Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Killing McVeigh

Killing McVeigh: The Death Penalty and the Myth of Closure

Jody Lyneé Madeira
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 336
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Killing McVeigh
    Book Description:

    On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh detonated a two-ton truck bomb that felled the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. On June 11, 2001, an unprecedented 242 witnesses watched him die by lethal injection. In the aftermath of the bombings, American public commentary almost immediately turned to closure rhetoric. Reporters and audiences alike speculated about whether victim's family members and survivors could get closure from memorial services, funerals, legislation, monuments, trials, and executions. But what does closure really mean for those who survive - or lose loved ones in - traumatic acts? In the wake of such terrifying events, is closure a realistic or appropriate expectation? In Killing McVeigh, Jody Lynee Madeira uses the Oklahoma City bombing as a case study to explore how family members and other survivors come to terms with mass murder. As the fullest case study to date of the Oklahoma City Bombing survivors' struggle for justice and the first-ever case study of closure, this book describes the profound human and institutional impacts of these labors to demonstrate the importance of understanding what closure really is before naively asserting it can or has been reached.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2454-5
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. The Oklahoma City Bombing: A Time Line
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xix-xxviii)
  6. 1 “A Rude Awakening”: The Origins of the Victim-Offender Relationship
    (pp. 5-18)

    On April 21, 1995, Timothy McVeigh and his law enforcement escort emerged from the dim confines of the Noble County Courthouse into the bright sunshine of a beautiful day in Perry, Oklahoma. A little more than six years later, he was executed in the early morning hours of June 12, 2001. But between these bookend dates, the worlds of Oklahoma City bombing victims’ families and survivors shifted dramatically. McVeigh morphed from a spare and mysterious young man to a very visible perpetrator who collaborated with biographers to ensure that he left little doubt as to why—at least in his...

  7. 2 “He Broke into My Life”: Experiencing the Victim-Offender Relationship
    (pp. 19-37)

    McVeigh’s perp walk identified him as the principal suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing and also inserted him as an intensely unwelcome, even toxic, intrusion into survivors’ and family members’ lives. Most felt that McVeigh had not only disrupted their lives but also desecrated their physical and emotional integrity. This acute sense of violation was so strong that a few family members and survivors analogized it to rape. Experiencing McVeigh as a toxic intrusion entailed feelings of helplessness and passivity, rooted in the perception that McVeigh was at least temporarily in the driver’s seat. Recovering one’s identity and restoring one’s...

  8. 3 Opening Up “Closure”: Redefining a Controversial Term
    (pp. 38-60)

    Because they disturbed, inflamed, and frustrated family members and survivors, the Oklahoma City bombers’ toxic presences commenced and compelled a quest for “closure.” The application of this term in the Oklahoma City context raised a host of other issues, in particular the controversial assertion that McVeigh’s execution would provide closure by soothing victims’ troubled souls.

    When the news broke in April 2001 that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft would allow family members and survivors in Oklahoma City to view McVeigh’s impending execution via closed-circuit television, the question of whether the execution would provide closure was on everyone’s mind. Media outlets...

  9. 4 “We Come Here to Remember”: Joining Advocacy Groups
    (pp. 63-94)

    The murder of Cameron Crawford’s sibling in the Oklahoma City bombing opened deep fissures in his life. Not only did Crawford have to deal with the death of a beloved sibling and adjust to the idea that a terrorist attack had struck Oklahoma City of all places, but Crawford’s family began to disintegrate shortly after the attacks. His parents, both very private people, remained segregated from other families even in the bombing’s aftermath. Crawford struggled with a profound need to talk to others about his murdered sibling, but with his family relations closed down, he was unsure of where to...

  10. 5 “God Bless the Media”: Negotiating News Coverage
    (pp. 95-117)

    In the bombing’s aftermath, the media were largely responsible for piecing together the fragments of its evolving story, investigating the suspects, their motivations, their families, and their life histories, repeatedly airing photographs of McVeigh’s perp walk and the Murrah Building ruins. McVeigh chose the Murrah Building in part because its open design would afford news organizations ample opportunity to obtain the photographs and television footage necessary to adequately convey the full extent of the damage.¹ In essence, McVeigh was counting on the media to cement the bombing’s place in American memory. And they did not disappoint.

    But the media also...

