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Bombing jury decides McVeigh must pay with his life; appeals loom

June 14, 1997

DENVER (AP) _ His sister wept, his mother struggled to hold back tears and his father slumped in his seat. But Timothy McVeigh sat expressionless, his eyes fixed on the judge who read the jury’s decision to sentence him to death for the Oklahoma City bombing.

``It’s OK,″ McVeigh mouthed to his family as he was led out of the courtroom Friday afternoon. He held up two fingers in a small wave, and made the same gesture to the jurors who had decided he should die.

They stared blankly back.

The trial was finally over, although appeals are expected to take three years or more. The sentencing decision for murder and conspiracy came two years and 55 days after 168 people were killed and hundreds more injured in the explosion at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

The deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil shook the nation’s sense of internal security and thrust anti-government fervor squarely into the spotlight. That the 29-year-old McVeigh, a decorated Gulf War veteran with a boy-next-door look, was the suspect stunned many.

While McVeigh’s sentence will be appealed, there is yet another trial to come. McVeigh’s co-defendant, Terry Nichols, is expected to be tried later this year on the same charges.

The jury that convicted McVeigh on June 2 deliberated for more than 11 hours over two days before deciding that he should die by injection rather than spend the rest of his life in prison.

U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch said he will impose the actual sentence this summer, after a July 7 deadline for motions and appeals.

In Oklahoma City, the sentence prompted cheers from people gathered along the fence that surrounds the site where the federal building was reduced to rubble the morning of April 19, 1995.

``When Timothy McVeigh made the decision to murder, maim and destroy all these people, he gave up the right to be called a human being. Death is obviously what he should have,″ said Kathleen Treanor, whose 4-year-old daughter and in-laws were killed in the blast.

Other victims were somber.

``It’s not going to bring back my wife and lessen my loss,″ said Mike Lenz, whose pregnant wife, Carrie, was killed.

McVeigh’s lawyers had portrayed him as a misguided patriot bent on avenging the deadly government siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.

Outside the courthouse, defense attorney Stephen Jones said he accepted the jury’s decision.

``Their verdict is entitled to respect and all Americans should accord it that respect until such time if ever it is overturned by a court of competent jurisdiction,″ he said.

Prosecutor Joseph Hartzler said the sentencing decision brought no joy to his team: ``The verdict doesn’t diminish the great sadness that occurred in Oklahoma City two years ago.″

Most jurors refused to discuss the deliberations.

``I’m glad it’s complete,″ said juror David Gilger. ``I think there’s a sense of closure for everyone.″

President Clinton said the trial confirmed the country’s faith in its justice system.

Despite McVeigh’s stoic facade, Jones said it is a mistake to assume the defendant was not emotional during the trial.

``Tim McVeigh, despite all outward appearances, is a man of deep emotions, empathizes with people, shares their grief,″ Jones said in an an interview that will appear Sunday on CBS’s ``60 Minutes.″ ``Tim McVeigh is a far more complicated person than what has been projected.″

During the penalty phase of the trial, jurors were brought to tears by the stories of survivors and victims’ relatives. Parents spoke of children violently ripped from their lives. Rescuers told of having nightmares about the victims they couldn’t save. A doctor told of how he amputated a woman’s leg with a dirty pocket knife.

The defense witnesses said McVeigh was a model soldier, a good friend and happy teen-ager until his life changed after the Gulf War.

McVeigh never spoke to the jury, although his parents pleaded for his life, describing their son as a friendly, intelligent boy who cared about others.

Defense lawyers all but conceded McVeigh’s involvement in the bombing but said letting him live might provide answers to ``the rest of the story.″ They also hinted that executing McVeigh could cause more bloodshed.

``I don’t think there are people out there who believe the way this defendant believes,″ responded prosecutor Pat Ryan.

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