Skip to main content /LAW /LAW

find law dictionary

Witnesses describe McVeigh's last moments

Byron Pitts
Byron Pitts (Audio 583 K/30 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)  

TERRE HAUTE, Indiana (CNN) -- "Timothy James McVeigh died with his eyes open."

So said CBS News' Byron Pitts, one of 10 media witnesses to the execution of the convicted Oklahoma City bomber.

The witnesses described a calm McVeigh who appeared to make eye contact with them beyond glass windows overlooking the death chamber of the federal prison outside Terre Haute, Indiana.

"For all these years he's talked so much about being a soldier," Pitts said. "But he didn't appear to be a soldier, just a man, about to die. He looked closer to being afraid about the moment."

 Family, victim witnesses
• Kay Fulton, lost brother
• Peggy Broxterman, lost son
• Paul Howell, lost daughter
• Fredrick Kuehner, lost daughter
• Bill McCarthy, lost brother
• Sue Ashford, survivor
• Ronald Brown, lost father-in-law
• Anthony Scott, survivor
• Two others
 McVeigh's witnesses
• Robert Nigh, McVeigh attorney
• Nathan Chambers, McVeigh attorney
• Lou Michel, "American Terrorist" author
• Cate McCauley, director of Oklahoma Bombing Investigation Committee, independent group
 Media witnesses
• Karin Grunden, Terre Haute Tribune Star
• Nolan Clay, Daily Oklahoman
• Kevin Johnson, USA Today
• Crocker Stephenson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
• Byron Pitts, CBS News
• Shepard Smith, Fox News
• Linda Cavanaugh, KFOR-TV, Oklahoma City
• Rex Huppke, Associated Press
• Diana Penner, Gannett News Service
• Susan Carlson, WLS radio, Chicago

The 10 media witnesses were joined by 10 survivors and family members of victims from the Oklahoma City bombing for which McVeigh was sentenced to die, and four witnesses chosen by the condemned man.

Paul Howell, whose daughter died in the bombing, said he was disappointed that McVeigh's face was so impassive.

"We didn't get anything from his face. His facial expressions were about as calm as they can be," Howell said. "He's not a monster, not when you're looking at his face. There's no expression, so there's no way of knowing what he really is."

Some 230 more survivors and family members watched on a closed-circuit feed in Oklahoma City, the camera positioned directly above McVeigh as he was strapped on the gurney. Some of the Oklahoma City witnesses described a very different McVeigh than the one described by those standing 18 inches from the condemned bomber.

Larry Whicher, who lost his brother in the bombing, said McVeigh's eyes were defiant.

"He didn't need to make a statement," Whicher said. His eyes were telling, me ... if he could, he'd do it all over again."

Eye contact with the condemned

As the curtain was pulled away from the windows, the journalists uniformly reported, McVeigh made eye contact first with his own witnesses, then the media witnesses. The survivors and family members of the victims were behind tinted glass, but The Associated Press's Rex Huppke said McVeigh "squinted a little bit as if he were trying to see in."

As the procedure began, prison Warden Harley Lappin first asked if McVeigh had a final statement. His request was met by silence. Lappin then read the judgment and execution order, and told U.S. Marshal Frank Anderson: "We are ready."

Anderson picked up a red telephone and told the Justice Department the death chamber was ready, received a reply and told Lappin to proceed.

"At 7:10, the first drug was administered," said Huppke. "At that point, he was still conscious. His eyes were open, they were blinking a little bit. Very slowly his eyes stopped moving. The eyes just started to slowly move back. The second drug was administered at 7:11 ... at 7:14 the warden announced that he had died."

McVeigh's passing, the witnesses said, was remarkably uneventful.

"The most remarkable thing to me was how remarkably subtle the process was in which he slipped from life to death," said another media witness, Crocker Stephenson of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "There was no point in which he looked as if he turned a corner."

"The eyes which were very wide and the lips that were very tense relaxed, and that was that," said Shepard Smith of Fox News.


• U.S. District Court, District of Colorado
• Federal Bureau of Investigation
• U.S. Department of Justice

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


Back to the top