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Should Survivors of the Oklahoma City Bombing Be Allowed to Watch Timothy McVeigh's Execution?

Aired April 13, 2001 - 19:30   ET



JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: All witnesses will see Mr. McVeigh on the execution table and they will be able to hear any final statement Mr. McVeigh makes.


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, should survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing be allowed to watch Timothy McVeigh's execution? Should you?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Republican Governor Frank Keating, and in Los Angeles, actor Mike Farrell.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Mass murderer Timothy McVeigh says he feels no remorse for bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995 and killing 168 people. In fact, he says he's so proud of what he did he wants to be executed on national television.

Well, he won't get that wish, but he will be executed on closed- circuit television, OK'd by Attorney General John Ashcroft to accommodate some 250 family members of victims and bombing survivors who wouldn't fit into the death chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana, but who want to watch him die anyway.

It's OK with the families. It's OK with McVeigh. But Ashcroft's decision has still stirred a lot of controversy, and that's our CROSSFIRE tonight. Why should family members be denied the satisfaction of watching the man who killed their son or daughter be killed himself? Does televising an execution make a circus of the death penalty? And if we put McVeigh's execution on TV, why not televise all of them? In prime time? -- Bob.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Mike -- Mr. Farrell, I don't know how you feel out there out in Hollywood when in the real America people have no doubts whatsoever that Timothy McVeigh should be executed. And I want to get one thing out of the way in the first place, this canard that people have been putting out that people in America don't support the death penalty anymore.

Let's look at a poll that was taken last week by the Gallup Poll. Death penalty for people convicted of murder: for, 67 percent; against, 25 percent -- nearly 3 to 1. You can't deny that you're on the minority side on this issue.

MIKE FARRELL, PRESIDENT, DEATH PENALTY FOCUS: That is changing, Bob, and of course, as you know, it's a function of how one asks the question. If you say -- if you offer the option of life in prison without possibility of parole, those numbers drop dramatically to the point that now Americans are about evenly divided. And that would be my, of course, my remedy.

I think the appropriate remedy when one kills is to put that individual for life without the possibility of parole.

NOVAK: I think it's closer to 3 to 1, but let's get to the point of our little debate. How -- how in the world can you deny the victims and the survivors and the relatives of the victims the chance to see the man who was the author of all their torment be executed? And I'd like you to listen to just one of the survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing and what she has to say.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really appreciate the fact that the attorney general made it possible for the families and the survivors to see it, because there were so many who need to see it. I need to be there for my support, the other family members and survivors.


NOVAK: So long as McVeigh is being executed, shouldn't these victims and survivors have a chance to observe it themselves?

FARRELL: Well, let me just ask -- you chose to interview one. You obviously didn't choose to interview Bud Welch, whose daughter was killed at the Oklahoma City bombing and who says that the act that Timothy McVeigh committed was an act of revenge and an act of hatred, and that the killing of Timothy McVeigh is going to be the same thing and that he doesn't want it done in his daughter's name or in his name.

You also didn't quote a Mrs. Kight, who said that Timothy McVeigh is getting off too easily: "He'll go to sleep. I have a life sentence."

So there's a great broad cross-section of opinion even among the survivors and family members of the Oklahoma City bombing victims.

PRESS: Governor Keating, maybe you can explain something to me about our system of justice. I mean, I understand that families of victims, particularly victims of violent crime, in our system of justice have a right to demand that the law be enforced, they have a right to demand that a criminal be brought to justice, they have a demand to right that a criminals pay the proper punishment. But since when in our society did the families get the right to demand that they can actually witness his execution?

GOV. FRANK KEATING (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, Bill, in the recent past, there have been a series of movements in the direction of victims' rights, that victims have an opportunity to testify in the punishment stage of a trial and that victims have a right to be told if an individual is going to be paroled and victims have a right to watch the exclusion.

This is something that we have in my state, and there are many states that have a similar rule. We have on numerous occasions, of course, permitted victims to watch. Most victims don't want to. Victims' families -- if it happened to somebody in my family, I would have no interest in watching an execution. But some have a very ferocious and understandable desire to make sure that that creature that killed their loved-one never walks the face of the Earth again and that person on the gurney will not get up.

PRESS: Well, I understand that the families are making more and more demands. I guess my question is, when does it cross the line?

Let me quote one of the -- the husband of a woman who was killed in that bombing in Oklahoma City, Mr. -- a man by the name of Dan McKinney, who's quoted in this morning's "Washington Times" as saying -- quote -- about being able to witness this execution: "It just pleases me no end. I'm very thankful. I don't know what we would have done if we didn't get to see it."

I ask you, governor, I mean, are we feeding revenge here or justice?

