The Death Penalty And Timothy McVeigh

Executions at one time were a ritualistic way for a small community to cleanse itself with full participation of the population from oldest to youngest. The putting to death not only served to rid the society of criminals and wrong doers, but also served as a way to rid the people of 'sin', and release built up angers and resentments.

Stoning, which entailed the community throwing stones at the criminal until death, was one of the earliest forms of execution and though violent the act united the people against the offender. Being a confirmation of community life, executions served a useful purpose in these simpler civilizations.

Hangings began at a later time and took on a more carnival like aspect. The word gala comes from 'gallows'. They were public events and many people would come from miles around to view the spectacle. The people were calm and for the most part peaceful. Some even made a picnic day of it. There were stalls where some sold their wares.

The transgressors were often entreated to add a little something such as a speech or act brave to the very end. Some were even tutored to say particular things to the people and the religious leaders would often use the executions as a way to bring home their points of salvation in the pulpits or even on the gallows before the hangings.

As mankind grew more 'civilized' and civilization became larger and larger the people became more apt to violence and some even fought over the dead bodies of the executed and kept or sold them as souvenirs. As the communities grew and the level of educated individuals grew amongst the people, the crowds became more violent. The hangings sometimes caused more mayhem in the populace than the crimes that the convicted had committed.


D. Moore

Over time, the powers that be decided that the executions needed to be a more private affair to lend a certain dignity to a rather grim event. The prisoners were kept away from the public except for a chosen authoritative group such as mayors, lawyers, and other professionals. They served as witnesses to the death of the convicted.

United States laws are based on English laws. As such, our laws are more complicated than those of earlier civilizations, because the English laws are much older than most and some of them evolved from the Romans during their years of conquest and long reign.

As time progressed, it seemed that the accused more and more time to appeal and the court systems became overworked with the large number of court cases to be heard. The longer it takes for the accused to come to trial for their crimes, the longer they sit on Death Row.

An inmate's time on Death Row is akin to a living death. They wait for their time to die day in and day out; with appeal after appeal, hoping for that stay of execution and a turn about from the death sentence to life imprisonment.

Some spend years on Death Row. Sometimes decades. They die a slow agonizing spiritual death little by little, month by month, year by year. They spend most of their time alone without human contact or company.

Some death row inmates go mad, and some even manage to find ways to commit suicide. Their time on Death Row is a hopeless existence; living in constant fear and treated as less than human by the staff and their peers.

The early executions were swift, usually within hours and sometimes minutes of the culprits capture. Now it sometimes takes a lifetime, for the moment they dread to take place.

There are many opinions on whether or not the death penalty is right. A common argument is based on the question: Do we have the right as a civilized people to condemn someone to death? Ask the victims' families of the Oklahoma bombing.

Should it be an eye for an eye or live and let live? In this country, a person will only get the death penalty for murder. In the past, it was also possible to be sentenced to death for rape, but that was found to be unconstitutional, and that the punishment was far worse than the crime.

There are no more hangings and no more firing squads. Now there are only three forms of execution: the electric chair, which seems to be going out of fashion, the gas chamber, and the most 'humane' form, lethal injection. This is what is waiting for McVeigh.

Who is Timothy McVeigh? We all know that he is accused in the Oklahoma bombing that killed 168 people, a lot of them children. But who is he as a person?

At one time, McVeigh hoped to have a career in the military. He had always held a fascination for guns. After joining the Army, he found himself awkward in social settings, so he would stay on base reading his 'Soldiers of Fortune' magazines while his mates went out to the clubs. He washed out of the Green Berets after two days which changed his attitude about the military and he fell apart.

McVeigh quit the service and wandered the country until he met up with Nichols, an old Army buddy. McVeigh sold weapons at gun shows but complained that the government had too much control. The passage of the Brady gun control bill convinced him that the government had too much control. The passage of the Brady gun control bill convinced him that the government had taken the rights of American citizens away from them. Because of the Waco tragedy between the government and the Branch Davidians, he decided to get revenge against the government by targeting the Alfred P. Murrah federal building. (At first it was planned to assassinate Janet Reno, but it was decided that would be too difficult.)

With Nichols, together they cased the building and made the explosives that would later be the means that killed innocent 168 people, which included 19 children, on April 19, 1995.

Now the debate seems to be whether the victims' families should be allowed to view the death of the man found guilty of killing their loved ones. Is this the next stage of our execution progression? Televised executions?

Many people will be protesting the execution. Many will be waiting for the word of his death. What will the families be doing?

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Our Cover Story continues with:'An Outsider's View'

Research material for the story on this page was found in these wonderful books:

Death Work by Robert Johnson - Wadsworth Pub. Co. ISBN 053452155X
Death in The Dark by John D. Bessler - Northeastern Univ. Press ISBN 1555533574

And at the following website which is full of interesting information:


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Front Cover July-August 2001