  11. 6 “Making Sure Justice Was Served”: Pursuing Accountability
    (pp. 118-130)

    In the years preceding McVeigh’s trial, family members and survivors anticipated the day when “justice would be served.” All could agree on the need for accountability; all wanted McVeigh to be held responsible for his role in the bombing. However, beyond the threshold issue of the need for accountability, family members and survivors negotiated the criminal justice system in different ways and held diverse opinions on participation, appropriate sentences, the desirability of state trials as supplements to federal proceedings, and the necessity of attending trials and McVeigh’s execution.

    When opening statements began inUnited States v. Timothy McVeighon April...

  12. 7 Emotion on Trial: Prosecuting Timothy McVeigh
    (pp. 133-160)

    Family members and survivors had yearned for Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols to be put on trial ever since their arrests. They longed to hear the evidence against the suspects, gather information, make their presence felt in the courtroom, watch the defendants’ reactions and behaviors, and most of all, “see justice done.” But in the months leading up to these proceedings, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, charged with overseeing the trials of McVeigh and Nichols, transferred the trial from Oklahoma to Denver, Colorado, refused to permit the trial to be broadcast via closed-circuit television back to Oklahoma City, and announced...

  13. 8 Reaching Law’s Limits: Trying Terry Nichols and Welcoming the McVeigh Jury to Oklahoma City
    (pp. 161-183)

    After the jury convicted Timothy McVeigh and sentenced him to death, family members and survivors felt that they had witnessed the ideal exercise of justice, the outcome of fair, measured, and deliberate processes. But in Terry Nichols’s federal trial, many would feel that justice remained elusive, leaving Nichols to dangle like an untied shoelace until his state trial in Oklahoma in 2004. In addition, following Nichols’s federal trial, bombing victims worked to bring the McVeigh jurors to Oklahoma City, discovering in the process that memory work left incomplete at trial could be accomplished by meeting and speaking with the 12...

  14. 9 The Storm before the Calm: Awaiting McVeigh’s Execution
    (pp. 184-200)

    Over the years since the bombing, family members and survivors had been forced to negotiate involuntary, unwelcome, and toxic ties to the perpetrators and had found McVeigh particularly troublesome because of his defiance and conspicuousness. Thus, as his execution approached, most felt that it would be a means of ending McVeigh’s visibility or even his pernicious hold over their lives and emotions. Some victims dared to hope that his execution would facilitate more dramatic therapeutic evolutions such as that from victim to survivor. That grim event would indisputably have significant institutional consequences. It marked not only the moment when the...

  15. 10 The Weight of an Impossible World: McVeigh Confronts His Public Image
    (pp. 201-220)

    In the years preceding his execution, not only was McVeigh a toxic presence in bombing victims’ lives; they were also a devastating presence in his. Immediately after his arrest, victims had criticized McVeigh’s unemotional and defiant persona; later, they protested the utter implausibility of his insistence that the Oklahoma City bombing was a military attack, with victims’ deaths constituting “collateral damage.” News media broadcast and built upon these remarks, forming them into a formidable public representation of McVeigh that was malicious, even monstrous. McVeigh responded to this treatment with a slew of media interviews and an authorized biography.

    Over the...

  16. 11 Done to Death: The Execution and the End of the Victim-Offender Relationship
    (pp. 221-258)

    Timothy McVeigh was executed in the early morning hours of June 12, 2001, necessitating that family members and survivors who would witness his death live begin the long journey from Oklahoma City and elsewhere to Terre Haute, Indiana, the day before. Every witness who embarked on this momentous trip—whether they were to witness the execution live or remotely, or were just planning to stand outside the prison—found that it had its bizarre moments. Live witness Paul Howell literally packed his suitcase while two journalists filmed his activities. The morning that he was to leave, Howell stepped outside of...

  17. Conclusion: McVeigh Memorialized
    (pp. 259-274)

    It is clear now, more than 15 years after the Oklahoma City bombing and 10 years after McVeigh’s execution, that although memories of McVeigh and his coconspirators have faded, their presences have not been altogether banished. Attention has now shifted from the duties of prosecution and execution to the difficult task of incorporation—how best to acknowledge and explain the role that McVeigh, Nichols, and Fortier played in the bombing without giving them further credit or airtime. This task has challenged family members, survivors, and Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum personnel to negotiate the perpetrators’ presences in new and...

  18. Appendix: Methodology
    (pp. 275-278)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 279-306)
  20. Index
    (pp. 307-320)
  21. About the Author
    (pp. 321-321)