The End of the Line for Inmate McVeigh

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MSNBC sets up shop outside the U.S. Pententiary in Terre Haute, Ind.

By all accounts he was calm. He looked in the eyes of the witnesses — the media, his lawyers, and those whose lives he had forever and horrifically altered. He gave no statement, but he had copied out "Invictus," William Ernest Henley's ode to Victorian conquest, which contains the famous line, "I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul."

"It's over"

If he had a soul, he never acknowledged it, and on this morning, six years after the terrible bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the victims of his crime may have finally felt that fate had reckoned with their loss.

"It's over," said Janice Smith, whose brother died in the bombing and who prayed with her children at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. For many victims and family members, however, McVeigh's death is only the first stage of justice. Terry Nichols, sentenced to life in prison for federal charges of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter, currently awaits a state trial on 160 counts of first-degree murder. If found guilty, he could receive the death penalty. Nichols has asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a new trial; per the Court's instructions, the U.S. Justice Department is considering the request.

"Not vengeance, but justice"

President Bush read a brief statement after the execution, saying, "This morning the United States of America carried out the severest sentence for the gravest of crimes. The victims of the Oklahoma City bombing have been given not vengeance, but justice. And one young man met the fate he chose for himself six years ago. For the survivors of the crime and for the families of the dead, the pain goes on. Final punishment of the guilty cannot alone bring peace to the innocent. It cannot recover the loss or balance the scales, and it is not meant to do so."

McVeigh had two pints of mint chocolate ice cream for his final meal. He conferred with his lawyers on the morning of the execution, and made a point, witnesses said, of seeking out eye contact with each person who was there to see him die. After the lethal injection was delivered he lay still on the gurney, covered by a white sheet. At 7:14 Central Time, the warden pronounced him dead.

Inscrutable to the end

McVeigh was born near Buffalo, New York, and served in the army during the Gulf War. But sometime during his troubled transit from quiet boy to disturbed man, he developed a deep and irrational hatred of the federal government he once served. In his letters from prison that were recently published in the Buffalo News, he said he saw himself as a soldier in a war against the government.

Law enforcement officials believe that McVeigh had no other companions in his psychopathic war against the government. McVeigh requested that no members of his family travel to his execution, and none did.

His execution had originally been scheduled for May 16, but it was delayed after the Federal Bureau of Investigation revealed that it had failed to produce thousands of documents during McVeigh's trial. But an appeals court judge decided that the documents did not alter McVeigh's guilt, and ordered the execution to proceed.

The national networks and cable channels were solemn in their coverage of the execution. Relatives of the victims who were interviewed were not gleeful or even satisfied, they seemed merely resigned. For them, it was just another way-station in their grieving.