TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - His eyes wide open and his face betraying no emotion, Timothy J. McVeigh was executed by lethal injection yesterday, six years after the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more.
Inside the death chamber at the federal prison, the last words McVeigh heard were spoken by U.S. Marshal Frank Anderson: "Warden, we may proceed with the execution."
With that, a combination of three chemicals was injected into a vein in McVeigh's right leg. The first left him unconscious. The second halted his breathing. The third stopped his heart. He was pronounced dead at 7:14 a.m. local time (8:14 a.m. EDT).
Before his execution, with his lips pressed together, McVeigh said nothing when the prison warden asked whether he had any last words. He instead kept his body rigid and his focus on the ceiling. Later, the warden released a statement from McVeigh, a transcription in his careful penmanship of the poem "Invictus."
"In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance, my head is bloodied, but unbowed," he printed under the heading, "Final Written Statement of Timothy McVeigh." He signed off: "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul."
Warden Harley Lappin said McVeigh stepped onto the execution gurney and waited for guards to apply the restraints. "Inmate McVeigh was calm throughout the entire process," Lappin said.
A short time later, President Bush said the killing of McVeigh - the first federal execution since 1963 - was justified. McVeigh, 33, was sentenced to death for plotting and carrying out the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States.
"The victims of the Oklahoma City bombing have been given not vengeance, but justice," a somber Bush said at the White House. "And one young man met the fate he chose for himself six years ago."
McVeigh had asked that two of his attorneys be among his witnesses at the execution and that one of them, Robert Nigh Jr., dispose of his cremated remains in an undisclosed place. Nigh, who had worked on last-minute appeals for McVeigh after the belated release of thousands of pages of FBI documents, appeared shaken after the execution.
The lawyer spoke of the government's death sentence with contempt and said the United States is "incapable of inflicting the death penalty in a fair manner."
"We killed Bill and Mickey's son this morning," Nigh said of McVeigh, a decorated Persian Gulf war soldier who grew up in suburban Buffalo, N.Y., the seemingly ordinary child of an auto worker and a travel agent. "We killed Timothy McVeigh, the person responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing, but we did much more than that. We also killed Sergeant McVeigh, the young man who joined the Army because he wanted to serve his country."
McVeigh approached his execution with silence and no apparent remorse. He stared into all four windows behind which the witnesses sat, then overhead at the ceiling, where a camera was beaming his image to more than 230 survivors, friends and relatives of the victims watching on closed-circuit TV in Oklahoma City.
McVeigh, who called himself a soldier in a war against an out-of-control government, sought revenge for federal raids near Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
On April 19, 1995, the second anniversary of the Waco raid, he filled a truck with ammonium nitrate and racing fuel and stood by as his bomb destroyed the Murrah building - including a day care center where 19 children died.
In a recent book, McVeigh is quoted as confessing that he masterminded the explosion. A convicted co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, is serving a life sentence in federal prison and faces a state death penalty trial in Oklahoma. A third man, Michael J. Fortier, who pleaded guilty to failing to warn authorities of McVeigh's plot and other bomb-related charges, is serving a 12-year sentence.
Before dawn yesterday, Attorney General John Ashcroft met with survivors and relatives of the victims in Oklahoma City, thanking them for their patience during the trial and the one-month delay in the execution caused by the release of previously withheld FBI documents.
McVeigh ate a last meal of two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream Sunday and spent many of his last hours watching news about his case on a television in his holding cell adjacent to the death chamber. Early yesterday, after sleeping on and off through the night, McVeigh was led into the execution chamber. As the curtains in the death chamber opened, witnesses in four rooms saw McVeigh lying on a gurney that was covered in a white sheet, looking thinner than he had during his trial in federal court four years ago. He wore a white T-shirt and was wrapped tightly in a white sheet, which covered the intravenous tubes and electrocardiogram wires. The witnesses included representatives of the government, the victims, the news media and of McVeigh.
Lappin, the warden, read the judgment against McVeigh and then signaled that the flow of deadly chemicals should begin. The warden, in a dark suit, did not look at McVeigh during the four-minute execution, according to witnesses, instead staring at the floor, his hands clasped.
McVeigh, pale with dark circles under his eyes and a crewcut, strained from under the straps of the gurney to look at his attorney and three other witnesses, nodding at them and seeming to mouth the start of the word "OK."
Then he turned to the 10 media representatives, holding their gaze and nodding at each individually, without discernible feeling.
McVeigh scanned the government officials behind plate glass, witnesses said, and made a cursory glance toward the smoked-glass window behind which sat survivors and victims' relatives, the only people he could not see.
He seemed "in control of the room," said Shepard Smith, a Fox News reporter and witness. "About 60 seconds before the first drug was administered, he stared at the ceiling and tensed his lips and kept his eyes opened and checked out. My sense was that he was killing himself instead of allowing the government to do it for him."
As the first drug was administered, witnesses said, McVeigh took a couple of deep breaths, once puffing his cheeks up with air and blowing it out. As the second and third chemicals were injected through IV tubes - the toxic combination that killed McVeigh - reporters saw McVeigh's eyes roll back slightly and grow glassy but never close.
Witnesses said there was never an exact moment when McVeigh appeared to pass from life to death, just a slow change in skin color, from pale to pasty white to light yellow. For the entire execution, they said, he lay so immobile that he barely seemed to blink.
Crocker Stephenson, a reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, said there was "no sign of suffering, no sign of discomfort, no sign of fear. There was an emotionlessness about it that I wouldn't describe as peaceful. I would describe it more as blank."
The survivors and relatives of the victims who witnessed the execution held hands and tried to support each other. "It was pretty emotional there for a few minutes," said Paul Howell, whose daughter was among the victims. "It was just a big relief, just a big sigh come over my body and felt real good."
Outside the prison, Bob Papovich, a longtime friend of McVeigh's from Michigan whom McVeigh had written from prison, recalled: "Last time he wrote me, he said, 'Perhaps it's time we cut off communications and go our separate ways.' He has a dry sense of humor like that."
Papovich said McVeigh had asked him to make the rounds yesterday in the media city that sprang up outside the prison to continue denouncing the federal government on his behalf.
"Tim wants me to spearhead an effort with the media to open all sealed court documents in his case," Papovich said. "You'd find a conspiracy there."
Scores of protesters gathered in two camps for peaceful demonstrations. Upon McVeigh's execution, anti-death penalty protesters sat in a circle in a moment of silence. The night before, the Rev. Ron Ashmore, a Roman Catholic priest who occasionally counseled McVeigh in prison, read a prayer that McVeigh had requested, from Ecclesiastes, which ended with the verse: "A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace."
About 30 minutes before his execution, McVeigh discussed his general health with a coroner, part of an unusual deal he had made with the prison to avoid an autopsy.
Nigh took possession of the body, which was to be cremated in Terre Haute. McVeigh had discussed scattering his ashes along the Erie Canal, where he walked with his grandfather as a boy, or perhaps at the site of the siege near Waco. Recognizing that many people would probably want to desecrate the place where his ashes were scattered, McVeigh asked one of his attorneys to ensure that his remains be placed in a spot that would remain a secret.