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McVeigh indulges in television, ice cream as execution looms

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 11, 2001

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh spent the final hours of his life meeting with two of his attorneys and receiving final instructions from the warden who will order his death by injection Monday.

McVeigh slept on and off during the night and met for 30 minutes with warden Harley Lappin, said Dan Dunne, a U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokesman. McVeigh received the information about his scheduled 8 a.m. EDT execution "cordially," Dunne said.

On Sunday in his isolation cell near the death chamber, McVeigh occupied himself with simple indulgences: television, sleep and pints of ice cream.

In Oklahoma City, near the bombing memorial, a 168-minute silent vigil _ one minute for each bombing victim _ began without fanfare early Monday. About a dozen people stood before a "Jesus Wept" statue at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, their hands clasped in front of them. Some bowed their heads in prayer.

About 300 survivors and victims' relatives prepared to watch a closed-circuit broadcast of the execution in Oklahoma City, to be sent from Terre Haute in a feed encrypted to guard against interception.

While the intricate and well-practiced plans for the execution unfolded Monday, those close to the bomber said he continued to believe the 1995 blast that killed 168 people was a military action brought on by an overreaching federal government.

His attorneys said he is sorry for those who suffered, but doesn't regret blowing up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building _ the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil.

"He never, I think, has been the type of guy to tell people what he thinks that they want to hear," defense attorney Robert Nigh said Sunday. "I think that he tries to be honest about his true feeling of sympathy and empathy without being inaccurate about them."

In Terre Haute at 5:12 a.m. EDT, a group of about 120 death penalty opponents formed a circle in a cordoned-off area outside the prison and also began 168 minutes of silence. Some of the 19 other men on the nearby death row were expected to participate by sitting silently.

Only about 20 death penalty supporters were at another area. Their signs said "Remember the Victims" and "Thou shalt not kill and live," and some carried the simple footnote "168." Uniformed prison guards patroled the grassy space between the two groups.

McVeigh, 33, would be the first federal prisoner killed in 38 years.

Prison officials said the decorated Gulf War veteran spent Sunday writing letters, sleeping, watching TV and meeting with Nigh and attorney Nathan Chambers, both of whom will witness their client's lethal injection.

He was served his final requested meal at 1 p.m. EDT Sunday, eating two pints of mint-chocolate chip ice cream. He will be allowed standard prison fare before his execution, if he wishes.

Less than 24 hours from death at the hands of the government he despises, McVeigh's mood was upbeat, his attorneys said.

"He continues to be affable," Chambers said. "He continues to be rational in his discourse. He maintains his sense of humor."

Behind the prison's razor-wire fence and brick walls, officials were following the 50-page protocol established by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. The protocol outlines every detail, including the words the warden must say to the U.S. marshal before the injection begins: "We are ready." Before that, McVeigh will have four minutes to make a statement.

The entire process has been practiced repeatedly, said Dunne, the prison spokesman. A prison employee was used to play the inmate during trial runs, strapped to the T-shaped gurney and covered from the neck down with a sheet, just as McVeigh will be, he said.

McVeigh was transferred from his 8- by 10-foot cell to the spartan isolation cell at 5:10 a.m. EDT Sunday.

"He was able to look up in the sky and see the moon for the first time in a number of years," Nigh said. McVeigh, he added, slept a few hours Saturday night and planned to do the same before his execution.

McVeigh was born in Pendleton, N.Y., near Buffalo, in 1968 and raised Catholic in a middle-class environment. At a young age, he developed a keen interest in guns from his grandfather.

As he grew up, he developed a distrust of the government, yet he joined the Army and went on to serve in the Gulf War. He also returned more disillusioned with the United States, viewing its treatment of the Iraqi people as that of a schoolyard bully.

Drifting across the country and taking on an increasingly survivalist mentality, he continued to stew over what he saw as government encroachment on the right to bear arms. The disastrous federal raids at the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas, and the cabin of white separatist Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, brought McVeigh's hatred to a head.

He decided it was time for actions, not words.

In the end, McVeigh set his sights on the Oklahoma City federal building. He packed a Ryder truck with explosives, lit the fuses, parked it outside the federal building and walked away, without looking back.

McVeigh's original execution date was May 16, but it was delayed after the FBI revealed it had withheld more than 4,500 documents from the defense during McVeigh's 1997 trial. The Justice Department said nothing in the documents brought the bomber's guilt into question.

Defense attorneys sought an additional delay, but were turned down. McVeigh then decided to halt all appeals.

After McVeigh's death, officials at the Terre Haute prison _ which houses the remaining 19 federal death row inmates _ must prepare for another execution. Drug kingpin and convicted murderer Juan Raul Garza is scheduled to die June 19.

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