“Yes, I am Pleading for My Son’s Life”
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
JIM LEHRER: We do go first tonight to the Oklahoma City bombing trial in Denver, the defense having rested its case for sparing the life of Timothy McVeigh. Tim Sullivan, a senior correspondent with Court TV, is with us again. Tim, thank you for being with us.
TIM SULLIVAN, Court TV: Thank you, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: The high point today, of course, was the testimony of McVeigh’s parents. What did they say?
TIM SULLIVAN: Well, Jim, it began with Mildred Frazer, Tim McVeigh’s mother, who is now divorced from Tim McVeigh’s father. She made a plea to this jury to spare her son’s life. It was very brief testimony really in which she read a short statement. And in that statement she said–she began by saying, “I cannot even imagine the pain and suffering the people of Oklahoma City have endured since April 19, 1995.” She went on to say, “I still can’t believe that my son could have caused such devastation.” She said, “There are still too many unanswered questions.” And then she said, “Yes, I am pleading for my son’s life. He’s a human being, just like we all are. He’s not a monster.” And she concluded by telling the jury, “You have a very difficult decision to make about my son’s life or death, and I pray that God will help you make the right decision.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah, go ahead.
TIM SULLIVAN: I was just going to say she was followed by her ex-husband.
JIM LEHRER: Let me–was she cross-examined in any way by the prosecution?
TIM SULLIVAN: No, Jim, she was not cross-examined. She was only up there for a few minutes, and actually two of the five women on the jury were crying as Mrs. Frazer read that statement.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, go on. The father was then next. Right.
TIM SULLIVAN: Yes. Bill McVeigh, Tim McVeigh’s father, testified. He also was not on the stand very long. His testimony included the playing of a videotape that the defense put together. It’s a compilation of old home movies that Tim McVeigh’s grandfather made when Tim McVeigh was a small boy and a recent video that the defense made of McVeigh’s hometown, of Pendleton, New York, and Lockport, New York, where he grew up, showing the school he went to, the church he went to, et cetera.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, Tim, we have a one minute, twenty-five second excerpt from that. The tape, itself, was fifteen minutes long, but we have a one minute, twenty-five second excerpt–edited excerpt–from it that we want to look at now.
WILLIAM McVEIGH ON EXCERPT OF VIDEO USED BY DEFENSE: I think he enjoyed school. He was a good student, although he never got the marks that he was capable of getting, I don’t think. In high school he got an award when he graduated for never missing a day. In four years, he never missed a day of school. The first time Tim worked I think was the beginning of his senior year. He went to work at Burger King. After he was out, he got a New York State–$500 New York State Regents Scholarship. He went to Brian and Stratton. It’s a business school. And he didn’t feel he was learning more than he already knew, so he decided to go back to work. And then after that, he got a job at the Burger King in Lockport. He worked for Burger King–I don’t know–maybe a year–and after that he got a job for Park Security, driving an armored car. He got the job there because he had a pistol permit. Tim graduated, and he said at the graduation that quite a few of the kids were going into the military. He come home one day and said he was going in the service, and I says, “When,” and he says, “Tomorrow.” That’s about all I can tell you about when he went in the service, or over to the Persian Gulf. He didn’t seem to mind going, and he was ready to go when the time come, and they went to Kuwait. And I believe it was right around the end of ’91, Christmastime in ’91 or so. And he come back, he seemed to be happy when he come home.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Tim, what was the impact of that tape, or is it hard to measure?
TIM SULLIVAN: Well, it was a bit hard to measure, Jim. You know, the gallery watched carefully, the jury paid close attention to it, of course. We didn’t see any overt reaction from the jurors. Tim McVeigh sat pretty solemnly and perhaps a bit sad while that was being shown. When it was done, the defense just asked Bill McVeigh a few questions. They then showed a photograph of Bill McVeigh with his son in the kitchen of his home in Upstate, New York. It was taken in about 1992–the two of them with their arms around each other, big smiles on their faces. And Richard Burr, the defense attorney, asked Mr. McVeigh, “Is that Tim McVeigh in that picture the Tim you know and love,” and he said, “Yes, it is.” And then he was asked, “Do you still love your son,” and he said, “Yes, I do love my son.” And then he said, “Do you love the Tim McVeigh who is in this courtroom,” and Mr. McVeigh said, “I do.” And then he was finally asked, “Do you want him to live,” and he said, “Yes, I do.” And that was the end of that testimony, Jim, and he wasn’t cross-examined either.
JIM LEHRER: Now, what was the reaction of Tim McVeigh when his mother testified? Was it any different than when his father did?
TIM SULLIVAN: It was a bit different. He sat very still, with his hands folded, sitting back in his chair. A couple of times while his mother was reading that statement, he reached to his eye with one finger and wiped his eye. And there’s some disagreement among the many of us who were in the courtroom as to whether he was actually crying. I will say this, Jim. He was much more emotional yesterday when a video–a tape was played of a song about the children who were killed at Waco, Texas, in the Branch Davidian compound there. And he was very close to tears, it seemed, while that song was being played about the dead children at Waco.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. To summarize, Tim, the case that the defense has made for not executing Timothy McVeigh rests on that, more than anything, does it not, his anger over what happened at the Branch Davidian compound?
TIM SULLIVAN: Yes, it does, Jim. You know, they began with all these army buddies of Tim McVeigh’s coming and testifying about what a good soldier he was, about his service in the Persian Gulf, the fact that he won a bronze star and performed well in the two brief battles he was in–skirmishes really–over there. But then it went on to Waco, and the heart of the defense case here was that he was so inflamed and so passionate about what happened at Waco, and he so strongly believed that the federal government through the FBI and the ATF had committed murder there, had declared war on the American citizens, as he put it, that he was driven to react to that. And I think what they want the jury to see is that–they put in a lot of evidence that he was not alone in those beliefs–Soldier of Fortune articles and videotapes about Waco–just to try to portray him as a person among many people who felt that way.
JIM LEHRER: There had been some speculation going into this penalty phase–in fact, we participated in it, ourselves, the other night–about whether or not McVeigh, himself, would testify. What’s the scuttlebutt or otherwise on the decision that was made for him not to?
TIM SULLIVAN: Well, I think, Jim, that the defense determined that he–you know, he was not going to express remorse for the crime. It just seemed that that was not going to happen, even in their presentation of all the Waco material and some briefs they filed about the instructions to the jury, they basically have taken the position that he was sincere in his beliefs about Waco; that he was, indeed, a patriot, and thought that the government of this country had turned itself around, and that he was striking a blow for liberty.
JIM LEHRER: So there would be nothing to be gained by him sitting there on the witness stand and saying that, right.
TIM SULLIVAN: Apparently not.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Now, they closed, they rested. There will be closing arguments tomorrow on the penalty thing. The judge will then charge them. Is there a special charge on a death penalty case?
TIM SULLIVAN: Well, yes, there is, Jim. The judge will instruct the jury on how they should determine whether the government has proven the aggravating factors that it has said they have proven about this crime and whether the defense has proven the mitigating factors. Now, the aggravating factors must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury’s satisfaction. The mitigating factors must only be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. The judge will have to explain all that to them and give them some indication of how to weigh the aggravating versus the mitigating factors.
JIM LEHRER: And then deliberations could begin as early as tomorrow sometime?
TIM SULLIVAN: Yes. We expect they will, Jim. The judge told the jury that he thinks closings should be done by then, and that they should be able to get to work tomorrow afternoon. He’s going to start a half hour early tomorrow to make sure that they do get finished.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Tim Sullivan, again, thank you very much.
TIM SULLIVAN: Thank you.