destroy when they bombed my city,” he said.
On the Net:
Justice Department: http://www.usdoj.gov
Prisons Bureau: http://www.bop.gov
Bombing memorial: http://www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org
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