`Crime that the death penalty was made for'

McVeigh verdict craved by most Americans, writes Tim Cornwell
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The Independent Online
Amid a national discussion of Timothy McVeigh's fate on television talk shows and the Internet, Time and Newsweek magazines asked the same question on their front covers this week: "Should He Die?" Yesterday, a Denver jury decided that the answer was "Yes."

It sentenced Timothy McVeigh to death for the bombing of a government building in Oklahoma City in April 1995 that killed more Americans than the Iraqi army during the Persian Gulf War. Polls suggest that about two- thirds of Americans support their decision.

The act that slaughtered 168 men, women and children was, said one of the prosecutors, Beth Wilkinson, "the crime that the death penalty was designed for. Look into his eyes of a coward and tell him you will have courage", she urged jurors on Thursday. "Tell him you will speak with one unified voice as the moral conscience of the community, and tell him he is no patriot. Tell him he deserves to die."

Impassioned pleas from McVeigh's parents, and the last-minute suggestion by his lawyers that the 1995 bombing was a political act, failed to turn even one juror against the unanimous vote required.

To the end, the Denver trial proceeded like clockwork. The seven-man, five-woman jury who took four days to find McVeigh guilty two weeks ago showed the same unhurried pace, taking a day to reach their death verdict, correctly answering a series of questions on the jury form.

McVeigh, 29 , will be scheduled for execution by lethal injection in a new and as yet unused federal death chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana. Appeals are likely to delay his execution for months and probably years, but there will undoubtedly be pressure to carry out the sentence promptly. Even opponents of the death penalty in the US agreed with the prosecution's contention that if any crime deserved it, this was it.

Amid the macabre spectacle of the injured and grieving demanding, in effect, that he be executed, few people other than his own lawyers made the argument that his death would not revive a single victim.

In the closing days of the sentencing hearing, McVeigh's lawyers had thrown jurors every conceivable reason for not sentencing him to death. They were urged to exercise simple compassion after McVeigh's father narrated a video of his son's childhood moments and declared that he still loved this "happy Tim". "I still cannot believe to this day he could have caused this devastation," said McVeigh's mother, Mildred Frazier, in a statement she read to the court. "He is not the monster he has been portrayed as. He is a human being as we all are."

Curiously, defence lawyers offered in mitigation the motive used by prosecutors to convict him. McVeigh had concluded, after the siege of armed cultists in Waco, Texas, where David Koresh and 80 others died, that the government was the enemy of the people, and made the point that in these beliefs he was not alone.

Richard Burr, a defence lawyer who specialises in death cases, told the jury that despite McVeigh's "horrifyingly, out-of-proportion beliefs, there is a reason for us all to have concern." It meant, he said, that "we all bear some responsibility for Oklahoma City", words that produced outrage this week in Oklahoma.

"Tim McVeigh's crime was not the product of evil motive," Mr Burr said. Instead, it was based on laudable, even patriotic qualities: "resistance to tyranny, sacrificing life in an attempt to accomplish a greater good, laying one's own life on the line to resist the encroachment of the nation's enemy."

The defence's main aim in the trial was to keep McVeigh alive, recognising that he would almost certainly be found guilty. But it proved unable to dilute the horrific images left by the prosecution, from rescue workers who testified about pulling children's bodies from the rubble and doctors who described doorknobs embedded in victim's heads.

The court heard from a boy, 10, who lost his mother. One man described seeing his unborn son on an ultrasound machine, and giving him a name. The next day, the blast killed Mike Lenz's wife, Carrie, and the future Michael James Lenz III.

"In one fell swoop, I went from being a husband and a daddy to realising it was all gone," Mr Lenz testified, in one of several moments that reduced jurors to tears.