One of Timothy McVeigh's fellow inmates on Death Row has described in chilling detail the atmosphere of gloom that surrounded the execution of the Oklahoma City bomber in Indiana last month.
In a prison diary just published on the internet, David Paul Hammer reveals he was so overwhelmed by the inhumanity of the event that he attempted suicide hours before McVeigh was killed by lethal injection on 11 June.
Hammer, a convicted murderer, con artist and armed robber once considered so dangerous the authorities built a special secure cell for him, described the eve of the execution as "quiet, eerie, waiting".
He found it impossible to eat or sleep, or to block out the media circus surrounding an event that McVeigh himself referred to as "Bloodstock".
Prison authorities unplugged regular cable programming on inmates' television sets and programmed a series of comedy films instead, in an attempt to alleviate the tension.
Hammer, who is diabetic, injected a massive dose of insulin into his vein before McVeigh's execution. "I did so hoping to die," he wrote. Prison officials rushed him to the infirmary, and he recovered.
He wrote as early as 2 May: "Morale here on the row is at an all-time low. It's as if all hope has been zapped. Due to violence and assaults in other parts of the institution, we are on lock down status ... I imagine the stabbings and beatings will only increase as the summer months arrive."
Hammer considers McVeigh to have been a friend. He portrays a man uncannily able to make light of his situation just hours before his execution – joking about the food with prison guards and making a blackly humorous noose-like gesture with his hand when asked how he was doing.
"I will grieve for what Tim once was, and for who he is now, because no man ceases to be a human being, no matter his actions or how horrid those actions were," he wrote on 8 June. "Tim is so much more than the Oklahoma City bomber."
According to Hammer, the execution spooked even the warden of the penitentiary, who called 11 June "a bad day" and telephoned McVeigh's father to apologise.
Even though McVeigh was supposed to be a "poster child" for the death penalty – a notorious criminal whose guilt was beyond doubt – his execution has created misgivings about capital punishment.
Yesterday, a member of the US Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor, was quoted telling lawyers that innocent people have probably been put to death and that others have been singled out for execution because they were too poor to be adequately represented.Reuse content