Prison Seeks Normalcy Despite McVeigh
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – Despite the excitement surrounding the Monday execution of Timothy McVeigh, guards are hoping to prevent day-to-day prison life from getting out of control. They are doing all they can to promote a sense of normalcy and make sure inmates stick to their daily routines.
The city of Terre Haute, 60,000 strong, is being transformed by an influx of news agencies covering the first federal execution since 1963. Outside the prison’s barbed-wire fence, a veritable media circus has taken shape. Tents housing staffers have sprouted like mushrooms, and broadcast journalists can be seen applying makeup on the steps of trailers that act as temporary newsrooms.
So that inmate emotions aren’t fueled by the frenzy in their midst, prison officials are trying to keep life inside the federal penitentiary predictable and mundane.
"We want to make sure the institution is operating as normally as possible," said U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokesman Dan Dunne. He said that a facility-wide lockdown the night prior to execution would be enforced so inmates can watch all of the NBA Finals game.
Most of the 1,300 prisoners spend their days adhering to a rigorous schedule. They rise and tidy their cells around 5:30 a.m., eat breakfast, then head off to various prison jobs. At 4 p.m. they go back to their individual cells for a head count, then either attend classes or participate in recreational activities during the evening. They are locked up by 11 p.m., and remain in their cells until the routine starts again the next day.
The prisoners can watch television, so on Friday they were well aware that McVeigh was awaiting transfer to the brick building where he'll be executed.
The 33-year-old Gulf War veteran, who abandoned all his appeals, is slated to die by lethal injection at 7 a.m. Monday. Officials said they have already received the chemicals that will be used for the execution.
It is expected that McVeigh will be transported from his cell to the site of the execution no later than Sunday morning, or 24 hours before the scheduled execution time, in accordance with federal execution protocol. Because of security concerns, authorities would not divulge the exact time McVeigh would be moved. A videotape will be made of the transfer and then turned over to the media, but McVeigh's face will not be seen on the tape.
"He has not agreed to his photo being taken, so we cannot show him," Dunne said. "But we will show the vehicle."
McVeigh has stayed in the federal death row Special Confinement Unit since July 1999, when he and the 19 other men facing federal death sentences were moved to Terre Haute.
A complication arose Friday, when a federal judge in Pittsburgh ordered that the execution be videotaped as evidence for a case that claims the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. An appeals judge delayed the order and a panel of judges later overturned it, preventing the videotaping.
Author Gore Vidal, one of the people the condemned man selected to watch his death, said he would not be in attendance. The warden can decide whether McVeigh is allowed to substitute another witness, according to Jim Cross, special assistant at the federal prison.
McVeigh was convicted of murder and sentenced to death for the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building that killed 168 people. He is by far the most notorious prisoner on federal death row.
The execution process will begin when McVeigh steps outside the Special Confinement Unit in a swarm of guards. He'll be dressed in a khaki jumpsuit with shackles binding his arms and legs, but will not wear a bulletproof vest. The guards will primarily be from other federal prisons, so those who have come to know McVeigh won't be involved.
"There's a team of people who've been formulated for the purpose of this execution," Dunne said. "They've been trained here, we've done mock exercises, and we're training this week, just to ensure that everything is done in a coordinated manner."
Once outside, McVeigh will be whisked into a prison transport van, its windows covered with secure metal grills.
Prisoners will not be able to watch his brief ride to the death house, which is only 500 yards away.
The van will approach a 2,100-square-foot, single-story brick building surrounded by barbed-wire fence. The guards will hurry McVeigh inside, then escort him to a cell where he will be under constant surveillance.
A final meal of his choosing will be served at noon on Sunday. Dunne said McVeigh has not yet selected his meal. He'll be allowed to eat standard prison fare Sunday evening and the morning of the execution, if he chooses.
After the execution, his death will be announced to the prison inmates, at which point officials hope prison life will proceed as usual.
The Associated Press contributed to this report