Closed-circuit telecast of McVeigh execution

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

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Survivors and relatives of the Oklahoma City bombing victims will be allowed to watch Timothy McVeigh's execution on closed-circuit television. Attorney General John Ashcroft said he wanted to help them ``close this chapter of their lives.''

``The Oklahoma City survivors may be the largest group of crime victims in our history,'' Ashcroft said Thursday. ``The Department of Justice must make special provisions to assist the needs of the survivors and the victims' families.''

Ashcroft also said he would allow two additional public witnesses _ beyond the eight already cleared for watching the execution firsthand on May 16 at a federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.

The attorney general also said the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons would work closely with the FBI to thwart any attempts to record or pirate the closed-circuit broadcast. He described the broadcast as a ``state-of-the-art video conferencing.''

Ashcroft said he determined that the broadcast should be permitted after meeting this week in Oklahoma City with some 100 victims or relatives of victims of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building there.

In Oklahoma, Priscilla Salyers, a bombing survivor who accompanied Ashcroft on a tour of a victims' memorial Tuesday, said she knew the attorney general would agree to their requests as long as they were legal.

``I felt like he truly listened to everybody who spoke,'' she said. ``He repeated what they said so he understood what their needs were. When he left here, I felt he would do everything possible to accommodate us.''

Salyers said she has never wanted to travel to Terre Haute for the execution, preferring to watch it with the rest of the survivors and victims' families.

``That is more what I need, to be with my support,'' she said. ``We are a strong group, a strong community.''

McVeigh was convicted of the bombing, which killed 168 people, including 19 children, on June 2, 1997. He was sentenced to death, and Ashcroft noted Thursday that McVeigh had exhausted all appeals.

Describing his meeting with the families, Ashcroft said: ``My time with these brave survivors changed me. What was taken from them can never be replaced nor fully restored. I hope we can help them meet their needs to close this chapter in their lives.''

The decision fulfills the requests of some 250 victims and family members who want to see McVeigh die.

Ashcroft said the video transmission will begin at the same time the curtain to the execution room is opened.

``All witnesses will see McVeigh on the execution table and they will be able to hear any final statement Mr. McVeigh makes,'' said Ashcroft.

Ashcroft said he understood that some survivors and victims' relatives would want to go to the site of the execution, even if it is available on closed-circuit television in Oklahoma City. For those, he said, accommodations will also be made. An area in Terre Haute near the prison will be provided.

McVeigh's execution will be the first under federal law since 1963.

Ashcroft said McVeigh would be able to talk to the media up to 15 minutes a day by telephone, but no longer. He said no recording of the telephone calls would be allowed.

``As an American who cares about our culture, I want to restrict a mass murderer's access to a public podium,'' Ashcroft said. ``As attorney general, I don't want anyone to be able to purchase access to the podium of America with the blood of 168 innocent victims. Please do not help him inject more poison into our culture. He's caused enough senseless damage.''

Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, director of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, said it would be up to the ``honor and integrity'' of the media to adhere to the no-recording rule.

McVeigh has said he is not opposed to a closed-circuit telecast and has suggested that his execution should be televised nationally. In a letter to the Daily Oklahoman newspaper, McVeigh said that, to provide equal access, the government should ``hold a true public execution _ allow a public broadcast.''

Media outlets have been clamoring to get interviews with McVeigh.

McVeigh did 75 hours of interviews with two newspaper reporters who have written a book, ``American Terrorist.'' The book created a stir because in it McVeigh appeared to show no remorse.

``I understand what they felt in Oklahoma City. I have no sympathy for them,'' he told the authors.

McVeigh's attorney, Nathan Chambers, said Wednesday that McVeigh shows no sign of interest in a last-minute appeal to stop or delay his execution.

Justice Department officials said this week that McVeigh's last chance to ask for a stay of execution would be two hours before he is scheduled to die, when he will be allowed a final meeting with his lawyers.