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Susan Candiotti: McVeigh changed mind and was given last rites

Susan Candiotti
Susan Candiotti  

CNN Correspondent Susan Candiotti was on the scene shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995 and covered most of the events in its aftermath. She was in Terre Haute, Indiana, Monday to report on the execution of bomber Timothy McVeigh.

For Oklahoma City bombing victims, the execution of Timothy McVeigh is one more event that has thrust them on the world stage.

"I was elated," said Susan Ashford. She was chosen in a lottery to be one of the victim witnesses.

But for Paul Howell -- also one of the 10 selected by chance to see McVeigh die by lethal injection-the experience left him feeling somewhat cheated.

Howell lost his daughter, Karan Howell Shepherd, in the murderous attack on April 19, 1995.

"What I was hoping for ... is that we could see some kind of, maybe, 'I'm sorry,' something like that," Howell recalled. "We didn't get anything from his face."

The reason Howell and others were frustrated? They had been longing for the opportunity to stare down McVeigh as he lay strapped to a table.

It was not to be.

The windows were tinted between the witness room and the death chamber. The 10 witnesses were able to see McVeigh's face clearly. McVeigh could not see them. A U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokesman said the windows were darkened to protect the privacy of the witnesses.

As a journalist covering the bombing in April 1995, I never would have predicted the fate of Timothy McVeigh would be resolved more than six years later.

The investigation took innumerable twists and turns. Conspiracy theories abounded. The trials of McVeigh and co-conspirator Terry Nichols held separately in Denver, Colorado, lasted about half a year. The appeals of both men failed.

Who could have predicted, only six days from McVeigh's scheduled May 16 execution, the FBI would admit a blunder that forced the Justice Department to postpone the execution for 30 days?

McVeigh's attorneys battled mightily to win more time to investigate information contained from more than 4,400 pages of material not previously available to the defense.

The FBI argued there was nothing in the documents that raised any doubt about McVeigh's conviction.

McVeigh's lawyers said that was not the point.

They contended McVeigh was cheated by the FBI. That it did not play by the rules. That, if given more time, they might be able to prove a fraud upon the court. If successful, they might be able to persuade a jury to overturn McVeigh's death sentence.

It was not to be. The legal arguments, in a flurry of briefs and oral arguments, ultimately fell on deaf ears.

In the end, with McVeigh's attorneys willing to fight on, McVeigh pulled the plug.

Unrepentant, we were told, to the end.

Until the day he died. Then, things changed.

Prison Warden Harley Lappin offered Tim a Catholic priest. According to McVeigh's lawyer Robert Nigh, Tim said he would consider it.

Nigh said after a 15-minute final meeting with his client during which they discussed whether McVeigh, a self-described agnostic, would see a priest and receive the final sacraments of the Catholic faith, McVeigh agreed.

Strapped to a gurney, McVeigh asked to see a priest.

The Bureau of Prisons says McVeigh received the sacrament called the Anointing of the Sick by an unidentified prison chaplain.

That sacrament includes a confession and absolution of sins.

Did McVeigh confess?

"I think it speaks for itself," Nigh said.


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

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