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Few Turn Out to Protest Execution

Death penalty opponents stood for a weary chorus of "We Shall Overcome" after Timothy McVeigh's execution. Nearby, supporters of capital punishment toted signs saying "Remember the Victims" and "Thou shalt not kill and live."

The two sides — in numbers far smaller than originally expected — were separated by 400 yards of orange snow fencing and armed guards.

Unitarian minister Bill Breeden told the crowd of about 150 abolitionists that the fight against the death penalty would continue.

"We must run with the chariot and continue this struggle until it stops," Breeden said.

A few hundred yards away, about 20 death penalty supporters let out a cheer and hugged upon hearing McVeigh had been executed Monday morning.

Prison officials had prepared for thousands of demonstrators, but they numbered about 170 at the time of the execution and quickly dispersed. Organizers said the delay from the original execution date of May 16, and the timing just days after the last court battle was dropped, were factors in cutting the turnout.

In the wee hours of the morning, candles flickered as death penalty opponents, heads bowed, sat in a circle, silently mouthing the names on a list of the 168 victims of the Oklahoma City bombing.

They remained silent for 168 minutes — one minute for each victim of the bombing.

Protesters on both sides held signs in the glare of television spotlights.

The larger contingent of death penalty opponents sat on straw bales, some holding flickering candles in milk carton holders.

"What have we accomplished by executing Timothy McVeigh now that there are 169 people dead?" asked 49-year-old Bert Fitzgerald of Madison, Ind.

Some people who oppose the death penalty make an exception for McVeigh, noted 21-year-old Eric Sears, a student at St. Louis University who came with a group from Chicago. But he said there should be no exception.

"The death penalty is vengeance. It's not justice," he said, toting a sign saying "I'm sorry Tim."

Both groups took buses from city parks to the makeshift protest grounds at the prison. Uniformed prison guards patrolled the grassy space between the two groups.

Russell Braun, 21, of Terre Haute holding a sign reading "Bye Bye Baby Killer," said he came to the prison to make sure the survivors were remembered.

"It has nothing to do with McVeigh," Braun said. "The kids could have grown up and made a difference in this world, and they weren't even given a chance."

A couple from Oklahoma City, Jon and Carrie Prough, drove 10 hours to Terre Haute to be among the group supporting the execution.

"We can give 10 hours of our lives to show people support and believe in them," said Jon Prough, 29.

About 75 death penalty opponents marched to the prison Sunday. During their three-mile march, the demonstrators carried 14-foot puppets of Uncle Sam and Jesus and banners that read "Stop the Killing."

Later Sunday, about 50 abolitionists laid out signs on the lawn of St. Mary Margaret Church, tucked in a normally quiet residential neighborhood.

Breeden, the Unitarian minister, said he believes killing McVeigh is a mistake.

"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," Breeden said.