As I predicted would happen last week, the jury in Denver has determined that Timothy McVeigh must pay the ultimate price for his actions in Oklahoma City. It didn't take a crystal- ball reader to know that was likely to be the case, because it could have hardly gone otherwise.
But I must admit to being a little bothered by the joy with which so many greeted the news of McVeigh's death sentence. Television reports showed crowds applauding in bars and restaurants, as though their favorite sports team had just won the world championship. And on the Internet chatters gleefully anticipated McVeigh's impending death with all the relish of people propped back with the beer and chips on Superbowl Sunday, anxious for the slaughter to begin.
Granted, what McVeigh did is obscene beyond description; one has only to remember the pictures of battered and bloodied little bodies to recreate the horror of that dark moment in American history. And yet I find it obscene that we have arrived at the point where we can greet the death of anyone with such smug satisfaction--even if that person deserves to die for his or her sins, as McVeigh surely does.
I can believe that without finding some misplaced joy in the idea that a human being will, at some point, be strapped down to a gurney and killed. While I am not an overly religious person in the normal definition of those terms, I think I would have to worry about the state of my soul if I found pleasure in that thought.
Doing the right and proper thing is sometimes very difficult. If you have to pretend it's "fun" in order to accomplish it, then maybe it's not worth the effort.
The Oklahoma County district attorney says he's going to prosecute McVeigh for 160 counts of murder. He said this morning that he was going to do that despite the death sentence already adjudicated, as that might be overturned and his witnesses in the state case might die if he waited until the federal appeals culminated.
Seeing this fellow standing there in a wide string tie reminiscent of photos of Edgar Allen Poe, his gray hair impeccable coifed and the light of righteousness burning from his eyes, it was clear to me where his final vision lay--upon the Governor's Mansion, no doubt. This dude may believe everything he says in some tiny crevice in his mind, but I suspect his ultimate goal is political.
And what politician worth his salt will not climb over the broken corpses of 160 people and a mass murderer to achieve his political ends? Don't bother looking, because he hasn't been born yet.
And, lo and behold, Alan Dershowitz, who hasn't been getting a lot of attention since O. J. Simpson got the green light, is running his mouth. Dershowitz has brutally and publicly assailed Stephen Jones, McVeigh's lead attorney, for what the law professor terms the worse defense presentation he's ever seen.
Basking in the wake of the Simpson victory, Dershowitz has apparently forgotten a basic precept of American justice: guilty people are supposed to be convicted. It may not have worked that way in the Simpson case, due in part to a bad state prosecution, a judge who fell in love with the TV cameras, and a loaded jury, but it didn't reverse all the natural rules of order.
No, indeed. The McVeigh case featured an unyielding judge who may have gone too far the other way in excluding evidence, most notably a female defense witness who claimed she had heard others discussing blowing up the Murrah building. It was a case wherein the prosecution adopted a ploy used by the defense most times, that being an appeal to the raw emotions. And the federal government may have a botched criminal lab, but they didn't botch at all a prime photo op that virtually sealed McVeigh's fate.
Who among us can forget that first television picture of the defendant being hustled out of a building, his face as stark and emotionless as those on the phalanx of federal officers surrounding him? Attorney Jones contends that from that moment McVeigh's fate was sealed tight and he may well be right. He looked like a man who had just committed the worst act of domestic terrorism in our history.
There's one thing that still troubles me a great deal and it was never addressed. I wonder why an armed man who had just committed a capital federal crime allowed himself to be taken into custody by a lone highway patrol officer following what was then a routine traffic stop? Why would he have hesitated to shoot that officer the moment he walked up to the car?
I suspect we'll never know the answer to that, any more than we will know whether or not there were others involved. Say what you will about McVeigh, he doesn't look like the kind of guy who's going to crack and start spilling the beans on anybody.
He may very well go to his death without saying anything at all, leaving us with another conspiracy theory that will haunt the American public eternally.
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