DENVER -- With a prosecutor urging them to "look into the eyes of the coward and tell him you will have courage," jurors began deciding yesterday if Timothy J. McVeigh should be executed for the Oklahoma City bombing.
"Tell him he is not a patriot," Beth Wilkinson, one of the government's lawyers, urged jurors in closing arguments. "He is a traitor. And he deserves to die."
But defense lawyer Richard Burr, calling McVeigh "this good young man," said jurors had to understand that McVeigh was angry because the federal government had not been held accountable for the 80 deaths in the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas.
"We all bear some responsibility for Oklahoma City," Burr said, because too few Americans questioned the actions of federal agents at Waco.
"Aren't we in some way all implicated?" he asked, looking at the jury and speaking in tones soothing as a minister's.
The jurors spent about five hours in deliberations, recessing at 5 p.m. They are not sequestered and will return this morning.
In deciding on a sentence, Judge Richard P. Matsch told the jurors, they must weigh aggravating factors, such as premeditation, against mitigating factors, including McVeigh's stellar Army service.
As to the testimony about Waco, "You and you alone will determine whether that information has any relevance," the judge said.
Last week, the same jury of seven men and five women convicted McVeigh, 29, in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. The attack, which killed 168 people and injured more than 500, was the nation's worst domestic act of terrorism.
Defense attorneys made a final effort early yesterday to convince jurors that McVeigh, a decorated Persian Gulf war veteran, should be spared.
Burr told them he hoped they had come to see McVeigh as "the young man who believed government tyranny must be resisted."
"You know that the road to Oklahoma City ran through Waco," lead defense attorney Stephen Jones said. "What a terrible price for a failure to account."
But prosecutors dismissed the Waco defense as "feeble," "pathetic," and "ridiculous."
"Don't feel any guilt at what happened at Waco," lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler told jurors. "It is not your responsibility. The truth is, he didn't want any kind of peaceful change. He wanted a bloody, violent insurrection."
Invoking the name of one of the infants who died in the blast, Wilkinson asked, "What in the world did Tevin Garrett have to do with Waco?"
Wilkinson said: "This is the crime the death penalty was designed for. If not 168, how many?"
McVeigh's parents and sister sat in the courtroom as Burr urged jurors to "struggle for higher ground," reject the death penalty and sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
McVeigh listened, as he did through most of the trial, without expression, as if he had no concerns about the proceedings.
His lawyers yesterday offered no excuses for the bombing and acknowledged for the first time that their client was responsible.
"There is no excuse," Burr said. "There is no justification. There is enormity and immensity, so much we cannot wrap our minds around it."
"He is not a demon," Jones said, "though surely his act was demonic.
"He is Everyman."
"It is a political crime," Jones said of McVeigh's attack. "It is an ideological crime."
He urged jurors to "make the first step to restore domestic tranquillity," suggesting that making McVeigh a political martyr would only provoke more violence. And he told them that "dead men do not tell tales," implying McVeigh might one day tell the whole story of the bombing.
"The chapter, the book on Oklahoma City is not closed," Jones said. "Do not close it. Let there be an accounting. It is time to find out the full truth.
"This tragedy at Waco could have been avoided. This tragedy at Oklahoma City could have been avoided."
Hartzler, however, had no patience for the Waco defense.
"Why are we talking about Waco?" he asked. "Where do we go with that argument? Timothy McVeigh bombed the Murrah building because he was angry about Waco." He paused, expressing confusion: "What? What? Waco is not on trial here."
He also waved away Jones' suggestion that McVeigh should not be executed because he might tell all in the future.
"Well, what a tease that is," Hartzler said. "He can talk now."
And he called Jones' call for jurors to restore domestic tranquillity and prevent future political violence "almost tantamount to a terrorist threat, pure intimidation."
For the past week, McVeigh's attorneys called witnesses meant to humanize McVeigh, people who recalled him as a happy child, good student and model soldier.
"You know that Tim is not an evil man but instead a man that embodies much of the best in what we call human," Burr said.
He described him in terms that might have come from a Boy Scout handbook: "An intelligent young man who is a positive thinker. He is a hard worker who eagerly takes on the hardest tasks. Tim's dependable. Tim's honest. Tim's helpful, fTC compassionate, a good friend. Tim always looked out for the underdog. Tim's funny, cheerful, happy."
But Hartzler dismissed that appeal to the jury as well.
Jurors learned he had "a great childhood," had loving parents, "ran track, had Garfield sheets and liked Pop-Tarts," Hartzler said.
"Well," he demanded, "so what?"
Lawyers who heard the closing arguments called the defense strategy unusual and risky.
"From a legal perspective, the defense closing is almost a disaster," said Andrew Cohen, a Denver trial lawyer. "You're not asking for sympathy or compassion. You're practically inflaming the jury.
"But maybe it makes sense from a political perspective," Cohen said. "Perhaps Timothy McVeigh wanted to go out making a political statement. The defense linked Waco and Oklahoma City and called Timothy McVeigh a patriot."
Hartzler's was the last voice jurors heard before they retired to decide whether McVeigh should be executed.
"It's one of those moments that calls for courage," Hartzler said. "It will be emotional. I want you to understand many of you will feel remorse. That's OK. It's OK to feel remorse.
"I'm sorry to have to ask you to do this," he said. "I'm sorry you have to do it. But you do."
Deliberations begin: Jurors deliberated nearly five hours as they consider Timothy J. McVeigh's sentence for the Oklahoma City bombing.
For death: Prosecutor Beth Wilkinson said it was time for justice. She told jurors to "look into the eyes of a coward" and make McVeigh pay with his life for the bombing that killed 168 men, women and children.
For life: Defense attorney Stephen Jones turned his closing argument into a political statement, saying that the government's deadly siege at Waco, Texas, planted the seed for the federal building blast and that McVeigh was a misguided patriot. He hinted darkly that more right-wing violence could follow if McVeigh is made a martyr.
What's next: Jury deliberations resume today.
Pub Date: 6/13/97