Timothy McVeigh’s life rested in the hands of the jury Thursday after prosecutors urged he be executed as a traitor and defense attorneys made one last plea for mercy.
“He is not a demon, though surely his act was demonic,” said McVeigh’s lead defense counsel, Stephen Jones.
And co-counsel Richard Burr asserted the Oklahoma City bombing was not a crime of “evil motive,” but an understandable one given McVeigh’s loathing of the federal government.
He said the former Army sergeant’s outrage stemmed from the nation’s failure to hold federal agents accountable for the deaths of Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas, and of Vicky Weaver and her son, Sam, at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
“Aren’t we all in some way implicated in this crime?” Burr asked. “We all bear some responsibility for Oklahoma City.”
Prosecutors denounced that suggestion, telling jurors they shouldn’t feel guilty for any of the events. And prosecutor Beth Wilkinson said nothing can justify the murder of 168 people - the worst act of terrorism in America.
“He is a traitor,” she said of McVeigh, “and he deserves to die.”
The seven-man, five-woman panel began to consider McVeigh’s fate just after noon, but reported to U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch that evening that it had not reached a verdict.
Jurors will resume deliberations today. They were not sequestered, as they were earlier when they took nearly four days to find McVeigh guilty of conspiracy and murder in the April 19, 1995, truck bombing of the Oklahoma federal building.
Matsch told jurors their deliberations should “not be a mechanical process,” but rather a “reasoned” one in which they act as the “conscience of the community.”
He gave them three options: Death by lethal injection, life in prison without any possibility of release, or some other “lesser sentence” to be decided by him.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, however, Matsch would have little latitude but to sentence the 29-year-old McVeigh to life in prison.
“Tim McVeigh is going to die in prison. There is no doubt about it,” said Jones. “The question is when will he die in prison: sooner, or later.
“The government asks you for him to die sooner. I ask for you to let him die later.”
McVeigh, as he has throughout his trial, sat expressionless in the courtroom, his elbows often resting on the defense table and his hands on his chin. His divorced parents, his godmother and his younger sister sat just a few feet from him.