Capital punishment opponents: McVeigh execution becoming pageant

Friday, April 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Permitting a closed-circuit broadcast of Timothy McVeigh's execution makes the event a ``death pageant'' that could trigger a backlash against capital punishment, execution opponents said.

Supporters of the death penalty expect just the opposite, that the unapologetic Oklahoma City bomber's punishment will deepen already strong public sentiment for executions.

McVeigh's execution will be shown by a remote broadcast to more than 200 survivors and victims' relatives. Though infrequent, a few states allow broadcasts like Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered Thursday.

But the execution will not be publicly broadcast, just transmitted to Oklahoma where survivors and victims can watch. It also will not be taped.

The more fanfare over the May 16 execution at a federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., the better for the anti-death penalty movement, execution opponent Lance Lindsey said.

``There will be a growing revulsion'' caused by publicity-seekers and media attention, said Lindsey, executive director of Death Penalty Focus in San Francisco. ``This kind of death pageant ... is just completely and profoundly sad.''

About two-thirds of Americans polled this year said they support the death penalty for murderers.

``If anything, I believe more people who were on the fence about executions will move to'' support it, said Dianne Clements, president of Justice For All, a Texas-based victims' rights group.

McVeigh was convicted in Denver two years after the April 19, 1995, federal building bombing that killed 168 people and injured hundreds. He is set to become the first federal inmate executed since 1963.

``Does punishing him make him a martyr? No,'' Clements said.

Ashcroft ordered the broadcast after meeting with some family members who said viewing the execution would help the grieving process. There is limited seating at the Indiana facility.

``I hope they do not become re-victimized again and become somebody's punching bag, though I'm sure they will,'' Clements said. ``They'll be called everything from blood thirsty and vengeful to ghoulish. That's not fair.''

The Rev. Carroll Pickett, a former chaplain to Texas death row inmates, said the broadcast, closed-circuit though it may be, plays into the hands of McVeigh, who suggested that he would like his death broadcast nationally.

``He wants the show,'' said Pickett. ``He's asked for it and he got it.''

Only small groups of witnesses have been allowed at most of the 706 executions in the United States since 1976. Arkansas, Illinois and Tennessee are among states that allow closed-circuit broadcasts to give victims' families privacy and permit more people to watch.

``I don't think we should have this as a general thing. This is an unprecedented case,'' said Jane Alexander, a founder of Citizens Against Homicide in California, who wanted the victims to be allowed to watch. ``If this gives them any kind of solace or closure, I think it's proper.''

Alexander said she expects no backlash against the death penalty and no calls for nationally televised executions. Ashcroft, in announcing his decision, said the broadcast may help the group ``close this chapter on their lives.''

``As difficult as this case is, it will contribute to furthering the national discussion,'' predicted Marc Mauer, assistant director of The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice policy group in Washington.

Death penalty opponents will be allowed to protest McVeigh's death on prison grounds. Not all of them agree that McVeigh, who can make a statement before his death, helps the anti-execution cause.

``It isn't a case that's going to change people's minds,'' said Allyson Collins, a senior researcher in Washington with the Human Rights Watch.