TOPICS > Politics

The Trial of Timothy McVeigh: On the Mend

June 3, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: The jury returns tomorrow to begin the penalty phase of the McVeigh trial, and the issue is whether Timothy McVeigh should be sentenced to death. Betty Ann Bowser talked to family members of the bombing’s victims.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: First of all, thank you for being with us tonight. Joining me are four people whose family members were killed in the Oklahoma City bombing: Marsha Kight lost her 23-year-old daughter, Frankie Merrill, who worked at the credit union in the Murrah Building; Jannie Coverdale’s two grandchildren, Elijah and Aaron, were in the daycare center on the second floor; Tom Hawthorne lost his father, Thomas, who was with a retiree in the Social Security office where Tom Hawthorne, Sr. was helping the retiree with his benefits; and Barbara Trent lost both of her parents, Charles and Jean Hurlbert, who died in the Social Security office. First of all, I’d like to ask you about something the judge in this case said this morning in court, Judge Richard Matsch. He expressed concern that the penalty phase of this trial not become a “lynching,” and he indicated that he would limit some of the impact testimony from survivors and family members. And I wonder what your reaction to that statement is. Ms. Coverdale.

JANNIE COVERDALE: I think the jury should know exactly what happened up there that day. I feel that–I mean, everybody was injured differently. And I think the jury should know that. Some were injured more severely than other ones, and the jury should know that.

MARSHA KIGHT: This is how we live each day and what has happened to us. And if we don’t deliver that message, then I feel like we’re cheated out of part of our recovery. And he needs to hear what has happened to our lives and how they have been changed forever.

BARBARA TRENT: To cover up for sake of hurting–I mean–protecting the emotions of maybe the jurors–I don’t know his purpose in that, but I think in a way–I think they really need to see what really happened and how it really affected people’s lives.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Do you want this jury to impose the death penalty?

BARBARA TRENT: I do. I think it’s just. I think–and part of that, in my opinion, is my–even from the Bible, you know, in the Old Testament–in Numbers–I was reading that this morning where it says if a man purposely takes–you know–in different verses–if a man takes another man’s life on purpose, then he should–you should be put to death. And I think that’s just. He took 168, and, you know, without question, I think–I think that’s just, for him to be put to death.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: How do the rest of you feel about the death penalty?

JANNIE COVERDALE: I have never believed in the death penalty until the bombing, but then we’ve never had anybody tried and convicted for killing 168 people. In order for Timothy McVeigh to never hurt anybody else, I think he should be put to death. I don’t want it done out of revenge because it’s not going to bring Aaron and Elijah back, but if there’s a possibility–you know how the justice system is–that if he’s just given life in prison, there’s a possibility that he–something will happen that he’s let loose. And sitting in the courtroom he hasn’t shown any remorse, so he will do it again. So in order to prevent him from hurting anybody else, I think he deserves the death penalty.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Mr. Hawthorne, you’re 28 years old, I believe.


BETTY ANN BOWSER: You’re an army veteran. Mr. McVeigh is 29. He’s an army veteran. What do you think when you think about the death penalty and you see him sitting there in court?

TOM HAWTHORNE: I’m a little bit torn about it because my basic beliefs about the death penalty are, you know, violence shouldn’t be the answer to violence. But I also believe that, I mean, maybe there are some cases in which, you know, society, you know, has to have that for, you know, resolution, and I just don’t–I don’t feel it’s right to seek or to want a person’s death, but at the same time, I’m not going to be petitioning for his life either.

MARSHA KIGHT: I don’t want Timothy McVeigh to be seen as a martyr, and among his peers, I believe that’s what he’ll be looked upon as. I also know that it will not bring my daughter back. And to me, it seems more just that he spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement, never to hold or see anyone he loves or cares about again. Lethal injection–which I believe that’s how it’s handled here in Colorado–seems far too easy–just putting a man to sleep. I’d rather he rot in jail. I think a lot of pain is in the living of life, especially if you have to live it alone in a cell.

JANNIE COVERDALE: As far as life in prison in solitary confinement, that’s a dream. Nobody is sentenced to life in prison in solitary confinement. They are not isolated in one cell. Only if they’re on Death Row are they isolated in one cell.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Bud Welsh, who lost his daughter in the bombing, said yesterday that he hoped that McVeigh would not–Mr. McVeigh–would not get the death penalty because at some point during his life in prison he might share with the public some of the reasons for what took place on April 19th. Does that become an argument for any of you against the death penalty?

TOM HAWTHORNE: I know why he did it. I mean, it’s all–it’s all from hate. I mean, you look at any of the militia groups, members, these hate crimes like this, I mean, most of ’em are racist or anti-Semitic or something. It’s all from hate. I don’t need to know the reasons. I don’t want to hear his reasons. His voice is the last thing I want to hear from.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Is there ever going to be any end for any of you to all of this?

JANNIE COVERDALE: No, not for me. If I could–if somebody could do something–if somebody could work a miracle and bring the kids back, yes, but there is that empty spot, you know. There’s that emptiness in your life. There’s a hole, and just those two people could fill that emptiness, and they’re not here.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Mr. Hawthorne.

TOM HAWTHORNE: The only–the only end, you know, I really have is that, you know, he was my father, and a very, very good father, very loving. As I lived life, you know, God willing, I’ll become the same, and hopefully, I am the same with my son and my wife. And that’s the only–and other than that, there’s not really an end because, you know, I lost my mentor, my friend. He was my hero–for the rest of my life. My son won’t be able to grow up with a grandfather like I was wanting to. I won’t be able to take him to the Cincinnati Reds the next time they win the World Series like I wanted to, or any of those things. A lot of dreams are dashed.

BARBARA TRENT: If they do come out with the death penalty I asked someone how many years do they think that it would actually be going through the appeals and all that, and they were wondering maybe about three years if it actually would be brought about. I don’t know–it’s just going to be hard to go through, to continually go through. It’s like there’s no end to it.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Well, thank you very much for being with us tonight.