McVeigh’s day of justice

Today is the scheduled execution of Timothy J. McVeigh, the man responsible for 168 deaths in one of the worst terrorist bombings on American soil. It has been trying for the American public to understand what could possibly motivate McVeigh to commit such a heinous act. Even many who generally oppose the death penalty found it in themselves to support the government’s request for a death sentence. This entire episode of events – from the bombing and mishandling of files to the execution itself – has given American citizens some time to reflect on a multitude of issues. McVeigh’s death will bring solace and, with any luck, close the chapter on a dark part of American history.

McVeigh’s execution was originally set for May 16; however, six days before that date, the FBI turned over files to the defense which were not presented during the trial. The defense lawyer, Robert Nigh, petitioned for a stay of execution, citing the FBI files contained information that could have helped McVeigh in trial. However, with all of his appeals denied, McVeigh prepares for death. Even though the FBI acted irresponsibly by not originally turning over all the files, it appears to be unintentional and the information was inconsequential to the case.

Fortunately, the FBI took public responsibility for the mishandling of the files and turned them over, which would also overturn one of McVeigh’s beliefs, that the government is an entity interested only in suppressing the truth. However, this is by no means an attempt to excuse the FBI from such a serious blunder. The incident does shed light on the fact that there have been far too many mistakes of this kind surrounding large investigations. Those investigating and prosecuting crimes need to leave no stone unturned and follow the procedures in which they were trained, so as to avoid future mistakes.

Nothing in the files cast any doubt of McVeigh’s guilt. In the book “American Terrorist,” he admitted to the writers he was responsible for the bombing. This, in addition to other evidence brought forth in the trial, has essentially erased any doubt about his guilt. Granting a stay of execution, as his lawyers requested, would serve no purpose. In denying the request for a stay, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch stated the information contained in the files did not change the guilt of McVeigh. This is a correct assessment. Asking for the stay seems a bit uncharacteristic, especially since McVeigh was reported to have been prepared to die on his original execution date, and had previously stopped all appeals.

In an ideal situation, the death penalty would not be used as a deterrent for crime, but as a form of justice the government can use to punish those who have committed outrageous acts directed against society. As currently used, though, the death penalty, as an institution, is fraught with errors. Currently, it is more an attempt to strike fear into criminals and create a sense of closure for victims. As is, it is not fair to the victims and their family members for there to be a delay in McVeigh’s death and delay that sense of closure they may receive. Once guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, as it has been in this case, punishment should follow relatively swiftly to ensure justice for the victims and their families.

Perhaps for generations, people will be studying the life of McVeigh, attempting to dissect what occurred to turn him from a boy with a relatively normal childhood into a man who hates the government he once served. The answer may be simpler than many realize. What grew in McVeigh is the same thing that grew in students who have been shooting their classmates – hatred. It became something all consuming and eventually took over his life. The only thing that differentiates McVeigh from others is he was willing to do more than just hate. He took his anger and mistrust of the government and turned it into concrete action, an action with horrible consequences.

The system McVeigh hated has eventually proven itself to work. Missing files were found and turned over. The courts are ensuring justice for the victims and protecting the rights of the accused, while not turning the trial into a total media-run circus. McVeigh’s execution also shines a new light on the debate over the death penalty, as protesters supporting and opposing the death penalty gather in Terre Haute. His actions caused this country, and especially the residents of Oklahoma City, immense pain, but it is unlikely that his death will end the national death penalty debate, or silence the question for many as to why he felt the need to take the lives of 168 Americans in pursuit of his goals.