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Attorney General Ashcroft Will Allow Closed-Circuit Broadcast of McVeigh Execution

Aired April 12, 2001 - 09:09   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there won't be very many smiles in the next room we're watching this morning. We're still keeping our eye on Attorney General John Ashcroft, who is supposed to be entering this room, as you see right here, any moment now. He is going to be making an announcement this morning about whether or not a closed- circuit television broadcast will be made available to the family members or survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing who say that they would like to watch.

The attorney general, as you may have heard our Gary Tuchman reporting moments ago, the attorney general did meet with some 250 family members and survivors who said they want to see that particular broadcast.

Let's listen in now.

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: In 1988, the federal death penalty was reinstated by the United States Congress and the president with the enactment of the Anti-drug Abuse Act. In 1994, Congress and the president expanded the capital sentencing available under the federal law in the Federal Death Penalty Act.

Under these two legislative acts, the federal statutes allow the death penalty for some of the most heinous and violent crimes imaginable. These include the intentional killing, espionage and treason, a kidnapping or conspiracy that results in a murder, killing a law enforcement officer, or committing a major drug trafficking crime.

Under both laws, before the death penalty can be imposed, a special hearing is required to determine whether a sentence of death is justified. A jury following a death-eligible conviction must determine whether a sentence of death is justified based on evidence and arguments presented by each side and instructions from the court.

On June 2, 1997, a jury convicted Mr. Timothy McVeigh of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City. This brutal act of terrorism killed 168 innocent people, including 19 children, and injured hundreds more. Its savagery stole parents from 219 children and made 30 children orphans in a single act. This cowardly crime against our nation was the largest terrorist attack ever within the United States of America. ASHCROFT: On June 13, 1997, the jury that heard the case of the Oklahoma City bombing made a recommendation of death for Mr. McVeigh, and the sentence was imposed by a federal judge on August 14, 1997.

Mr. McVeigh's conviction was confirmed on direct appeal, and his post-conviction challenges have been rejected by the courts. Mr. McVeigh has exhausted his right to any further appeals, and he is scheduled to be executed on May 16, 2001.

The last death penalty imposed by the federal courts under the federal law occurred in 1963. The policies the Justice Department outlines today will provide the basis for handling future executions ordered by federal courts. These policies will be written into the appropriate documents and made available to the public, including the final execution protocol.

The Bureau of Prisons has been preparing to fulfill its responsibilities under the law for years now, and we have consulted closely and thoroughly with them in establishing these policies.

As you know, I also met with about 100 survivors and victim family members on Tuesday to hear their stories and try to understand their loss.

The magnitude of this case is certainly stunning. My time with these brave survivors changed me. What was taken from them can never be replaced nor fully restored. Their lives were shattered, and I hope that we can help to meet their need to close this chapter in their lives.

I also hope that their experience in Oklahoma City is unique in our American experience. Obviously, this case has many unique elements, and it is a unique set of circumstances that confront us. The Oklahoma City survivors may be the largest group of crime victims in our history, so the Department of Justice must make special provisions to assist the needs of the survivors and victims' families in accordance with our responsibilities to carry out justice.

Current Bureau of Prisons regulations allow for eight witnesses. This is plainly inadequate. As attorney general, I authorize the following measures for victims of this crime.

First, we have decided to allow two additional citizen witnesses to be present at the execution in Terre Haute. This will bring the total number of citizen witnesses to 10 and will equal the number of media witnesses. These witnesses will be selected by lottery, as was done for the trial.

Second, under these special circumstances, we will arrange for a closed-circuit transmission of these events to Oklahoma City, just as was done during the trial pursuant to the congressional authorization.

The closed-circuit transmission will take place at a facility in Oklahoma City that is yet to be determine. The Bureau of Prisons will work with the FBI's Crisis Response Unit to provide a highly reliable and secure closed-circuit audio and video transmission from the United States penitentiary in Terre Haute to the designated site in Oklahoma City.

The broadcast will use the latest encryption technology integrated with state-of-the-art video-conferencing over high-speed digital telephone lines. Federal regulations prohibit any recording of the execution. Therefore, any closed-circuit transmission will be instantaneous and contemporaneous.

Because of our concerns about attempts to steal or disrupt the transmission signal, we will not be able to provide any further details about the transmission process.

The transmission to the victims in the Oklahoma City area will begin at the same time the curtain is opened for viewing by victim witnesses in the execution facility.

All witnesses will see Mr. McVeigh on the execution table, and they will be able to hear any final statement Mr. McVeigh makes.

Third, at the request of the victims I met with on Tuesday, we will show those who are watching from Oklahoma City a video with footage of the site in Terre Haute, including the execution room. In addition, we will have representatives of the Bureau of Prisons on site to help prepare these witnesses for what they will see on the closed-circuit transmission.

