|WITNESS TO AN EXECUTION|
April 12, 2001
Families of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing will be allowed to watch the execution of the killer.
SUAREZ: Almost four years ago, Timothy McVeigh was convicted of bombing
the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. Now, the federal government
is preparing to execute McVeigh. As attorney general, John Ashcroft is
responsible for the where, when, and how of McVeigh's death after his
deadly crime. Today, at a Washington news conference, the attorney general
turned his attention from the bomber to those whose lives he changed.
JOHN ASHCROFT: The Oklahoma City survivors may be the largest group of crime victims in our history. So the Department of Justice must make special provisions to assist the needs of the survivors and victims' families in accordance with our responsibilities to carry out justice.
As attorney general, I authorize the following measures for victims of this crime. First, we have decided to allow two additional citizen witnesses to be present at the execution in Terre Haute. Second, under these special circumstances, we will arrange for a closed-circuit transmission of these events to Oklahoma City. For these individuals, it became-- it is important in a unique way that they see, at least, and I think they believe that and I believe they are right-- that they have a capacity to witness this event.
And so it is with that in mind that, frankly, my intention to accommodate with closed-circuit, secure transmission of these events was galvanized. And this is something that justice requires, and it's an appropriate responsibility for the Justice Department to carry out.
There is a sense in which every American is a victim of this crime. It's clear that this was an assault on America, and it was a, in my judgment, a cowardly assault that tragically disrupted the lives of people in a devastating way in Oklahoma.
RAY SUAREZ: Tuesday, John Ashcroft met with blast survivors and the families of the dead; he visited the memorial to those killed by McVeigh.
JOHN ASHCROFT: Having spoken with children who lost fathers, with mothers who lost daughters, with grandmothers who lost daughters and grandchildren in the same calamity, their loss is most tragic and virtually unspeakable. The magnitude of this case is certainly stunning. My time with these brave survivors changed me. What was taken from them can never be replaced nor fully restored. Their lives were shattered. And I hope that we can help them meet their need to close this chapter in their lives.
|Death on closed circuit TV|
RAY SUAREZ: Joining me now to discuss Attorney General Ashcroft's decision today, are Bonnie Bucqueroux, executive director of Crime Victims for a Just Society, and Robert Blecker, professor at New York Law School. Professor, you heard what the attorney general had to say, did he make a sound decision in providing for the closed circuit broadcast?
ROBERT BLECKER, New York Law School: In my view it's a sound decision as far as it went but it didn't go far enough.
RAY SUAREZ: How so?
ROBERT BLECKER: I think he said it himself in a real sense the American public are the victims, if we wish to let the victims witness the execution by closed circuit television or by television let's let the victims including all the American public witness the execution.
RAY SUAREZ: In that same statement he drew a distinction between all of America as victims and those who were close to those who were killed. You are not making that same distinction?
ROBERT BLECKER: No, I think this is a very unusual if not unique situation in which Timothy McVeigh is not only a brutal mass murderer for having killed 168 people in that building, but the attack was as much on the building and what it stands for and the United States of America.
So while in theory the people of any state or the United States are always the victim and the prosecution is commenced in their name, in fact in this particular situation we really are the victim. And I think we have a right to see and in a sense a responsibility to see what is being done in our name. We are committing homicide. It is not, as the abolitionists suggest, murder. It is justifiable homicide. But we are doing it, and we should see what we are doing and remember why we are doing it.
Now he should not control the process. His last statement should not be televised and more importantly the execution should be proceeded by a couple of hours of videotapes of the victims' last birthday parties, of the closeness of the families that have been torn apart of the tragedy, so that we remember why it is we are doing this most solemn act. And then, once we do that, we should see what we are doing and when we are doing it.
RAY SUAREZ: Bonnie Bucqueroux, you heard the professor suggest we have a right to see the execution, what do you think?
BONNIE BUCQUEROUX, Crime Victims for a Just Society: You know, I'm a little bit ambivalent about that. I'm also the coordinator of the Victims and the Media Program here at Michigan State. And I'll tell you, there is side of me that says as a First Amendment absolutist there is a freedom of the press if the victim families see the closed circuit transmission then the public should as well, but I guess I'm concerned about the amount of violence we are seeing on TV, including in this case government sponsored violence. And I think that what it's leading to is the normalization of violence as a way of solving problems, and that's what worries me.
|The role of the families|
RAY SUAREZ: The government all during this case since the arrest of Timothy McVeigh has made unusual provisions for the families of those who were killed - including once the way was open for execution sending out 1,100 letters to the families network inviting input on how the broadcast or how the witnessing of the execution should be handled. What is the proper input for victim's families?
BONNIE BUCQUEROUX: I think that victims have certainly been neglected by the criminal justice system. I mean, there have been situations that -- and horror stories about victims showing up in order to testify at trials and everybody else in the criminal justice system knows there has been a continuance or a delay but they are never notified.
But I think when it comes down to state sponsored homicide, as the professor rightly says, I really believe that that is the business of government and it is the government that should be held accountable for this. I don't see a real role for victims here. My concern as well is there is this assumption that victims are monolithically in support what have is happening to Tim McVeigh. I would point out that in the crime victims group that I work with, one of our board members is Bud Welch whose daughter was a victim of the blast. And, yet, he is an active opponent of the death penalty. And I'm sure that will be a very troubling day for him.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor.
