The parents of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh made an emotional plea Wednesday to a federal jury to spare their only son’s life, characterizing him as a loving son and brother and not a “monster.”
The last-ditch bid by Mildred Frazer and William McVeigh came as defense attorneys concluded their four-day effort to save McVeigh from a death sentence for the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that killed 168 people.
The same jury that last week convicted him on all 11 counts of murder and conspiracy will hear closing arguments this morning in this penalty phase of the trial and likely begin sequestered deliberations on his fate by midafternoon.
“He is not the monster he has been portrayed as,” said Frazer, barely able to keep her composure as she read a brief, prepared statement to the seven-man, five-woman jury.
“Yes, I am pleading for my son’s life. He is a human being just as we all are. You must make this very difficult decision on my son’s life or death, and I hope and pray that God helps you make the right one.”
McVeigh, who had been expressionless and stoic through weeks of dramatic testimony, appeared to be struggling to keep his emotions in check as his mother testified. He pressed his hands tightly against his cheeks and at one point wiped the corner of his eye. Two jurors openly cried during the maternal plea for mercy.
Frazer was followed to the stand by her former husband, William McVeigh, who narrated an 11-minute video portraying his son’s Norman Rockwell-like upbringing in upstate New York.
Viewing a photograph of him and his son standing in the family kitchen with their arms around each other and broad smiles on their faces, the father said, “To me, it’s a happy Tim, it’s a Tim I remember most of my life.”
Asked whether he still loves the Tim who sat before him in the courtroom, convicted in the largest act of domestic terrorism in history, William McVeigh said, “Yes, I do.”
“Do you want him to stay alive?” asked defense attorney Richard Burr.
“Yes, I do,” responded the elder McVeigh.
The defense then rested its fourday case in the penalty phase of the bombing trial. Today, prosecutors and defense lawyers will present closing arguments, and then U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch will give final instructions to the jury before it begins deliberating whether McVeigh will be put to death by lethal injection or receive a sentence of life without possibility of parole.
On the witness stand, Frazer said her son’s involvement in the bombing seems incomprehensible to her.
“I cannot even imagine the pain and suffering the people from Oklahoma City have endured from April 19 of 1995,” Frazer said. “This tragedy has affected many people around the world including myself. I also understand the anger many people feel. … He was a loving son and happy a child as he grew up. … He was a child any mother could be proud of.
“I still to this very day cannot believe he could have caused this devastation. There are too many unanswered questions and loose ends. He has seen human loss in the past, and it has torn him apart.”
Survivors of the explosion and relatives of the victims were unmoved.
“I really feel for Mr. and Mrs. McVeigh, their pleading for their child’s life,” said Marsha Kight, who lost her only daughter in the blast. “I’d like to have had that opportunity.”
“I’m sure they are wondering what went wrong just as we are wondering what went wrong,” said Charles Tomlin, who lost his son. But Tomlin said nothing he heard swayed him. “I want him to be put to death. Nothing can change my mind.”
Since last Friday, defense lawyers have tried to portray their client as a good, kind boy and young man who somehow became so deeply disturbed over the government’s 1993 assault on a religious cult near Waco, Texas, that he could have been driven to bomb the Murrah building.
In a final appeal to Judge Matsch, McVeigh’s lawyers this week filed a pleading asking the judge to instruct the jury to consider 24 mitigating factors, among them the suggestion that a federal death sentence could trigger political unrest. “It is in the national interest for domestic tranquility that Timothy McVeigh not be executed by the federal government, but instead be prosecuted by the state of Oklahoma with the possibility of the death penalty,” his lawyers argued.
Oklahoma City District Attorney Bob Macy has said he will indict McVeigh on state charges no matter what the outcome in the federal case.
The government offered no rebuttal witnesses Wednesday but in its final action put into evidence an anti-government letter to the editor of the Lockport (N.Y.) Union Sun and Journal that McVeigh wrote in 1992.
“We have no proverbial tea to dump,” McVeigh wrote. “Is a civil war imminent? Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system? I hope it doesn’t come to that! But it might.”