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FEDERAL prison strives for normalcy as Timothy McVeigh's execution approaches

Updated:

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) _ Inside the federal prison where Timothy McVeigh awaits execution on Monday, guards are working to maintain a sense of normalcy, a consistent rhythm of day-to-day life.

Outside the barbed-wire topped fence and guard houses, life is far from normal. A small city is coming up, tents are being raised, broadcast journalists are applying makeup on the steps of trailers that act as temporary newsrooms.

McVeigh's execution, the first federal execution since 1963, is drawing a crowd in this city of 60,000. To counteract the distractions and keep emotions from running too high, prison officials want life inside the U.S. Penitentiary to stay predictable and mundane.

``We want to make sure the institution is operating as normally as possible,'' said U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokesman Dan Dunne. He noted that a facility-wide lockdown the night before the execution would be held up to let inmates watch all of the NBA Finals game.

Life for most of the 1,300 inmates consists of getting up and cleaning their cells around 5:30 a.m., eating breakfast, and then going to various prison jobs. They return to their cells for a 4 p.m. head count, then go to classes or recreation in the evening. By 11 p.m., they're locked up and waiting for the same routine to start the next morning.

The prisoners have access to televisions, so on Friday they were well aware that McVeigh was awaiting transfer to the brick building where he'll be put to death.

The 33-year-old Gulf War veteran, who abandoned all his appeals, is set to die by chemical injection at 7 a.m. Monday. Prison officials said the chemicals that will be used for the execution have already arrived.

McVeigh is expected to be moved from his cell to the death house no later than Sunday morning, 24 hours before the execution. Prison officials would not say exactly when he would be moved, citing security concerns.

One complication surfaced Friday, when a federal judge in Pittsburgh ordered the execution videotaped for a case alleging the death penalty violates the ban on cruel and unusual punishment. But an appeals judge delayed the order Friday and a panel of judges later overturned it, blocking the videotaping.

Also, one of the people McVeigh selected to witness his execution, author Gore Vidal, announced he would not be coming to Terre Haute. Jim Cross, special assistant at the federal prison, said it will be up to the warden whether McVeigh is allowed to substitute another witness.

McVeigh was convicted of murder and condemned for the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building that killed 168 people. He is by far the most notorious prisoner on federal death row.

According to federal execution protocol, McVeigh must be moved to the death house by 7 a.m. Sunday. A videotape will be made of the transfer and then turned over to the media, but McVeigh's face will not be seen on the tape.

``He has not agreed to his photo being taken, so we cannot show him,'' Dunne said. ``But we will show the vehicle.''

McVeigh has been housed in the federal death row Special Confinement Unit since July 1999, when he and the 19 other men facing federal death sentences were moved to Terre Haute.

His first step outside the unit will come when he's moved. He'll be dressed in a khaki jumpsuit with shackles binding his arms and legs, and he'll be surrounded by guards. The guards will primarily be from other federal prisons, so those who have come to know McVeigh won't be involved.

``There's a team of people who've been formulated for the purpose of this execution,'' Dunne said. ``They've been trained here, we've done mock exercises, and we're training this week, just to ensure that everything is done in a coordinated manner.''

The convicted bomber will not wear a bulletproof vest during the move.

Once outside, McVeigh will be whisked into a prison transport van, its windows covered with secure metal grills. His brief ride to the death house 500 yards away will not be visible to other prisoners.

The van will approach a 2,100-square-foot, single-story brick building surrounded by barbed-wire fence. Amid the cluster of guards, McVeigh will be hurried inside, then escorted to a cell where he will be watched around the clock.

A final meal of his choosing will be served at noon on Sunday. Dunne said McVeigh has not yet selected his meal. He'll be allowed to eat standard prison fare Sunday evening and the morning of the execution, if he chooses.

His death will be announced to the prison inmates and then, officials hope, life at the U.S. Penitentiary will continue as it always does.
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