Finally, I realize after visiting with survivors and victim's families that there are some people who in the event that they are not one of the 10 citizen witnesses still want to be present in Terre Haute, even if they cannot view the execution via closed-circuit television. For those victims, we will provide an area in Terre Haute near the prison facility.

To those of you here, I am aware that several media outlets have requested access to interview inmate McVeigh. As an American who cares about our culture, I want to restrict a mass murderer's access to the public podium. On an issue of particular importance to me as attorney general of the United States, I do not want anyone to be able to purchase access to the podium of America with the blood of 168 innocent victims. Media access to special confinement unit inmates will be limited to each inmate's ordinary allotment of telephone time.

Inmates in the special confinement unit in Terre Haute are allowed a 15-minute personal telephone call each day. Inmates can use those calls in any way they choose, including interviews with the media. Requests for interviews may be made to the warden. Should an inmate agree to an interview, the warden with coordinate the setting up of the interview.

If the news media conducts an interview with Timothy McVeigh, I would ask them for self-restraint. Please do not help him inject more poison into our culture. He's caused enough senseless damage already.

We are already being sued to provide more publicity for this execution. I would ask that the news media not become Timothy McVeigh's co-conspirator in his assault on America's public safety and a upon America itself. Finally, unless a court intervenes, the execution is expected to proceed as scheduled at 7 a.m. on May 16, 2001.

I would now like to introduce Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The Bureau of prisons has done a great deal of work in preparation for this execution, and I want to commend the director and her staff for a job well-done.

Ms. Hawk Sawyer?

KATHLEEN HAWK SAWYER, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS: I will provide some information on the sequence of events leading up to the execution.

On April 6, 2001, inmate McVeigh was briefed by the warden on aspects of the execution process, including the inmate witnesses, disposition of both his personal property and his body, and his last meal.

Beginning seven days prior to the execution day, McVeigh will have access to only his spiritual advisers, his defense attorneys, and members of his family, and employees of the Bureau of Prisons.

Approximately 24 to 72 hours before the execution, he will be moved to the execution facility holding cell. Twenty-four hours before the execution, his telephone calls will be restricted to those approved by the warden or calls to his attorneys. McVeigh's attorneys, spiritual advisers and immediate family members will be provided noncontact visiting privileges up to two hours before the execution. McVeigh will be allowed to receive mail and reading material. He will be under constant staff supervision.

Two hours prior to the execution, all visitors and attorneys will leave the execution facility. At this time, the institution will establish an open telephone line with the Department of Justice command center.

Approximately one hour prior to the execution, McVeigh will be searched by the escort team, secured with restraints, removed from the holding cell, and escorted to the execution room by our escort team, and the staff participating in this execution process will be on a voluntary basis only.

Once in the execution room, the ambulatory restraints will be removed. He will then be restrained to the table, and the IVs will be inserted.

The government witnesses will already be in the government witness room. At this time, the remaining three groups of witnesses will be admitted to the facility in separate rooms.

McVeigh will be able to selected six witnesses, to include a spiritual adviser, two attorneys and three family members or friends.

The media will be represented by 10 witnesses. The regulations allow for up to eight victim witnesses in the execution facility, but due to the extraordinary number of victims in this case, as the attorney general noted, the number of victim witnesses has been expanded to 10, the maximum number that the victim witness room will accommodate.

The drapes will be opened and the warden will provide McVeigh with an opportunity to make a short final statement. The warden will read relevant portions of the judgment and commitment order and then ask the marshal if the execution can proceed. The marshal will then check with the Department of Justice command center, and absent a stay entered by the court, the execution will occur as scheduled.

Provided there are no legal impediments to proceeding, the marshal will inform the warden to proceed. At this point, the lethal chemicals will be administered. The warden will announce the time of death and inform the witnesses that the execution has concluded. The drapes will then be closed and the witnesses will be escorted out of the facility. The coroner will then sign the death certificate. The United States marshal will complete and sign the return.

Immediately following notification of death, staff will make an announcement from the press briefing area and a post-execution press briefing will be conducted shortly thereafter.

I would also like to make a brief comment about arrangements for demonstrators. The institution has developed procedures to allow demonstrators to exercise their First Amendment rights. Demonstrators will be permitted to begin demonstrating shortly after midnight on May 16, 2001. At 12:01 a.m., buses will begin transporting demonstrators from designated locations to areas on the grounds of the United States Penitentiary Terre Haute.

Separate areas on institution grounds will be provided for those who support and for those who oppose the death penalty. Demonstrators will be limited as to what they can bring to the demonstration area. Demonstrators 17 years of age or under must be accompanied by an adult.

Following the execution, the buses will begin transporting participants back to the appropriate parking areas.

Thank you.

HARRIS: We've been listening to, as you see there, Attorney General John Ashcroft, retaking the podium there. We've been listening to Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, who is the Federal Bureau of Prisons director, explaining the process that is going to be involved with the execution of Timothy McVeigh.

