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Terror on Trial: Timothy McVeigh executed

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Editor's Note: As part of's new Crime section, we are archiving some of the most interesting content from This story was first published in 2001.

(Court TV) -- Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in the nation's worst act of domestic terrorism, was put to death by lethal injection at 8:14 a.m. ET Monday.

McVeigh, who never showed any remorse for his crime and described his elaborately planned execution as 'deluxe suicide by cop,' made no final statement, but gave prison officials a handwritten copy of a nineteenth century poem which ends, "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul."

McVeigh was convicted of -- and freely admitted -- planting a 7,000-pound truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995. Nineteen children in the building's day care center were among the victims. McVeigh, an disillusioned Army veteran, called the blast a military action brought on by an overreaching federal government. His littlest victims, he said, were "collateral damage."

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"I think he got what he wanted," said Shari Sawyer, who lost her mother in the bombing. The 30-year-old was among 232 survivors and family members who watched the execution on a closed-circuit television feed in Oklahoma City.

"Without saying a word, he got the final word," her brother, Jay Sawyer added.

First federal execution in 38 years

McVeigh's execution was the first lethal injection by the U.S. government ever, and the first federal execution in 38 years.

As some survivors and victims' relatives watched the closed-circuit feed of the 33-year-old's death on a wide-screen television at a location outside Oklahoma City, others gathered at a memorial park on the site of the bombing to observe 168 minutes of silence, one for each victim.

Janice Smith, whose brother Lanny Scroggins died in the bombing, prayed with her children at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, then left after getting word that McVeigh was dead.

"It's over," she said. "We don't have to continue with him anymore."

The approximately 1400 journalists who massed outside the federal prison in Indiana outnumbered protesters 10 to 1. Although police prepared for thousands of demonstrators both for and against the death penalty, fewer than 200 showed.

A few demonstrators held candles or carried signs saying "Remember the Victims," "Thou shalt not kill and live," some with the footnote, "168."

In carrying out McVeigh's execution, the prison warden followed the U.S. Bureau of Prison's 50-page protocol, which included details such as the words he was required to say to the U.S. marshal before the injection began: "We are ready."

McVeigh received a mixture of sodium thiopental, to sedate him, pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant that collapses the diaphragm and lungs; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

Witnesses to the execution

Among those allowed to witness were 10 victims' representatives, 10 news media members, including one from The Associated Press, and McVeigh's personal witnesses  Nigh, defense attorney Nathan Chambers, former defense team member Cate McCauley and Buffalo News reporter Lou Michel, who co-wrote a recent book on the bomber.

The lethal injection was administered to McVeigh's right leg. McVeigh made eye contact with his four witnesses, then with the 10 media witnesses, then squinted toward the tinted window shielding the 10 victims' witnesses from his view.

"It was a totally expressionless, blank stare," said Larry Whicher, one of the victims, whose brother, Alan, 40, an agent with the U.S. Secret Service. "He had a look of defiance, and that if he could, he'd do it all over again."

"I think I did see the face of evil today." said Kathy Wilburn, who watched the execution via closed-circuit TV and lost two young grandsons in the bombing.

McVeigh, wearing a white T-shirt, khaki pants and slip-on sneakers, looked pale as he awaited death. His hair was cropped short. A white sheet was pulled up tightly to his chest as he lay on the gurney.

When the first drug was administered, he let out a couple of deep breaths, then a fluttery breath. His head moved back, his gaze fixed on the ceiling, and his eyes were glassy.

"We killed Bill and Mickey McVeigh's son this morning," defense attorney Robert Nigh, told reporters following the execution, which he witnessed. "If there is anything good that can come from the execution of Tim McVeigh, it may be to help us realize sooner that we simply cannot do this anymore. I am firmly convinced that it is not a question of if we will stop; it is simply a question of when."

McVeigh's body will be released to a representative of his family and will reportedly be cremated in Terre Haute, officials said. The ashes will be scattered in an undisclosed location picked by McVeigh before the execution.

While the intricate and well-practiced plans for the execution unfolded Monday, those close to the bomber said he continued to believe the blast was justified.

His attorneys said he was sorry for those who suffered, but didn't regret the bombing.

"He never, I think, has been the type of guy to tell people what he thinks that they want to hear," Nigh, McVeigh's defense attorney, said Sunday. "I think that he tries to be honest about his true feeling of sympathy and empathy without being inaccurate about them."

After Gulf War, McVeigh disillusioned

McVeigh was born in Pendleton, N.Y., near Buffalo, in 1968 and raised Catholic in a middle-class environment. At a young age, he developed a keen interest in guns from his grandfather.

As he grew up, he developed a distrust of the government, yet he joined the Army and went on to serve in the Gulf War. He also returned more disillusioned with the United States, viewing its treatment of the Iraqi people as that of a schoolyard bully.

Drifting across the country and taking on an increasingly survivalist mentality, he continued to stew over what he saw as government encroachment on the right to bear arms. The disastrous federal raids at the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas, and the cabin of white separatist Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, brought McVeigh's hatred to a head.

He decided it was time for actions, not words.

In the end, McVeigh set his sights on the Oklahoma City federal building. He packed a Ryder truck with explosives, lit the fuses, parked it outside the federal building and walked away, without looking back.

And though he said he was sorry that so many people "had to die," he said in recent letters released Sunday to the Buffalo News that their deaths were the "nature of the beast."

McVeigh's original execution date was May 16, but it was delayed after the FBI revealed it had withheld more than 4,500 documents from the defense during McVeigh's 1997 trial. The Justice Department said nothing in the documents brought the bomber's guilt into question, and two separate courts agreed.

After McVeigh's death, officials at the Terre Haute prison -- which houses the remaining 19 federal death row inmates -- are preparing for another federal execution. Drug kingpin and convicted murderer Juan Raul Garza is scheduled to die June 19. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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