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A Meticulous End Planned for McVeigh

Crime: The federal government has every detail covered--including thwarting a rescue attempt.

April 05, 2001|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Federal prison officials have planned next month's execution of Timothy J. McVeigh, their first in nearly four decades, with minute-by-minute precision, down to the time he is served his last meal, how long his final statement can be and the moment his body is surrendered to a county coroner.

So meticulous are the details that officials already know the last words McVeigh will hear: the voice of the warden proclaiming, "We are ready."

In the next moment, a fatal mixture will be injected into the man who bombed the Oklahoma City federal building six years ago, killing 168 people, including 19 children, and becoming America's most notorious mass murderer.

The 54-page "Execution Protocol," prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and obtained by The Times, is stamped "Sensitive--Limited official use only." It represents eight years of intensive planning and will be first tested with McVeigh's execution on May 16.

The protocol also sets out detailed "contingency plans" for handling any disturbances that might be caused by the hordes of protesters and sympathizers expected to gather outside the walls of the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

The document calls for the creation of a command center at the prison and special law enforcement teams to respond should the large crowds become unruly.

More worrisome to federal prison officials are potential threats from anti-government activists trying to rescue McVeigh, or a sudden act of vengeance by any of the hundreds of victims of the worst act of terrorism in the United States.

The protocol specifically identifies possible disturbances by other inmates, the taking of hostages and an "outside assault on the facility" by someone trying to breach the prison compound.

McVeigh will be executed by the very government he came to despise. The protocol shows that in its execution of the man who many say forever robbed Americans of their innocence, the government is leaving nothing to chance.

"It is the policy of the BOP that the execution of a person sentenced to death under federal law . . . be carried out in an efficient and humane manner," the policy states.

The BOP will "make every effort" to ensure that McVeigh, 32, is executed "in a manner that minimizes the negative impact on the safety, security and operational integrity" of the prison.

The protocol also lays out down-to-the-second procedures for halting the execution if the president or a federal judge intervenes, though that is highly unlikely.

Dan Dunne, a top prison bureau spokesman in Washington, said threats are "always something we have to pay close attention to."

"The primary focus in Terre Haute is to make sure that everything goes smoothly and all the planning is in place," he said.

Work on the protocol began in 1993, when federal rules for executions were finalized.

More than 1,400 journalists are expected in Terre Haute to cover the McVeigh execution, in addition to hundreds of protesters and victims and their families. Only a small pool will be allowed inside the prison as official witnesses.

The Execution Protocol directs the entire prison staff to "prevent emotion or intimidation from hindering efforts to carry out assigned duties." It orders them to "conduct themselves at all times in a manner reflecting the solemnity and sensitivity of the occasion."

The protocol sets up a countdown for what will be done in the days leading to May 16. The exact time of the execution has not been set.

In the first time period, from 29 to 14 days before the execution, Warden Harley Lappin will finalize arrangements for "a qualified person to be present at the execution and to declare [McVeigh] deceased."

He will make the final selection of executioners and their alternates to operate the IV system, as well as the tie-down team that will escort McVeigh into the execution chamber. Both teams, made of up employees who will have volunteered for the duty, will immediately begin practicing.

Within 13 to seven days before the execution, Lappin will meet with federal, state and local law enforcement officials to coordinate security preparations. Joint training exercises will get underway.

With just a week left, Lappin "will ensure the purchase of lethal substances to be used in the execution." Three drugs "will be secured in the institution until called for by the warden."

The staff will arrange for McVeigh's last meal. His visiting privileges will be restricted to a spiritual advisor, his attorneys and his family.

With six to three days left, final decisions will be made on the six witnesses McVeigh can invite to watch him die. He already has asked for his lawyer, Rob Nigh of Tulsa, Okla., and Liz McDermott, a longtime friend from his hometown of Pendleton, N.Y.

The warden will meet with the executioners and alternates to go over final details. He will promise them that their names will not be divulged.

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