ROBERT BLECKER: Well, it's a very odd decision if one were to exclude the victims from being able to witness it, because, after all, victims are intimately involved in the capital punishment process from start to finish. Initially, the identity of the victim, the nature of the victim, is the victim a police officer, that aggravates it and makes it a capital killing. Is the victim a child in many jurisdictions, is the victim the judge or the victim the President of the United States; is the victim somebody who is particularly vulnerable or elderly? So there the victim plays a part.
Then next the victim's experience plays a part. Was the victim brutalized before he or she died; were they subjected to unnecessary pain and suffering? Were they physically abused? In that case the victim's family can enter the situation. Imagine a victim killed painlessly but then the killer starts mailing body parts back to the family with taunting notes. Well, there the experience of the family would be relevant. And then the victim's family expressly comes in at the next stage at the executive level. The prosecutor has to make a decision to go for the death penalty. The prosecutor routinely consults the victim's family and takes their opinions into account. He is not bound by it but influenced by it. And then in the trial process itself, once we get to the sentencing part of it -
BONNIE BUCQUEROUX: Professor -- before we go through the entire litany there, I think the reality is wouldn't you agree one of the concerns we ought to have is that victims and victim families are being manipulated by politicians who are really trying to use them for their own purposes? I think in this case McVeigh has been made a poster child to try to gin up support for the death penalty, which is clearly waning in the culture.
ROBERT BLECKER: I don't think that the victim's families are routinely manipulated -- I do readily admit that some politicians and some prosecutors with higher ambitions will do it but I deny the fact they are routinely manipulated. But if you just let me finish. I'm almost done. It's important to understand the role the victims play throughout the death penalty process which would make it very odd they wouldn't be permitted to witness it and that is the victim impact statements at the sentencing part of the trial, when the jury has to make a decision on life or death -- the victims are allowed to testify as to the impact of that killer on their lives -- as to the nature of their loss, the United States Supreme Court has held that is morally relevant.
|Vengeance vs. justice|
RAY SUAREZ: Professor, let me jump in here because if you've ever been called for jury duty, you know that during voire dire they ask if you've been involved in an act of this kind, if you've been the victim of a similar crime. We don't put friends or relatives or victims themselves on to juries to judge the accused. At many points during the system that you describe we also try to distance emotion, distance personal stake from justice. Don't we?
ROBERT BLECKER: Well, that is a very interesting question and a deep problem. My view is there is too little emotion in the law, that we've come to be embarrassed by our feelings of anger, our feelings of disgust, and that, in fact, we got so abstracted from what was really going on for a while, though we're returning to this, that we simply tried to make it in a bloodless, humanless process. But -
BONNIE BUCQUEROUX: Well, I'm concerned that what we are seeing is a return to sort of ginning up support for blood lust. Because the reality is I'm very concerned about the way in which the death penalty is really sort of being marketed with Timothy McVeigh as this poster child. I really don't see what the idea is behind allowing - you know -- somehow pandering to the idea that vengeance is really the answer to our problems in the culture. We have a government -- violence should not be the answer to violence. You know, Gandhi says, if we get down to an eye for an eye, we get down to a nation of the blind.
ROBERT BLECKER: This is not vengeance. There is a very big difference between retribution and vengeance, although many people equate them. Vengeance need not be directed specifically at the one responsible. Vengeance need not have any limit. Retribution, which is not the same thing as vengeance or revenge is limited, directed, proportionate response. So this is not a blood lust.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, let me jump in here because I need to ask you both whether this policy decision on the part of the attorney general opens the door when it comes to future executions or because of the notorious nature of this crime and this criminal is this sort of a one off policy decision, Bonnie Bucqueroux?
BONNIE BUCQUEROUX: Well, you know, I'm interested in the choice of McVeigh as the first federal prisoner to be executed. Remember, it was supposed to be Juan Raul Garza, and it was supposed to happen under Clinton's watch but there was this uneasiness about a growing concern about the death penalty that took, you know, President Clinton announced a moratorium. I'm concerned that all of a sudden McVeigh goes to the head of the line now -- now that we are seeing many people calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. It seems too calculated to me.
I'm concerned victims are being used in the process. And I'm not so sure that those victims who will be allowed to witness the execution will not be further traumatized. I think they are being sold, some of them, a bill of goods that is going to lead to a kind of closure that they are not going to achieve because this really isn't retribution, this is vengeance.
ROBERT BLECKER: Well, the fact that Timothy McVeigh goes first is perfect in my view since he is most deserving of death. In fact, I'm against a moratorium, but I think we should be very careful and pick our spots very carefully and those whom we will execute. We shouldn't have a moratorium, but we should have worst first and McVeigh is the worst of the worst. There are a few other candidates who I hope are next.
As to the question about whether this opens the door, I certainly hope so; we should routinely allow all the victims who wish to -- to witness it, and in my view we should allow the public to witness it but let me emphasize again not at Timothy McVeigh's design. His last statements should not be televised but we should be made concretely known what he did, never forget, we should always remember. So I would precede the execution and follow the execution by the humanization of the victims so we remember in whose name and for whose sake and for what purpose we are doing this most solemn act.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Robert Blecker, Bonnie Bucqueroux, thank you both.