We also learned from her as well that there is going to be a provision made to allow demonstrators in somewhere around that site, and they'll be allowed to have access as of midnight the night before.

But let's get back to Attorney General Ashcroft's announcement. The word we had been waiting for was whether or not a closed-circuit television feed would be provided for the survivors and family members, and we understand that that is going to be the case. There will be a facility in Oklahoma City that will show the goings-on in that penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The site has not been yet been selected.

We also learned that this feed is going to be set up so that no recording at all will be made of this execution. No recording at all will be allowed.

We also learned four other things in addition to that. We understand there will be two additional witnesses allowed, and they will be chosen by lottery. That will make up 10 witnesses who will be made up of people from the population of the survivors and family members who would like to witness this execution. There will also be 10 media members inside there as well.

We understand there is going to be another video feed that is going to actually have an instructor or someone who's going to help those who are in Oklahoma City watching this execution and explain to them what's going on and help them understand the process.

There is going to be an area near the prison provided for family members or survivors who would like to go to the Terre Haute facility. They will not be allowed to come inside, but an area outside of it will be made available for them.

And we also understand that media access to Timothy McVeigh is not going to be restricted, but neither is it going to be expanded. The standard rules for a prisoner on death row being allowed to use a telephone are still going to be the case, so that if anyone is going to try to interview Mr. McVeigh before the execution happens, the attorney general says that can actually happen. And he did offer his advice about what we should be discussing if that does happens.

So we'll stay on top of that and deliver you any of the other details as they come in -- Linda.

LINDA STOUFFER, CNN ANCHOR: Leon, there are well over 200 people directly affected by this: Survivors and family members of those killed in the Oklahoma City bombing may want to watch as convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh pays with his life.

So for reaction to the announcement this morning, we want to take you back live to Oklahoma City.

National correspondent Gary Tuchman is there.

Gary, what are people there saying?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Linda, as we told you, and as the attorney general told you, he met with about 100 survivors and family members of the victims on Tuesday.

He also toured this very poignant Oklahoma City memorial complex. It's an outdoor complex, behind me. You see 168 chairs, representing each of the victims. And when he toured this complex, he went with two ladies inside the complex. One of them lost her daughter and her grandson. The other one was trapped in the rubble for 4 1/2 hours.

Both of those ladies are with me right now.

This is Doris Jones. Her 26-year-old daughter Carrie (ph) and her unborn grandson perished during the explosion.

This is Priscilla Salyers. Priscilla fell five stories when the explosion happened. She broke her ribs, she punctured a lung, and she was trapped for 4 1/2 hours -- a nightmare. Both of you ladies listened to the news conference.

First let me ask you, Doris: How do you feel about what the attorney general said?

DORIS JONES, MOTHER OF BOMBING VICTIM: I think he did as much as he possibly could. He addressed our issues. I strongly believe that he is doing everything that he possibly can to accommodate us, and I certainly appreciate it.

TUCHMAN: As we had reported earlier, all of you at the meeting wanted this closed-circuit hookup. How do you feel about the fact now? This is very real. You are going to see this execution. How do you feel about that?

JONES: It's still kind of unbelievable that it is going to happen, but this, certainly, brings this more to life. It's a tough issue. It's hard. As a parent who's has lost a child, you know, I feel for his family, but he was tried, he was convicted, and I think this is the only thing that's possible.

TUCHMAN: So you do want to see this?

JONES: I do.

TUCHMAN: Priscilla, let me ask you the same question. How do you feel now that you will be able to watch this execution here in Oklahoma City?

PRISCILLA SALYERS, BOMBING SURVIVOR: Personally, I don't feel like I have to see it for healing, for me to keep moving forward, but I rally appreciate the fact that the attorney general made it possible for the families and the survivors to see it, because there are so many who need to see it. I need to be there for my support of other family members and survivors.

TUCHMAN: What would you say to your daughter right now, Doris, about this?

JONES: That's hard to say. I love her. I hope that, after everything we've been through here, she's in a much better place. She doesn't have to go through this. And I certainly am very glad that she doesn't have to go through this. It's too hard. And you certainly want to take care of your children, and I would never want her to feel what I have felt. I hope that what I have done is in her honor -- and I just -- I don't know -- it would be hard to say.

TUCHMAN: Doris Jones, Priscilla Salyers, you're both fine ladies. It's been nice getting to know both of you. Thanks for talking. We appreciate your time.

SALYERS: Thank you.

JONES: Thank you.

TUCHMAN: This is a very poignant, sad museum. If you ever are anywhere near Oklahoma City, it's well worth coming to. It may be one of the best ways of being able to put your small problems in life into proper context.

Linda, back to you.

STOUFFER: Absolutely, Gary Tuchman, live for us in Oklahoma City -- thank you very much.



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