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McVeigh took last rites before execution



TERRE HAUTE, Indiana (CNN) -- Strapped to a gurney, awaiting the lethal injection Monday that would punish him for the Oklahoma City bombing, Timothy McVeigh asked to see a priest.

Bureau of Prisons officials said McVeigh, a self-described agnostic, received the Catholic sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick by an unidentified prison chaplain.

"McVeigh did see last rites which were provided by a BOP chaplain," said Jeff Grondolsky, a spokesman with the Bureau of Prisons.

Part of the sacrament includes confession and an absolution of sins.

Did McVeigh confess to the priest?

"I think it speaks for itself," McVeigh attorney Robert Nigh said.

McVeigh, who made no final statement before his execution, was offered a priest by Terre Haute Federal Prison Warden Harley Lappin. McVeigh said he would consider the offer.

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After a 15-minute meeting with Nigh, McVeigh agreed to see the priest and take the final sacraments of the Catholic faith.

McVeigh was baptized in the Catholic Church as a boy, but had stopped practicing and recently described himself as agnostic.

McVeigh biographer Lou Michel spoke to McVeigh's father, Bill McVeigh, after the execution.

"He was glad to hear that Tim had taken last rites and that maybe religion had hit him in the last few hours," Michel said.

The rites were performed before curtains were opened to allow witnesses to observe the execution.

Father Ron Ashmore of St. Margaret Mary Church in Terre Haute said he was "glad" McVeigh asked for last rites. Ashmore met McVeigh while doing work with the prison before the current chaplain was hired.

"It means that we stand before God," Ashmore said, "and ask for Your forgiveness ... Save me and lead me to eternal life." He said it wouldn't "have surprised me" if McVeigh had not asked for the sacrament, but "I'm sure he struggled with the evil that he did."

McVeigh died by lethal injection at 7:14 a.m. (8:14 a.m. EDT).

McVeigh was executed for the April 19, 1995, attack in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people and wounded hundreds more. The bombing was the deadliest terrorism act ever on U.S. soil.

McVeigh's death was the first federal execution since 1963.

McVeigh's body has since been cremated, said Father Ron Ashmore of St. Margaret Mary Church. The remains are eventually to be handed over to Nigh.

The 33-year-old Gulf War veteran did not say a word in the final minutes before his execution. Media witnesses said McVeigh lifted his head and looked at them and then looked at the ceiling. He died with his eyes open.

McVeigh left a handwritten statement quoting Invictus, a 19th century poem by British poet William Ernest Henley. It ends with the lines "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." (More on Henley's poem)

McVeigh's body was removed immediately after his execution in a government van, Justice Department officials said. His lawyers said information about his remains and any resting place would remain privileged. (More on McVeigh's remains)

'Just a big relief,' witness says

Ten people -- members of the victims' families and survivors of the bombing -- also witnessed the execution from a room beside the death chamber.

Paul Howell, whose daughter was killed in the bombing, said McVeigh was expressionless.

"What I was hoping for is that we could see some kind of 'I'm sorry,' but we didn't get anything like that. My emotions were that it was just a big relief. Just a big sigh came over my body and it felt real good," Howell said. (More on the witnesses' accounts)

More than 650 miles away in Oklahoma City, 232 survivors and family members watched on closed-circuit television.

"He actually lifted his head and looked directly in the camera, and it was as if he was looking directly at us," said Larry Whicher, who lost his brother. "His eyes were unblinking. They appeared to be coal black. I truly believe that his eyes were telling me ... that if he could, he would do it all over again." (More on victims' reactions)

Bush: 'Not vengeance, but justice'

U.S. Attorney General Ashcroft met with victims' families in Oklahoma City for about a half-hour before the execution. Ashcroft spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said he wanted to be in Oklahoma City to "thank them for their guidance through this process, to thank them from their patience and to again express sorrow for their loss." He did not stay for the closed-circuit viewing.

About a half-hour after the execution, President Bush said that McVeigh had "met the fate he chose for himself six years ago.

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President Bush: "The matter is concluded ... for the survivors of the crime and for the families of the dead, the pain goes on" (Audio 740 K/35 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)  

"The victims of the Oklahoma City bombing have been given not vengeance, but justice," the president said.

McVeigh's attorneys, who had sought a new sentencing hearing after the FBI revealed last month it had withheld thousands of pages of documents during the trial, decried the execution and said it would not end the pain.

"If killing McVeigh does not bring peace or closure to them, I suggest to you that it is our fault," said Robert Nigh, who witnessed his client's death with colleague Nathan Chambers. "We have made killing a part of the healing process." (More reaction)

Execution draws international criticism

Following the execution, a steady stream of visitors could be seen at the Oklahoma City National Memorial Center. Some family members could be seen praying and hugging each other in front of the 168 chairs representing the victims of the attack.

Fewer people than expected turned out for protests supporting and opposing the execution. About 75 anti-death penalty protesters had participated in a two-mile march from St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church to the prison on Sunday. (More on the protests)

The execution has drawn international criticism. The president of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly called it "sad, pathetic and wrong.

"It demonstrated the futility of capital punishment to act as a deterrent, giving him the notoriety he sought in committing this horrendous crime," Lord Russel-Johnson said in a statement. "It is high time the United States rethought its attitude to the death penalty and aligned its position with the great majority of the free and democratic world." (More on the European reaction)

CNN Correspondent Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.


Greta@LAW






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• Oklahoma City National Memorial
• FHWA Oklahoma City Memorial Page
• U.S. District Court, District of Colorado
• Federal Bureau of Investigation
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