Steely McVeigh breathes his last

July 23, 2008 | 0 comments

June 12, 2001
Des Moines Register
Section: Main News; Page 7

Steely McVeigh breathes his last

By JENNIFER DUKES LEE
REGISTER STAFF WRITER

Terre Haute, Ind. – Bill McCarthy stared into the eyes of his brother’s killer and saw another human being.

The Des Moines man stared through the tinted glass into the death chamber, almost close enough to touch Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh stared back.

Eight minutes later, at 7:14 a.m. Monday, the man who was convicted in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building was pronounced dead from a lethal injection.

Many victims and witnesses to McVeigh’s execution have described the bomber as a monster.

The witnesses said he went to his death the same way he lived: as a stoic soldier.

Some said they saw a man who seemed proud of his final act and of his final handwritten statement, taken from a 19th-century poem: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

McCarthy, whose older brother was killed in the bombing, saw someone different. He saw a man about to die, stripped of the defiance and arrogance for which many will remember him.

“It appeared to me that he was extremely nervous, and I think on the verge of losing control,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy, an assistant chief for the Des Moines Police Department, said McVeigh deserved to die. “If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be here.”

Still, he said, there was no victory for anyone in his death.

“Who won? One hundred sixty-eight people lost their lives. Hundreds were injured. The children who are parentless. The destruction of the property. The destruction of the psyche of America,” he said. “And then he ends up losing everything he’s got: his life. “Who won? Nobody. You know, we all lost.”

McCarthy, 53, left Des Moines on Sunday with his wife, Linda, to serve as an official execution witness. He was among about 30 witnesses who had front-row seats for the last moments of McVeigh’s life. About 230 other relatives and victims watched via closed-circuit television in Oklahoma City. Witnesses said McVeigh, 33, died silently, with his eyes open.

Harley Lappin, warden of the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute where McVeigh was executed, said the condemned man was calm and cooperative.

“He walked into the execution room. . . . He stepped up onto a small step. He sat down on the table. He then positioned himself for us to apply the restraints,” Lappin said.

The injection was delayed for a couple of minutes while prison officials tried to fix what they said was the only glitch in the execution. They had initial trouble gaining a good TV transmission for the Oklahoma City viewers.

When the curtains were pulled open, witnesses saw McVeigh strapped to a gurney with a sheet covering most of his body, along with the IV in his right leg. His lips pursed, he looked first toward his invited witnesses, which included his attorneys, then toward the reporters.

Shepard Smith of Fox News, one of 10 media witnesses, said McVeigh “seemed almost to be trying to take charge of the room and understand his circumstances, nodding at each one of us individually.”

The reporters said McVeigh looked thinner and paler than he was at the time of his conviction in 1997. They said he had aged considerably.

McVeigh turned his gaze toward the room where 10 victims and relatives of victims stood, but he couldn’t see them because they were behind tinted, one-way glass.

McVeigh looked toward the tinted glass “for what felt like the longest time . . . with no expression whatsoever. He wanted to look at us,” McCarthy said. “I suspect he wanted us to see him looking at us.”

The warden asked McVeigh whether he had any final words. He remained silent. He looked toward the ceiling and into a camera, directly at the victims and family gathered in Oklahoma City.

Rather than make his final remarks aloud, McVeigh had given the warden a handwritten statement in which he quoted from “Invictus,” by English poet William Ernest Henley.

At 7:06 a.m., the first of three drugs -sodium pentothal -was injected into McVeigh’s veins. The drug causes sleep. Witnesses said his lips and eyes seemed to relax.

At 7:11 a.m., pancuronium bromide stopped his breathing.

At 7:13 a.m., potassium chloride stopped his heart. He was declared dead a minute later.

McCarthy said he thought of his brother, a Des Moines native, as McVeigh took his final breaths.

Jim McCarthy served as director of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development office in Oklahoma City. McCarthy also thought of the other victims -and of the man who admitted killing them all.

“If this gives some of the victims and their families any degree of peace, then it’s another confirmation that it was the right thing to do,” he said.

Outside the death chamber, a couple hundred protesters waited for word of McVeigh’s death. Thousands had been expected. At a memorial site in Oklahoma City, relatives gathered, with heads bowed, at the empty chair-shaped monuments that signify the lost lives of victims.

Less than three hours after McVeigh died, McCarthy and his wife left Terre Haute in their van.

“This is the end of a chapter,” he said.

About the same time, three black cars quietly drove away from the prison grounds. Two unmarked police cars escorted a hearse that carried the body of Timothy James McVeigh -decorated Gulf War veteran, a father’s son and the man responsible for the deadliest terrorist act committed on U.S. soil.

Copyright 2001 Des Moines Register

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