McVeigh faces last day

July 24, 2008 | 0 comments

June 11, 2001
Des Moines Register
Section: Main News; Page 1

McVeigh faces last day


Terre Haute, Ind. -They sold 25-cent lemonade, set up concession stands and hawked T-shirts. They carried it live and shared it with a worldwide audience.

This is how Americans participated in the deathwatch of the nation’s most notorious terrorist.

Timothy McVeigh, a 33-year-old Gulf War veteran, was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 7 a.m. today inside the United States Penitentiary here.

He was to be executed for bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. The blast killed 168 people.

The macabre spectacle that led to his planned execution seemed more suited to a carnival. Restaurants offered discounts. A retired Terre Haute man sold shish kebobs outside the prison grounds. Motorists pasted signs and flags on their cars.

The city that was forced to serve as host did its best to make room for 1,400 reporters and hundreds of protesters. Terre Haute, known as the college home of basketball great Larry Bird, has unwillingly won an international reputation as the home of the U.S. government’s death row.
Many residents were ready to cash in. “It’s the American way,” Tedd Gess, 44, said as he sold $25 parking spaces on his sister’s lawn. The home is a short walk from the penitentiary.

“We’re reaping the profits. This is everybody’s 15 minutes of fame, you know what I mean?” said Gess, carrying a clipboard and wad of cash while his 11-year-old niece sold lemonade.

Others marked McVeigh’s last day in more somber, private ways. Bill McCarthy, whose brother Jim McCarthy died in the blast, left his Des Moines home before sunrise to drive to Terre Haute.
“I’m just determined to see this thing through,” said McCarthy, an assistant chief for the Des Moines Police Department. “There’s no closure, but this is part of justice.”

McCarthy is one of 10 relatives and victims selected by lottery to witness the execution. At least 14 other people also were expected to be witnesses. McCarthy and his wife, Linda, had a private dinner at an undisclosed location Sunday night with other relatives and victims who will watch McVeigh take his final breath.

“It’s an attempt to balance the scales,” McCarthy said of the execution.

J.J. Jackson flew from Oklahoma City to Indiana to mark McVeigh’s final hours, even though she’ll get no closer than the congested streets outside.

“I can’t shoot McVeigh personally, so I have to support a system that will exterminate him,” Jackson said. She said she was a volunteer at a church where relatives were counseled immediately after the bombing. She also traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby for anti-terrorism legislation.

“I wanted to be as close as I can be,” she said. “I’ve seen this all firsthand -not reading it or seeing it on TV. I’ve lived it.”

Kenster Hilmas, 33, and his 9-year-old daughter, Amber, made a pilgrimage from Columbus, Ohio. They want McVeigh to live, and they urged him to turn to Jesus.

Amber Hilmas wore a sign with the words “God loves Timmy.” Others held signs saying “Pray for Tim’s Dad on Father’s Day” and “Our Jesus Loves Tim -Even If We Don’t.”

Prison and city officials arranged to have protesters on both sides demonstrate Sunday in separate parks. They were to be bused to the prison grounds shortly after midnight and would be separated by snow fences.

Each protester was allowed to carry a sign, a cellular telephone, medicine, a Bible and a candle. Little else was allowed -an attempt to stifle particularly shocking displays of protest.

While protesters assembled and reporters operated inside their satellite city, McVeigh was able to watch. Prison officials allowed the condemned man to have a television, with cable hookup, in his holding cell.

McVeigh was moved to the holding cell inside the windowless execution building before sunrise Sunday.

He was to die this morning, wearing khaki pants, a white T-shirt and slip-on tennis shoes. He was to get three injections. The first causes sleep. The second chemical paralyzes muscles used to breathe. The third stops the heart.

McVeigh’s lawyers told reporters Sunday that he was prepared to die. McCarthy, of Des Moines, said he was prepared to watch.

Copyright 2001 Des Moines Register

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