KEATING: No. Bud Welch, as Mike mentioned, is a wonderful human being, and Dan McKinney also is a wonderful human being. His wife was a Secret Service employee, and now he's a widower, and it's a very sad situation for him and for all of these people.

You remember, Bill, the magnitude of this horror, this McVeigh person, killed 168 people, including 19 babies. He injured over 500 other people. He committed the worst terrorist act in the history of the United States. He damaged or destroyed 320 buildings. What he did was monstrous, and there are people like Dan McKinney -- and there are a lot of people in that victims and survivor category -- who want to make sure that he in fact is dead.

There are others like Bud Welch who genuinely and sincerely don't believe in the death penalty.

You're talking about thousands of people with literally hundreds of different viewpoints. Dan McKinney's is one viewpoint, and I think that's a common viewpoint: that we need to make sure that this execution takes place, and I want to make sure I see that the person who killed my wife doesn't walk again. And that's not unreasonable or unjustified.

FARRELL: You know, there's -- there are other viewpoints that are available, and some of them are not very pretty. Some people think that he shouldn't be put to sleep with lethal injection. He should be tortured and he should be made to believe and he should be made to suffer to the degree they're humanly possible of making him suffer.

I think that's part of the problem...

NOVAK: That's cruel and unusual -- that's cruel and unusual punishment.

FARRELL: That's part of the problem with this process. The process is degrading to all involved. And I think what we need to do is recognize that much of it is a political process.

The governor just talked about the victims' rights movement. What the victims' rights movement doesn't tell you is the voice -- is the feeling and the views of those victims who don't support these kinds of acts. It's a very selective choice that's made, and I think that it's done for political reasons. And I think that is also part of the degradation that this whole thing brings upon us.

KEATING: Well, Bob, if I may...


KEATING: ... if I may just follow up...

PRESS: Go on, governor.

KEATING: ... and share with you some statistics that I think put things in perspective.

Since 1977, when we enacted capital punishment in the United States, we have had over 500,000 homicides, and yet a little over 700 executions. That means something like three-fourths of 1 percent of the homicides have resulted in executions.

The average trial from trial to execution is something like 12 years, with 12 separate appeals. In Oklahoma, in my state, we've had 8,000 and -- since 1977 -- and 40 executions, something like one-half of 1 percent of the killings resulting in the execution of the person who did it.

These executions are reserved to people who kill other human beings, and they're very judiciously and very carefully applied.

It's no fun to do it, but it is the law.

NOVAK: Mike Farrell...

FARRELL: Please forgive me, but the...

NOVAK: Mike Farrell, let me ask you...

FARRELL: Sure. Let me just respond to that. The implication of the governor's statement is that it's a very thoughtful and assiduously investigated process, which doesn't make mistakes. However, we have now released 100 individuals who have gone through the very process this governor so carefully articulates and have been found subsequently, after going through all of this process, to have been only innocent and to have been released as a result of that.

I'm sure you know the name Greg (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

NOVAK: All right. Mr. Farrell, let's...

FARRELL: ... Governor Keating, and Ron Williamson, who were only recently released from your own death row.

NOVAK: Let's -- let's get back...

KEATING: But to suggest -- wait a minute...

NOVAK: Mr. Farrell...

FARRELL: ... to suggest, as you have, that this is a process that only -- that very carefully selects out the worst of the worst forgets to mention the fact...

NOVAK: Mr. Farrell...

FARRELL: ... it also selects out the mentally damaged and the mentally retarded, like...

NOVAK: Mr. Farrell...

FARRELL: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the people who are children when they committed their crime and have no...

NOVAK: Mr. Farrell, please!

FARRELL: ... no...


Let me finish my statement, sir.

NOVAK: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute.

FARRELL: May I please finish my statement?

NOVAK: You're finished, Mr. Farrell. This is not...



NOVAK: This is not a debate on -- wait a minute. Just a second. Please!

FARRELL: I'm sorry. I thought it was a debate.

NOVAK: Please. It's not a debate on capital punishment. We're trying to talk about capital punishment.

FARRELL: I'm sorry. I thought you mentioned something about the people in support of capital punishment.

NOVAK: I said I wanted to get that out of the way, in the first place.

FARRELL: But it's not out of the way. That's exactly my point.

NOVAK: If I could just ask you a question about Timothy McVeigh, there are some people -- I think you have an element of remorse that they express. Some people, you have an element of doubt. And even I, an advocate of capital punishment, wonders about them.

But listen to what Timothy McVeigh is quoted as saying in "American Terrorist." He said, "If I had known there was an entire day-care center" -- that is in Oklahoma City -- "it might have given me pause to switch targets. That's a large amount of collateral damage."

