‘It Was The Least He Deserved’ Verdict Triggers Array Of Emotions From Survivors To President
Moments after Timothy J. McVeigh was sentenced to death Friday for bombing the federal building here, Cathleen Trainer, who lost her daughter, mother-in-law and father-in-law in the explosion, embraced Catherine Alaniz, whose father died in the bombing.
“We got him,” Trainer whispered.
Gathered by the concrete remains of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, survivors of the explosion that killed 168 people here two years ago erupted into a cheer Friday afternoon as word of the death sentence was relayed from a Denver courtroom.
Some of the survivors and their families unfurled an American flag that had flown over the Murrah site the day McVeigh’s trial began and burst into a chorus of “God Bless America.”
They praised the jury for a punishment that most of them said will ease, but not end, the pain caused by what prosecutors described as the worst act of terrorism in American history.
“I have a hard time saying I want him to die,” said Glenda Riley, who survived the blast that killed 35 of her co-workers at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “But there isn’t any place on Earth for him. … He had used up all his time and space on this Earth.”
“It was the least he deserved,” said Jacque Walker, who lost a pregnant niece in the explosion.
Trainer, who testified during the penalty phase of the trial, had no doubts about Friday’s verdict. “I looked at the jurors’ faces, and I could see he was a dead man,” she said. “They had nothing but contempt for him.
“I look at him as less than a human,” she said. “When he made the conscious decision to kill these people and to maim and destroy others, he ceased becoming human. He became an animal, and, in my opinion, when an animal kills a human being, they deserve death. So he got what he justly deserves.”
Even death penalty foe Bud Welch, whose daughter died in the explosion and who was one of the few family members of victims to speak publicly against executing McVeigh, accepted the verdict.
“I don’t disagree with the jury,” he said. “They just followed the law. I disagree with the law.”
Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy came to the Murrah building site to tell survivors and reporters that he would continue to press his plans to try McVeigh separately in Oklahoma City on state murder charges. But some of the survivors said they did not want more trials. “I don’t need it,” said Riley. “It will put more strain on the people of Oklahoma City.”
“Anyone that can kill 168 lives doesn’t deserve a life. They forfeited that,” said Sharon Madearis, whose husband Claude Madearis, a Customs Service agent, was one of the eight law-enforcement officers McVeigh was convicted of killing. Friday, Madearis’ daughter was wearing the ring of her father as she awaited the verdict with her fingers crossed.
“It’s not going to close anything,” Sharon Madearis said of the death penalty verdict. “It’s been two years, two long years. It’s time to start moving on.”
A steady stream of visitors stopped by the Murrah Building site, now little more than a chain-link fence surrounding a lush, green lawn and the building’s gray concrete foundation. The fence has become a shrine to the victims. Teddy Bears, T-shirts and license plates adorn the fence in tribute to the dead.
For many it is an emotional stop, one that several Oklahoma residents said they have made repeatedly since the bombing.
“I just wanted to take pictures,” said Shannon Logan, 21, of Lawton as she held her 8-month-old son. “The day care has torn me up … all the children.”
The buildings still standing near the Murrah site bear the scars of the bombing. Plywood covers the windows of the First United Methodist Church and the condemned YMCA building. And the false front is peeling off the twisted remains of the abandoned, red-brick offices of the Oklahoma water board.
Other reaction included:
McVeigh attorney Stephen Jones called for a healing of intolerance and division in America, and asked God to bless the country and the court.
“A fair verdict is entitled to respect,” Jones said.
Lead federal prosecutor Joseph Hartzler said he hoped the verdict “goes some way to prevent such a terrible, drastic crime from ever occurring again.” But Hartzler said the death sentence was no cause for joy.
“It doesn’t diminish the great sadness” from the bombing, Hartzler said.
Patrick Ryan, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, directed a statement to anyone who might sympathize with McVeigh’s anti-government views, in particular members of the so-called patriot movement.
“Hopefully,” he said, “… they understand the way to change policy, whether it be law enforcement or otherwise, is to go to the voting booth, ask for congressional hearings, be dogged in their pursuit of what they believe to be justice.
“But the taking of lives, such as what occurred in Oklahoma City, is never the right course.”
President Clinton thanked jurors for their “grave decisions” in McVeigh’s trial Friday but avoided comment on the decision to condemn him to death for the Oklahoma City bombing.
“Since there is another trial pending, I cannot comment on the jury’s decision,” the president said in a written statement. “But on behalf of all Americans, I thank the jurors for their deliberations and their thoroughness as they made these grave decisions.
“This investigation and trial have confirmed our country’s faith in its justice system,” Clinton said. “To the victims and their families, I know that your healing can be measured only one day at a time. The prayers and support of your fellow Americans will be with you every one of those days.”
Clinton was notified of the jury’s decision when an aide passed him a note during an Oval Office meeting.
One juror, Tonya Steadman, told CNN later in the day that she felt McVeigh “respected” the jury’s recommendation that he be put to death.
“I feel there was honesty among myself and the other jurors with respect to the decision, and we conveyed that to him the best way we could,” Steadman told the network.
“I feel he respected our decision,” she said.
Steadman said she was glad she was picked to hear the 54-day trial, calling it a “one in a million” opportunity.
“I think I have a lot to be proud of, and so does everyone else” on the jury, she said.
Steadman called Matsch an “exceptional person.”
Now that the trial is over, she said, “I need time to relax.”
Another juror, Diane Faircloth, said in a taped interview that she was proud to have served on the jury.
“I went in with a very open mind.”
Asked about her feelings on the lack of remorse shown by McVeigh in the courtroom, she said, “Personally, I figure that that was in keeping with his character.”
The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Bill McAllister Washington Post Other writers from the Washington Post and reports from the Los Angeles Times and Knight-Ridder contributed to this story.