WASHINGTON – Survivors and relatives of victims of the Oklahoma City bombing will be allowed to witness convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh's execution via closed-circuit television, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Thursday.
Ashcroft outlined a series of provisions that will be made to meet survivors' requests.
"The Oklahoma City survivors may be the largest group of crime victims in our history," said Ashcroft. "The Department of Justice must make special provisions to assist the needs of the survivors and the victims' families."
A group of more than 250 survivors and relatives of victims of the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building had requested they be allowed to witness McVeigh's death. Ashcroft said he reached his decision to grant the request after meeting with more than 100 relatives and survivors this week in Oklahoma City.
"My time with these brave survivors changed me," Ashcroft said. "What was taken from them can never be replaced nor fully restored. I hope we can help them meet their needs to close this chapter in their lives."
At the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., where McVeigh will be executed May 16, Ashcroft said he would allow two additional "citizen" witnesses in addition to the eight citizen witnesses already cleared to witness the execution.
The witnesses will be selected by lottery, as was done for McVeigh's trial, Ashcroft said.
Additionally, for those survivors who want to be present in Terre Haute at the time of the execution, a special area near the prison facility will be provided.
Ashcroft said that due to "these special circumstances," the Bureau of Prisons and the FBI's Crisis Response Unit would arrange for closed-circuit transmission of the execution to a still undisclosed site in Oklahoma City.
The broadcast will use the latest encryption technology integrated with state-of-the-art video-conferencing over high-speed digital telephone lines, Ashcroft said. Since federal regulations prohibit any recording of the execution, the closed-circuit transmission will be instantaneous and contemporaneous.
"Because of our concerns about attempts to steal or disrupt the transmission signal, we will not be able to provide any further details about the transmission process," Ashcroft said.
The transmission to the victims in the Oklahoma City area would begin at the same time the curtain is opened for viewing by victim witnesses in the execution facility, Ashcroft said. All witnesses would see Veigh on the execution table, and they would be able to hear any final statement he would make. Officials would be on hand to prepare the group for witnessing the execution, and additional footage of the facility would be shown.
McVeigh was convicted of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which killed 168 people, including 19 children, the largest terrorist act ever committed on American soil. The verdict was returned on on June 2, 1997 and McVeigh was sentenced to death that August.
Ashcroft noted Thursday that McVeigh had exhausted all appeals.
McVeigh's execution will be the first under federal law since 1963.
No Public Podium
Acknowledging that the Justice Department is being sued by several media organizations for access to interview McVeigh, Ashcroft said the media would be allowed no access to McVeigh beyond what he is already entitled to under law — a 15-minute telephone call each day.
"As an American who cares about our culture, I want to restrict a mass murderer's access to the public podium," Ashcroft said. "On an issue of particular importance to me as attorney general of the United States, I do not want anyone to be able to purchase access to the podium of America with the blood of 168 innocent victims."
"Please do not help him inject more poison into our culture," Ashcroft added. "He's caused enough senseless damage."
McVeigh has said he is not opposed to a closed-circuit telecast and has suggested that his execution should be televised nationally. In a letter to the Daily Oklahoman newspaper, McVeigh said that in order to provide equal access, the government should "hold a true public execution — allow a public broadcast."
McVeigh did 75 hours of interviews with two newspaper reporters who have written a book, American Terrorist. The book created a stir because in it McVeigh appeared to show no remorse.
"I understand what they felt in Oklahoma City. I have no sympathy for them," he told the authors.
McVeigh's attorney, Nathan Chambers, said Wednesday that McVeigh shows no sign of interest in a last-minute appeal to stop or delay his execution.
Justice Department officials said this week that McVeigh's last chance to ask for a stay of execution would be two hours before he is scheduled to die, when he will be allowed a final meeting with his lawyers. Barring a stay, McVeigh's execution will take place at 7 a.m.