Timothy McVeigh blushed, smiled and even laughed Monday as penalty-phase witnesses chronicled his life, from a happy-go-lucky teenager and model soldier to a disillusioned veteran fixated on the disaster at Waco.
“I’m torn, confused,” McVeigh’s longtime neighbor Richard Drzyzga said in a choked voice. “There is a part of me that still remembers him from a little kid. And then there’s a part that sees what everybody else sees on TV and gets angry. And I can’t put the two together.”
Drzyzga, who lived four doors down from the McVeigh family in Pendleton, N.Y., recalled that after McVeigh served in the Gulf War he disappeared for about a year, and then one day in 1993 sent him a videotape critical of the FBI’s deadly raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.
“It scared me,” he said. “It scared me to the point that I turned to my wife and said, ‘What the hell has he gotten into?”’ McVeigh’s attorneys sought to spare him the death penalty by showing jurors the human side of the convicted Oklahoma City bomber. They began with a parade of Persian Gulf comrades to tell how he was a compassionate “soldier’s soldier” with a top-gun aim and a bright future.
“He was it, the man, the top dog of the company,” said Bruce Williams, who served in a cramped Bradley fighting vehicle with McVeigh during the 1991 war against Iraq. “I just assumed he would go and do great things.”
Capt. Jesus Rodriguez, his chest loaded with medals, described McVeigh as “an outstanding soldier” who helped save a fellow soldier’s life and was cool - and accurate - under enemy fire.
“He did what he was told,” said Rodriguez, who chose McVeigh as his personal gunner. “He anticipated what had to be done, took pride in his work.”
Under cross-examination, the veterans acknowledged they hadn’t seen McVeigh since at least 1992 and knew nothing about his life in what prosecutors say is the critical year before the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
The defense must counter 2-1/2 days of gut-wrenching testimony from survivors describing their shattered lives.
xxxx WHAT’S NEXT The jury is expected to begin deliberating as early as Wednesday whether McVeigh should die or be sentenced to life in prison.