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Ashcroft discusses McVeigh execution plan

John Ashcroft
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft toured the Oklahoma City National Memorial on Tuesday.  

OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma (CNN) -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Tuesday he would do what he could to accommodate the families of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing when Timothy McVeigh is executed next month.

Ashcroft met with about 100 family members and bombing survivors to discuss the possibility of a closed-circuit television feed of the execution.

In a news conference prior to the meeting, Ashcroft said that since McVeigh will be the first person executed by the federal government since 1963, it is important to consider how that would impact future cases. He said he would talk to Bureau of Prison officials after meeting with the families and have a decision by the end of the week.

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The mother of one bombing victim says she needs to see McVeigh's execution. CNN's Susan Candiotti talks with her

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In new book, Timothy McVeigh expresses no remorse. CNN's Susan Candiotti reports

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Ashcroft also toured the Oklahoma City Bombing Museum and said he was "once again shocked" by the bombing and that it was virtually impossible to understand the emotional impact of the bombing without visiting the site.

Referring to a tree that survived the April 19, 1995, blast, Ashcroft said, "It is entirely fitting that we stand under this survival tree. This tree scarred by disaster, which has yet found a way to persevere. The wounds will never completely heal yet it continues to grow."

He said the bombing is a reminder that "our freedoms are fragile and sacred" and must be safeguarded.

When asked if McVeigh would be allowed to give interviews, Ashcroft said he would be cautious about giving him a platform.

"Obviously, I am not interested in providing any additional tools to an individual who wants to disrepect this culture," he said. "I do not believe that we should in any way provide a basis for promoting the kind of destructive, offensive character of activity that this terrorist activity represents."

McVeigh is scheduled to die by lethal injection on May 16 at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Dozens of family members have asked to witness the execution, but only eight will be allowed to watch from a room adjacent to the death chamber.

Paul Heath, one of the survivors of the blast, told CNN Tuesday he thought survivors and families of the victims should be allowed to see the execution.

Heath, who was inside the Alfred Murrah federal building when the bomb went off, said he thinks it is important for survivors and families of those who died in the blast "to be able to tell others in the future that they knew and were present at the time on the calendar and on the clock when this individual could never get out of prison, escape from prison, or hurt anybody else in their family or in anybody else's family."

Heath said, "I think it's only reasonable that we allow the 250 qualified viewers which are victims of the people who died and injured survivors to watch by closed-circuit television in similar fashion that we did during the trial so that we don't have to make that 13 hour trip to Terre Haute, Indiana."

He said some people will want to go to Indiana, but he thought that watching by closed circuit would be "far less victimizing for them."

Justice officials have expressed general satisfaction with the arrangements that allowed family members to watch McVeigh's trial in Denver at a remote location. More recently, relatives of the victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing were allowed to witness the trial, held in the Netherlands, behind closed doors in New York and Washington.

Ashcroft could announce the decision as early as Wednesday, along with the time of the execution and the procedures the Justice Department would follow if McVeigh has a last-minute change of heart and decides to resume his legal appeals.

CNN Justice Department producer Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

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McVeigh's attorney: 'I'm extremely disappointed'
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January 16, 2001
Judge says McVeigh can drop appeals
December 28, 2000
Roger Cossack on McVeigh request to end death penalty appeals
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Oklahoma City bombing victims remembered, 5 years later
April 19, 2000
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March 13, 2000
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McVeigh, Nichols plead not guilty in bombing
August 13, 1996

Federal Bureau of Investigation
U.S. Department of Justice
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
Oklahoma State Government
Death Penalty Information Center
U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons

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