In other words, when he talks about killing little children as collateral damage, there is no remorse there, is there?

FARRELL: May I respond to your question now?

NOVAK: Please.

FARRELL: I would just like to make clear -- well, thank you. What I'd like to state about that is the term "collateral damage" was not invented by Timothy McVeigh. I believe that Timothy -- neither Timothy McVeigh nor anyone else should be murdered by our government. I think that is an inappropriate act.

But since the government is going to do it, I believe that those who support capital punishment ought to be on my side of this particular issue, because Timothy McVeigh believes himself to be a soldier who is acting against an entity, our government, that committed unjust acts. He believes that he is -- that he is justified -- was -- justified in doing what he did by going against a military target in a military action. That is essentially what our government is doing in response, and it is putting itself in the same position as Timothy McVeigh, sadly.

NOVAK: Surely...

FARRELL: But if I might -- if I might, I would like to suggest that for those who believe that Timothy McVeigh is the monster that they believe him to be and that he should suffer the consequences, let's not give him what he's asking for. Let's not -- let's not do what he -- do his bidding. Why don't we just put him in prison for the rest of his life and allow him to think about what he's done until he finally comes to some reconciliation with the hideousness of the nature of the act that he did? But not make him a military hero or a military-style hero who has given his life for his cause.

NOVAK: Mr. Farrell, you know, you're a -- Mr. Farrell, you're a big-time Hollywood actor who can be very detached...

FARRELL: Please, that's (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I don't think that's necessary. What are you? A small-time columnist?

NOVAK: You're a big-time Hollywood actor who can be very detached from Mr. McVeigh, but I'd like you to listen...

FARRELL: My detachment from Mr. McVeigh has nothing to do...

NOVAK: Just a minute! Just a minute! I'd like you to listen to a bombing -- I'd like you to listen to a bombing survivor, who's not quite as detached as you are, and I'd like you to respond to what she says.

FARRELL: Thank you.


ARLENE BLANCHARD, BOMBING SURVIVOR: There was no emotion. There was no concern for killing his fellow man. And yet, he took the oath. He swore to protect, serve and defend our country and our rights, and he betrayed us.

So it's important to me to be able to look at him and see how he is feeling at his final moment.


NOVAK: Can you understand what she's saying?

FARRELL: Yes, I could understand what she's saying, and I understand how she feels. I'm not saying I don't understand the feelings of these people. I'm saying that why should we as conscientious, thoughtful, civilized -- hopefully -- American people give this man what he says he wants. Why don't we simply say, no, you're not going allow yourself to become a military hero and a martyr, you're going to rot in prison for the rest of your life?

PRESS: Governor, jump in. Go ahead, governor. I hear you wanted to jump in, governor. Go ahead.

KEATING: Well, the system works. There is no evidence -- Barry Scheck indicated in a comment publicly relayed some weeks ago that there was no evidence that any innocent person has been executed in modern times. The fact that these individuals are being released indicates that the system does work.

As a matter of fact, last week I commuted a death sentence to life in prison without parole because there was real question about the integrity of the testimony. But in this case, there is no question about guilt. There is no question about the justifiability of punishment. And there is no question about the evil nature of this individual.

If capital punishment ever should exist, it should exist for Timothy McVeigh. FARRELL: I believe it should never exist.

NOVAK: OK. We're going to have to take a break. We're going to have to take a break. And when we come back, we're going to find out how much of a last word should Timothy McVeigh have. Particularly, should he be able to have a last message over and over and over again before he's executed?


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. On May 16th, Timothy McKew (sic) -- McVeigh, I'm sorry, will be executed in Terre Haute, Indiana for one of the most horrible crimes in American history: the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. McVeigh has a lot to say.

He will be afforded the traditional last statement of the condemned. But between now and execution day, should he be given a news media forum to spread his message?

We're talking to actor Mike Farrell, who is president of Death Penalty Focus and co-chairman of Human Rights Watch, in California, and to Frank Keating, the Republican governor of Oklahoma -- Bill.

PRESS: Governor, before we get to these subsequent media interviews, I want to come back to this decision by Attorney General John Ashcroft. The biggest myth of all, governor, it seems to me is General Ashcroft's assertion and promise that this is going to be contained on closed-circuit television and ain't nobody else ever going to get to see it.

Let me play with you -- play for you, if I can, a comment by Mr. Eric Sprunk, who was on "BURDEN OF PROOF" today. He's the head of a company called Advanced Technology. Here he is.


ERIC SPRUNK, ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY GROUP: It only takes one guy in the chain in the wrong place that nobody inquired or checked whether he was tapping in, and then you might have this thing on the Internet just like we're afraid of.


