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THE MCVEIGH VERDICT

McVeigh Gets Death

Convicted Bomber Sits Stoically as Jury Renders Its Decision

June 14, 1997|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DENVER — A federal court jury decided Friday that Timothy J. McVeigh should be put to death for exploding a truck bomb that killed 168 people at the Oklahoma City federal building.

The jury determined that the 29-year-old former soldier should die by lethal injection for his role in the bombing, which also injured more than 500 people in the deadliest criminal assault in U.S. history.

With formal sentencing likely next month and with the judge bound by the jury's recommendation, prosecutors hope that the punishment meted out after 11 hours of deliberations will send a strong message to other anti-government fanatics who might wish to follow in McVeigh's footsteps.

In the courtroom, McVeigh sat stoically, as he has throughout the seven-week trial. As U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch read the jury's verdict form, McVeigh put his hand on his chin, his elbows on the defense table, staring at the judge.

Moments later, escorted from the courtroom by four armed federal marshals, McVeigh turned briefly to his parents and sister. He craned his head over the marshals and told his family: "It's OK."

McVeigh also spoke privately with lead defense attorney Stephen Jones after the verdict. "He was not surprised. He had prepared himself for it," the lawyer said.

McVeigh's father's shoulders slumped, his sister cried and his mother sat silently when the verdict was read. Later Friday, his mother, Mildred Frazer, blamed the media and government for her son's fate in an interview on ABC-TV's "20/20."

"Since my son--the day he was arrested--I feel that it was done, that he was convicted and sentenced to death by the media and the government." she said. "I'm not saying he didn't have a fair trial. I'm just saying that I don't think that it was done right from the beginning."

Outside the courthouse after the jury's decision was announced, Joseph H. Hartzler, the lead government attorney, said: "Today is not a day of great joy for the prosecution team. We're pleased the system worked and justice prevailed. But the verdict doesn't diminish the great sadness that occurred in Oklahoma City two years ago. Our only hope is that the verdict will go some way to preventing such a terrible, drastic crime from ever occurring again," he said.

Jones was equally somber in his remarks:

"The jury has spoken and their verdict is entitled to respect," he said. "And all Americans should accord it that respect until such time, if ever, it is overturned by a court of competent jurisdiction.

"We ask that the barriers and intolerance which have divided us may crumble, that suspicions disappear and that hatred cease. And that our divisions and intolerance being healed, we may live together in justice and peace."

Juror Vera Chubb, 65, who lives in Loveland, Colo., about 55 miles north of Denver, told The Times in a telephone interview:

"Tim McVeigh just sat there somberly, almost emotionless, throughout the trial--even today. . . . He just looked at us, and we looked at him, each one of us.

"But we had agreed earlier that when we gave the verdict, we would look him right in the eye. And we all did, all 12 of us," she said. "We could not hang our heads.

"I just hope we made some sort of closure for the people of Oklahoma City," she added. "I hope they are pleased with what we did."

Jurors Talk About Decision-Making

Chubb said there was no single piece of evidence that swayed her.

"All the pieces just fell together from day one," she said. "No one thing told us he was guilty--it was everything together."

Deciding whether McVeigh should live or die, she said, was difficult. "When you have to take a man's life, it's very difficult," she said. "Now that's over; I feel very, very relieved."

Another juror, Tonya Stedman, 24, a waitress who lives in Denver, also interviewed by telephone, called Friday's decision "huge."

"We're talking about a person's life," she said. "It wasn't simple. "We looked at everything carefully in both phases of the trial and took our time," she said. "The prosecution was very thorough and that speaks to our verdict."

In front of the downtown courthouse, a crowd of several hundred people, many of them federal workers from the government complex next door, were subdued and respectful as the team of prosecutors marched past.

Unlike June 2, when McVeigh was found guilty in the April 19, 1995, bombing, the crowd did not cheer, applaud or whistle at the prosecutors.

Matsch did not set a date for the formal sentencing of the former Army tank gunner and decorated Persian Gulf War soldier. But he asked attorneys on both sides to return to the courtroom by July 7 to hear motions for a new trial, a routine step in what is expected to be a lengthy appeals process for McVeigh.

While bombing victims and the families of people killed in the blast were united in their relief at McVeigh's conviction, several of them reacted differently to the sentence of death.

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