Six years after committing the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil, a silent, defiant Timothy McVeigh was executed today before hundreds of victims and family members, leaving only a written statement that concluded: "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul."
With his eyes staring straight at the ceiling, McVeigh, 33, was pronounced dead at 7:14 a.m. local time in Terre Haute, Ind., said prison warden Harley Lappin. McVeigh chose not to make a final statement, but released a copy of the 1875 poem Invictus, in his handwriting.
The convicted Oklahoma City bomber was the first federal prisoner executed since 1963.
"It's over," said Janice Smith, whose brother Lanny Scroggins died in the bombing.
"We don't have to continue with him anymore."
In Washington, President Bush gave a brief statement marking McVeigh's death. "The victims of the Oklahoma City bombing have been given not vengeance, but justice, and one young man met the fate he chose for himself six years ago," he said.
McVeigh's lawyer, Rob Nigh, said the execution may not ease people's wounds. "If killing Tim McVeigh does not bring peace or closure to them, I suggest to you that it is our fault," he said. "We have told them we would help heal their wounds in this way. We have taken it upon ourselves to promise to extract vengeance for them. We have made killing a part of the healing process."
‘We Are Ready’
For all the public attention surrounding the execution, the act itself was carried out clinically, methodically and with little fanfare.
Shortly after 7 a.m., McVeigh boosted himself on the execution gurney and was strapped down by prison officials, the warden said. Wrapped tightly in a light gray sheet, McVeigh strained to look around the facility trying to make eye contact with the various witnesses to his execution, said reporters who watched him die.
The execution began when a prison official said: "We are ready."
When the chemicals began dripping through the yellow and gray intravenous tubing into his right leg around 7:10 a.m., McVeigh's skin and lips became pale. Minutes later, witnesses said McVeigh made a few spasm-like movements.
As he took his final breaths, he made no additional movement and was described by one media witness as "seeming proud."
Just a few moments later, he was pronounced dead. Along with four witnesses for McVeigh — including two of his attorneys — 10 media witnesses and 10 victims' representatives who watched from behind glass in the execution facility, about 200 bombing survivors and victims' relatives watched McVeigh die on closed-circuit television in Oklahoma City.
As he lay dying on the gurney, he stared up at the ceiling into the camera that relayed his image miles away to Oklahoma City, where some observers said he appeared to be "glaring" at them. Witnesses said he died with his eyes open, fixed on the ceiling.
Attorney General John Ashcroft was in Oklahoma City to meet with victims and family members, but did not watch the execution.
For one survivor, there was justice in watching McVeigh die over the closed-circuit broadcast, but no closure. "When I die and they lay me in my grave, I'll have closure," said Kathleen Treanor, whose daughter and in-laws died in the bombing.
McVeigh's body was taken away from the execution facility for cremation, and his ashes will be spread in an undisclosed location. At McVeigh's request, no members of his family traveled to Terre Haute.
Getting What He Wanted
As prison officials quietly followed the letter of the federal prison protocol that detailed how McVeigh was to die, reporters and protesters gathered outside, swelling the usually quiet town of 60,000 residents. Members of the media have maneuvered around the expansive prison grounds on golf carts.
Although the atmosphere might seem circus-like at a glance, prison officials have taken great steps to maintain order and dignity. They said the execution marks not just the end of one man's life, but recalls the deaths of the scores of others who perished in the 1995 bombing.
If McVeigh was to be believed, he got exactly what he wanted. One retired federal marshal who guarded McVeigh for 18 months during his 1997 trial said he was not surprised about the Gulf War veteran's professional, soldier-like demeanor during his execution.
"In my mind, I could almost see Tim McVeigh putting the restraints on the table himself," said Larry Homenick, a retired Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal. "When we would transport him, we had to use shackles and leg irons, and there were a number of times I was struck with [the observation that] he almost wanted to put them on himself. He just felt he was a part of that process, and he never resisted."
McVeigh had legal challenges available to him that would have taken years, but he ordered his attorneys to withdraw the rest of his appeals last December. Since then, he has expressed no remorse for the bombing, and called the 19 children killed in the blast "collateral damage." He admitted in a book that he and Terry Nichols carried out the 1995 blast that killed 168 people with no one else's help.
He did put up a final fight when the FBI disclosed just days before his first execution date, May 16, that it had failed to disclose thousands of pages of documents to his defense before his 1997 trial. Ashcroft delayed the execution, and McVeigh's lawyers petitioned for another delay.
McVeigh surrendered to today's date with death after U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch and a federal appeals court in Denver rejected his requests.
On April 19, 1995, just after 9 a.m., McVeigh set off a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168, including 19 children.
The Final Steps to Death
McVeigh spent his final hours preparing himself and his attorneys for his execution in the windowless "death house."
Three hours before he was scheduled to die, McVeigh met for the final time with the lawyers who tried to save his life. He also received a 30-minute briefing from the prison warden on the rigid procedures that took place leading up to the execution.
McVeigh accepted the information "cordially," said prison spokesman Dan Dunne.
He ate his last meal at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday — two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Earlier that morning, McVeigh got his first glimpse of the moon in years as prison officials transferred him from his prison cell to the holding facility where he spent his last full day of life.
Prison officials say he slept normally in his final two days, watching television and talking to his lawyers and the prison staff.
Within hours of his execution, McVeigh was taken by prison officials from his holding cell in the execution facility to the death chamber. Once in the execution room, officials removed his restraints and strapped him to the table.
The Curtain Opens
While he was strapped to the gurney, prison officials said McVeigh received the Roman Catholic sacrament of the Anointment of the Sick, to forgive sins and prepare the sick for the passing over to eternal life. His lawyer, Nigh, said he also received last rites.
Around 7 a.m. local time, the curtain was drawn back and the execution witnesses were able to see McVeigh. The warden read the execution order and the U.S. Marshal checked the phone lines to make sure last-minute reprieves had not been granted by President Bush or the Supreme Court — even though McVeigh was not expected to request clemency, and did not.
With no last-minute reprieves, a prison official in another room not seen by the witnesses carried out the death sentence. Three chemicals were injected in this order: sodium pentothal, which causes sleep; pancuronium bromide, which stops respiration; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.
Once McVeigh was confirmed dead, the warden announced his time of death, and the drapes were closed. In an agreement between McVeigh's attorney and the coroner, no autopsy was to be conducted.