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Jury begins weighing McVeigh's fate

mcveigh June 12, 1997
Web posted at: 2:19 p.m. EDT (1419 GMT)

DENVER (CNN) -- Jurors began deliberating Thursday whether convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh should live or die after hearing closing arguments in which prosecutors called him a coward and traitor who deserved to die for planning to inflict "maximum carnage."

The defense portrayed McVeigh as a "misguided" patriot whose life should be spared.

Before beginning deliberations, the jury received its instructions from U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch.

VXtreme streaming video - CNN's Tony Clark describes the closing arguments

In a blistering 40-minute summation that began closing arguments, prosecutor Beth Wilkinson said the 1995 bombing is the crime "the death penalty was designed for."

McVeigh, a 29-year-old Gulf War veteran, acted out of a false sense of patriotism and anti-government anger that led him to believe "it was his right to murder innocent men, women and children," Wilkinson said.

"Nineteen children under the age of five were brutally murdered and ripped from the arms of their parents; those are the facts," she said. A total of 168 people were killed in the truck bombing.


"Look into the eyes of a coward and tell him you will have courage. Tell him he is no patriot. He is a traitor and he deserves to die," she said.

Defense: Spare his life

Richard Burr, the member of the defense team who specializes in the death penalty, began the final plea for McVeigh's life after Wilkinson finished.

He told the jury McVeigh was a misguided patriot who honestly believed "the federal government was the enemy" and thought he was laying his life on the line "to resist tyranny."

Burr said neither he nor lead defense attorney Stephen Jones would try "to justify or condone what happened" and the defense would not dispute the enormity of the bombing's impact.

Nevertheless, Burr said, "the person responsible for this crime is quite human. He is a man that embodies much of the best that we call human."

He characterized McVeigh as honest, dependable, intelligent, a hard worker, somebody who looked out for the underdog and was "funny, cheerful and happy -- but also misguided."

"This good young man believed that the federal government was the enemy," Burr said.

The defense attorney concluded by saying, "We all bear some responsibility for Oklahoma City. We should not feel a clear conscience if we kill Tim McVeigh. That is why we ask for a life sentence without possibility of parole."

The same seven-man, five-woman panel that convicted McVeigh last week of murder and conspiracy will decide whether he should die by injection or spend the rest of his life behind bars.

A finding for the death penalty must be unanimous.

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