Society Did It

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DENVER: Taking one last, wild shot before jurors began deliberating Timothy McVeigh's punishment, his defense closed with the somewhat incredible argument that McVeigh didn't deserve to die because we were all to blame. "Aren't we all in some way implicated in this crime?" defense attorney Richard Burr asked, arguing that Americans let tyranny reign during the bloody sieges at Waco and Ruby Ridge. "We all bear some responsibility for Oklahoma City," he said. "We should not feel a clear conscience if we kill Tim McVeigh." The tactic smacks of desperation, notes TIME's Adam Cohen. "Now they're just throwing everything they can at the wall to see what sticks. Ironically, this is a conservative twist on a very liberal, cliched argument -- it's not his fault, it's the way he was raised, it’s society’s fault. People in line with McVeigh, the right wing militia, would usually have no sympathy for this kind of argument." Worse, Cohen notes, having struck some sympathetic chords with jurors during Thursday’s emotional testimony by McVeigh’s parents: "There could be a backlash among the jury, whose reaction could be, 'Don't blame us for what he did'." That certainly held true outside the courtroom. "The Waco deal?" scoffed Charles Tomlin, who lost his grown son in the bombing. "They gave them 52 days to come out or do something. My son didn't even get 52 seconds to come out of the building that McVeigh blew up."