by Maren L. Hickton
Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber who killed 168
people and injured hundreds of others on April 19, 1995, will
die Monday by lethal injection following a foray of confusion
and appeals concerning the failure of the FBI to turn over
several thousand pages of trial documents. The one-time Gulf
War hero instructed his lawyers not to pursue an appeal with
the U.S. Supreme Court after Denver's appeals court refused
to delay his execution for a second time.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft called Denver court's
ruling "a ruling in favor of justice."
McVeigh will be the first federal prisoner executed since
1963. While most cases do not receive this level of attention,
juries are confronted everyday all over this nation with making
the decision between life and death. Their options are limited
by our justice system, where in many cases while their conscience
tells them we do not have the right to play God with someone's
life - no matter how heinous the crime - and they choose the
death penalty as the only recourse to protect society from
the convicted, where if they do not, they fear that this person
may be released back to society through parole or other means,
a real possibility.
If there was ever a time to give pause and think about the
death penalty in the United States, this case is fraught with
reason. The civil discord and discussions arising out of this
case including the missing documents, the varied psychological
assessments of the convicted, the government's need to let
people know that the U.S. will not tolerate terrorism, plus
the weight of outcry from so many victims - actual and otherwise,
have presented a unique set of circumstances. These circumstances,
however, must always be balanced against the right of the
accused, the convicted.
Mr. McVeigh was a glaringly very troubled man despite his
appearance of normalcy. How could anyone conclude that a man
that admitted repeated psychotic anger towards the government,
that built a bomb, that rented a truck and set about to destroy
a Federal Building, killing and injuring hundreds of people
could possibly be "sane" - that is, someone of a rational
mind? Is our definition of sanity so limited, that we assess
sanity on the basis of just whether one is able to communicate
If we conclude that McVeigh's actions were not rational,
do we allow him to call further shots in determining the course
and direction of his trial, including his desire to die, with
his view that his death will just be a "state-assisted suicide?"
Or do we direct the course of his trial, providing him with
the means for a vigorous defense, recognizing that he is sick
and unfit to participate, including stopping his denial of
stays, appeals, etc.?
While we must let people know that we will not tolerate mass
destruction and the taking of lives, do we punish those more
harshly when their acts receive a greater amount of media
attention and a building collapses? Do we punish sick felons
for saying callous words like "collateral damage," referring
to the lost live of children, or do we realize that these
scripted words are coming out of the mouth of someone who
was perhaps severely damaged himself by participating in a
war that he was not mentally fit to serve?
Do we turn into a violent mob, fantasizing of our own ways
to exact revenge, quoting scripture: "an eye for an eye,"
when we are certain we are taking God's word out of context?
Some think that "lethal injection is not enough," yet we all
know that whatever we do we cannot bring back so many lives
that were taken by McVeigh without an ounce of remorse - further
evidence that he has a part missing.
Does the government, irrespective of their own problems within
their agencies, have the right to make an example out of anyone,
when documents admittedly were not supplied that could have
affected the outcome of this trial? Whether the convicted
wants a new trial or not, doesn't the government have a duty
to stay the execution, if not only for the sake of Mr. Nichols'
appeal and other parties whose names have been released, but
for the victims families, so that all have a full understanding
of exactly what occurred on that fateful day in April in 1995?
Are we to believe that of a sociopath (at minimum), who contends
that he acted alone, just because he says so?
Forensic science, from behavioral (neuro-psych testing) to
physical evidence (DNA, MRI, PET etc.) has come very far in
uncovering both the aberrations and causes for the behaviors
of many severely disturbed individuals. Do we dismiss this
research as junk science and rely on archaic methodologies
in formulating conclusions to carry out death sentences? Further,
do civilized societies even have a right to put people to
death, or do we restrain our own primal instincts of rage
and fear instead of carrying out what amounts to collective
acts of revenge?
The United States government and our judicial system has
arguably acted within the current perimeters of our justice
system in Mr. McVeigh's case with great consideration to the
many victims of this terrible crime and all of these questions
are certainly not unique. But when we are convicting mentally
retarded and mentally ill people on a regular basis, we have
children in our jails, and insanity pleas are routinely dismissed
as a "cop out," we must begin to not only recognize that something
is wrong with how these cases are being morally adjudicated,
but understand that all of these people are members of our
society - products of our society.
It is about time that we educate the public about the vagaries
of mental illness and expand our own thinking to find alternative
ways to deal with these kinds of cases, particularly sentencing
issues. In the year 2001, spectacles of live-feed executions
or simply putting sick, damaged people away, without any kind
of understanding how they ended up that way in the first place
and forgetting about them, is not only inhumane, it's revolting.