PRESS: Isn't that the truth, governor? I mean, if they can tap into the Pentagon's computers, they're going to tap into this. This is going to be all over television, isn't it?

KEATING: Well, Bill, it could be, but let me back up and share with you precedent. In my state, on five or six occasions we've had feeds where there were too many families members who wanted to watch an execution, and the feed was provided to an auditorium or to an area which provided security, but also an opportunity for others who are not in the viewing room to see the execution, and that was not purloined and shared.

And secondly, the trial itself of McVeigh took place, as you may know, in Denver...

PRESS: Right, right.

KEATING: The families couldn't afford, didn't want to afford in many cases going to Denver from Oklahoma City. So, that was provided as a closed-circuit feed, and that was not purloined or shared as well.

Yes, it could happen. If it did happen, there would be the possibility of a carnival. But the reality is this is the law being carried out. It's an execution that has been required, has been ruled upon, has been the result of an extensive and an extraordinarily expensive trial. And I think it's appropriate for the family members who can't afford or go to Terre Haute to watch it.

And I think that when Mr. Ashcroft said he thought that the encryption technology existed to make sure it could be drawn out and broadcast, I think that's a good hope, and I hope it's, in fact, valid.

PRESS: Well, at the same time, governor, if this is the way we determine -- that we have a final determination of the justices in this country, we have the death penalty, why shouldn't we put these executions on national television? We're all Americans, we're all victims of this bombing. Why not put it on national television so that everybody can see it?

KEATING: Well, I think the taking of another human life is a serious moral and legal challenge. I think to place it in a carnival or a prurient-interest atmosphere demeans the process and demeans the justice system. I think it is a hearken back to the Middle Ages, and I think it would be inappropriate and I think it would be inflammatory and I think it would be unjust.

In the case of executions of those who kill other human beings -- and as I've indicated, since 1976, we've executed 700 people for over 500,000 homicides. That's a little less than three-fourths of 1 percent of the homicides resulting in executions. These are carefully and judiciously with extraordinary...

PRESS: Well, you mentioned that before, right.

KEATING: ... yes, I know -- but with extraordinary complexity handled: proof beyond a reasonable doubt, a unanimous verdict.

And I think to keep those executions in private, or least in a semi-private environment where only the family members can see it, is appropriate and it provides the kind of moral closure needed. And I think it's sound public policy.

NOVAK: Mike Farrell, Tim McVeigh is going to be executed no matter what you say or anybody else says. The question is how much of a forum do you think he should have. Do you believe that the attorney general is correct in limiting his media contacts to just the 15 minutes he has for each day? Or do you think he should be given a forum to spew his filth all over the country? FARRELL: First of all, if I may, the attorney general condemned what he called a culture of violence and somehow doesn't realize that he's contributing to the culture of violence.

I think this is -- it's already turned into a media circus. Your show proves it. And the fact is it will continue to be a media circus, and it would not be if we simply didn't rise to the bait and chose instead to have a less expensive trial for life without parole, put the man away, and forget about him, turn the spotlight off.

But instead, it has been elevated to this extraordinarily ugly, carnival that will only get worse. I quite agree with Bill, that somebody is going to get their hands on it. I'm willing to lay some money on it if anybody wants to take the bet. Somebody is going to get their hands on this tape despite the fact that it was not purloined, as the governor suggests, at the trial. And it's going to be...

PRESS: Mike Farrell...

FARRELL: I'm sorry. And it's going to be all over the place.

PRESS: And I hate to interrupt, but that's got to be the last word because we're out of time. Mike Farrell in Hollywood, Los Angeles, thank you so much for joining us. Governor Keating, as always, in Oklahoma City...

KEATING: Thank you, Bill. Thanks, Bob and Mike.

PRESS: ... thank you for being back on CROSSFIRE.

And Bob Novak and I will be back with some final comments about this upcoming close-circuit TV show.


NOVAK: Bill, since you're going on vacation, I hate to come down hard on you.


NOVAK: But I must say that I have -- you have some presumption in saying these people who have suffered so much as survivors or relatives shouldn't have a little comfort to try to ease their pain. It's not for you to say, it's for them and Attorney General Ashcroft to say whether they get to see this execution.

PRESS: Well, Bob, I understand how the families feel this way, but I don't think passion is what should rule our system of justice. I think it ought to be reason.

Are you saying that these families want to move the execution to Utah so they can watch a firing squad, they ought to get their way? I don't think so. As long as a guy is executed, they ought to be happy and not demand to see it. NOVAK: All the law says he has to be executed, and you may not like it, but Timothy McVeigh will no longer be among the living, and that is a good thing for America.

PRESS: Well, I'm not going to shed any tears for him. From the left, I'm Bill Press. I don't want to watch it. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE!



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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