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McVeigh: 'Government teaches ... by example'


Oklahoma City bomber sentenced to death

August 14, 1997
Web posted at: 3:13 p.m. EDT (1913 GMT)

Latest developments:

DENVER (CNN) -- Timothy McVeigh didn't apologize, confess or plead for mercy before being sentenced to death on Thursday for the Oklahoma City bombing. But the worst mass murderer in U.S. history, who did not testify in his own defense during his trial, made a brief statement that appeared to blame the federal government for his actions.

CNN's Susan Candiotti describes McVeigh's demeanor in court...
...after walking into court
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...after sentencing
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Watch the broadcast of CNN's "Burden of Proof." Today's subject was the McVeigh sentencing.
icon Part 1 (7 min. VXtreme streaming video)
icon Part 2 (9 min. VXtreme streaming video)
icon Part 3 (4 min. VXtreme streaming video)

In court, McVeigh, wearing tan khaki slacks and tan shirt, seemed at ease as he awaited the arrival of U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch.

Before Matsch formally imposed the jury-recommended verdict -- death by lethal injection -- McVeigh was allowed to address the court.

Quoting a dissenting opinion from the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in a 1928 wiretapping case, McVeigh said: "'Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill it teaches the people by its example.' That's all I have, Your Honor."

"If the court please, I wish to use the words of Justice Brandeis in Olmstead to speak for me. He wrote, 'Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher for good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.' That's all I have."

— Timothy McVeigh

Brandeis served on the Supreme Court from 1916 through 1939. He died in 1941.

During the eight-minute hearing, the judge gave McVeigh 10 days to file a notice of appeal and asked if he understood his rights.

"Yes, sir, I do," McVeigh responded.

Asked if he had any questions, McVeigh said, "Not of this court, Your Honor."

McVeigh, who has been held at federal prison in Englewood, Colorado, was transferred to the U.S. Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado -- the highest maximum security facility in the federal system.

Family reaction

Victims in the courtroom sat stone-faced and some stared angrily as McVeigh made his comments.

"I think he was implying that our government teaches ill," said Diane Leonard, whose husband, Donald, was killed in the bombing.

Diane Leonard, who lost her husband in the bombing, describes her feelings toward McVeigh:
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But, said Leonard, "I still do not understand how someone could come to the point that he came to in his mind that would cause him to do something as tragic as what he did in Oklahoma City."

Leonard, who was in court for McVeigh's sentencing, told CNN in a live interview she was "surprised by the lack of command in his voice."

Marsha Kight, who lost her 23-year-old daughter Frankie Merrell in the bombing and was also in the courtroom, agreed that McVeigh was "pointing a finger at the government."

A L S O :

Today's transcript

"But the thing is," she continued, "we all set examples by what we do and say. The example he set is something that I deplore. I hope it's something nobody listens to."

Bombing survivors, victims' relatives and others criticized the decorated Gulf War veteran during the trial because he remained emotionless during wrenching testimony about the lives lost.

Prosecutor reaction

Commenting on McVeigh's statement, prosecutor Joseph Hartzler told reporters outside the courthouse, "Don't interpret his words as those of a spokesman or a statesman."

During the trial, prosecutors said McVeigh saw himself as a patriot angry over alleged abuses of the Constitution by the federal government. Through the bombing, they said, he had hoped to start a second American Revolution.

Defense reaction

Jones with McVeigh

After Thursday's sentencing, defense lawyer Stephen Jones said he had filed legal papers to appeal Matsch's refusal to grant McVeigh a new trial.

McVeigh, however, has complained about the prospect of having Jones as his lead attorney throughout the appeals process.

"It has been represented to me that you are aware of the problems and difficulties I have had with my appointed counsel in the past," McVeigh wrote in a letter to Matsch, which the judge released Thursday.

On Wednesday, McVeigh said in a newspaper interview that Jones had "screwed up" his case, lied to him and should be fired. However, Jones said he would be handling the appeal.

In the interview with the Buffalo (New York) News, McVeigh said he wants two of his other attorneys, Richard Burr and Robert Nigh Jr., to handle his appeal. A team of 14 attorneys worked on the case and 11-week trial.

Lead defense attorney Stephen Jones reacts to the sentencing.
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McVeigh grew up in Pendleton, New York, a suburb of Buffalo, in western New York state. His father and sister still live there.

McVeigh was arrested April 19, 1995, just hours after a 4,800-pound truck bomb ripped apart Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah federal building, killing 168 people and injuring 500 more.

On June 2, a federal jury found him guilty of murder and conspiracy. The same Denver jury then sentenced McVeigh to death. Thursday's hearing marked the formal imposition of that sentence.

Nichols trial next

McVeigh's formal sentencing came one day after Matsch heard arguments on several motions filed by co-defendant Terry Nichols, who is scheduled to stand trial September 29.

Matsch is considering a defense motion to move the trial out of Denver. The defense argued that pretrial publicity had jeopardized Nichols' right to a fair trial and recommended that it be relocated to San Francisco or another city.

The government contends that Nichols, 42, was involved in a conspiracy with McVeigh to obtain explosive materials and build the bomb that destroyed the Murrah building.

Correspondent Susan Candiotti and Greg LaMotte contributed to this report.

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