01 November 1997

To Kill a Mass Murderer

Timothy James McVeigh was tried, convicted and sentenced to death for the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, which killed 168 men, women, and children. He stood accused with Terry Lynn Nichols, and a possible third man. I imagine that every prospective juror was asked the following two questions:

Given the press coverage of this case so far, do you think you can evaluate the evidence objectively?

Well, we have the press reporting a supposed confession by Mr. McVeigh. Did he really confess? And regardless of whether he did, did the defense leak something to the press so that later they could claim that they didn't get a fair trial, or did the prosecution leak something so as to gain credibility with the public? We live in an age of what the New Testament writers called pornoia, or whoredom, in which the legal profession and the press feed off each other in such a way as to undermine public confidence in our system of justice. I think I could evaluate the evidence objectively because I don't trust a word of what I've heard or read so far.

How do you feel about sentencing someone to death for this type of crime?

I could not support the death penalty for two reasons.

The first is a matter of principle:

I think the people of the United States, and their government should avoid killing people unless it's absolutely necessary to do so. An alternative to killing Mr. McVeigh, should he be found guilty, is life imprisonment. Which should mean exactly what it says. It should be impossible for a person sentenced to life in prison to come up for parole unless the sentence is modified to read, "life in prison, but with possibility of parole after twenty years, or age seventy, whichever comes last," or something similar. The only real reason to kill Mr. McVeigh, if he is found guilty, is because we fear that we do not have the will to keep him in prison, which means that we will be killing Mr. McVeigh because of our own character flaws, rather than his. It is also arrogant -- by killing Mr. McVeigh we would be denying that we have the same inner demons that he has, all the while enjoying the act of letting those demons have him as their victim.

The second is a matter of fairness:

The ways we kill convicted criminals — poison gas, electrocution, lethal injection — are far more gentle than the kinds of death nature has in store for most of the rest of us. I have even had lethal injections given to my sick and aged pets as acts of mercy. I would rather make a mass murderer wait in prison to take his or her chances with a death just as unpleasant as that which may await me, or say, my mother. I don't see that committing a heinous crime should guarantee a person a better death than the rest of us.

Editor's Note: I have since changed my mind about this after having studied and worked in the field of counter-terrorism. Kill the guy before he has a chance to publish anything or otherwise have his say.

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