TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – About 75 death penalty opponents marched Sunday to the federal prison where Timothy McVeigh will be executed, while a mere handful favoring the death penalty gathered at a city park.
Prison officials had prepared for thousands of demonstrators, both for and against the death penalty, to show up.
Ajamu Baraka of the human rights group Amnesty International attributed the small turnout to the fact that McVeigh's early Monday execution is being carried out by the federal government.
"The numbers here may be more reflective of the fact that, because this is a national execution, they don't feel compelled to be here," Baraka said. "There are demonstrations planned around the country and internationally."
During their three-mile march, the anti-death penalty demonstrators carried 14-foot-high puppets of Uncle Sam and Jesus and banners that read "Stop the Killing." When they reached the prison, they sang "We Shall Overcome."
In the late afternoon, about 50 of the abolitionists laid out signs on the lawn of St. Mary Margaret Church, tucked in a normally quiet residential neighborhood. Among the messages were "Yes, there is an alternative to the death penalty" and "Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?"
Unitarian minister Bill Breeden, sporting a red T-shirt with white lettering reading "Stop Executions Now," said he believes the government is wrong to kill McVeigh.
"He's not afraid of death, he's afraid of insignificance. And here we are, giving him tremendous significance -- the first federal execution since 1963," said Breeden, a member of the Bloomington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, based in Bloomington, Ind.
"I hope to be a witness to the fact that not everybody wants to kill," he added.
"We're here because our country is killing in our name, and we think it's wrong," said Abe Bonowitz of Tequesta, Fla., director of Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
By early Sunday evening, five death penalty supporters had showed up at their designated gathering area at a local park, including local resident Russell Braun, who was holding a sign saying "Bye bye baby killer."
"Tim McVeigh should die," Braun said. "He wants to anyway, so let it happen."
The demonstrators on both sides were to be bused separately after 1 a.m. EDT to the prison grounds, where cordoned-off areas separated by more than 100 yards were set up for their demonstrations.