NEW YORK – When Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh dies by lethal injection on May 16, it will be the closest thing to a public execution that America has experienced in many decades.
But experts are split on whether McVeigh's death will truly bring satisfaction to the more than 200 bombing survivors and relatives who will now see it.
"I would expect that the people still looking for closure aren't going to find it," said Richard Small, a psychologist and grief counselor from Reading, Pa. "But the people who already felt good about him being found guilty may be further satisfied."
The execution is scheduled for 7 a.m. EST at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. The closed-circuit telecast -- open to those wounded in the 1995 bombing and to relatives of the 168 people killed -- will be at an as-yet-undisclosed location in Oklahoma City.
Psychologist Laurence Miller of Boca Raton, Fla., who works frequently with crime victims and police agencies, said watching the execution could be cathartic -- in a positive way -- for those who choose to watch.
"In a perverse way, the bombing survivors are actually lucky because they have the opportunity for a kind of closure that very few violent crime victims ever get," Miller said. "It's one of the few cases where there actually is a beginning, a middle and an end."
Miller suggested that other Americans affected directly or indirectly by violent crime may have an emotional stake in the execution.
"Those who don't get that kind of closure are identifying with these survivors -- 'We'll join in with you. We want to see one instance where justice is actually carried out,"' he said. "It's a societal type of closure, a closure for us all."
Miller cautioned, however, that watching the execution could be traumatic. "Even if it's something they want to do, many are going to need some kind of help," he said.
Maurice Warner, a mental health counselor at the University of Washington, said he doubted watching McVeigh die would bring many viewers relief from the pain the bombing caused them.
He also suggested that some family members might feel their privacy is violated by the intense national attention on the execution.
"People very often feel trashed in their personal issues of loss, when you have all these strangers tromping on what has affected their lives," Warner said. "Their experience is so unique, and they would be very aware of the intrusion by people who presume to know what it's like."
Carl Shubs, a psychologist in Beverly Hills, Calif., who often works with crime victims, predicted that the execution would not lose its power even when viewed from afar on closed-circuit TV.
"We take people on TV into our living room -- there's a personal relationship that we have with people on TV," Shubs said. "So in that sense, the execution has the capacity to be a very personal experience."
Small, the psychologist from Reading, said he worried that McVeigh's lethal injection was evolving into an inappropriately public event.
"This is becoming a public execution," he said. "Up to now, executions in no way have been a show. But now we're opening something up. If this is a catharsis for these survivors, why not for the rest of the city, the rest of the country. We should be cautious about seeing executions as therapeutic for the victims."