Reporter's Notebook: The Execution

001108 early show Byron Pitts CBS

"Timothy James McVeigh died with his eyes open."

That was my first public comment to the media pool after McVeigh's execution... and that's likely the memory that will linger the longest for me.

Watching this mass murderer put to death was not particularly disturbing.

I watched my grandmother die. That was painful. I watched a stranger die after a car accident occurred in front of me. That was sad.

Watching McVeigh die did not move me in any particular fashion.

Those others died through no fault of their own. McVeigh had a choice.

I remember after the bombing in 1995 when I saw pictures of all the children, I cried. I'd never cried during any story assignment before or since.

I didn't shed a tear for "inmate McVeigh" as the warden always referred to him. I'm not sure I ever will.

Shortly after 7am central time on June 11th, the curtains in the Federal "Execution Facility" pulled back. There, strapped to a gurney, under a white sheet pulled to his neck, was the prisoner convicted of killing 168 people, 19 of them children. For nearly six years McVeigh said he acted as 'a soldier.'

Those last few minutes he did not look like a soldier, but rather a sick young man. He'd lost a considerable amount of weight. His skin was pasty. His eyes dark and deep set.

He did make eye contact with each of the media witnesses. He looked first to his supporters in a separate room. He appeared to mouth the words "I'm O.K." McVeigh also looked to his right where the relatives of the victims and the survivors were watching. They could see him. He couldn't see them.

Moments later, McVeigh put his head back against the gurney.

The warden spoke up and said "Inmate McVeigh, you may make your last statement."

For nearly 12 seconds we waited. He looked like he wanted to say something. In the end he remained silent.

Earlier, McVeigh had given the warden a hand written statement. The warden passed it out after the execution.

It was the 19th century English poem "Invictus."

The last line read "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." I was struck by how neatly McVeigh wrote. Penmanship that would make any teacher proud.

There were three people in the actual "death chamber" - McVeigh, the warden and the U.S. Marshal.

The marshal picked up a red phone and talked with someone from the Justice Department. He hung up the phone and said "Warden you may proceed with the execution".
7:10am - the first drug put McVeigh to sleep.
7:11am - the second drug stopped his breathing.
7:13am - the third and final drug stopped his heart.

The warden said "Inmate McVeigh died at 7:14am central daylight time."

Prison officials walked us out of the "Execution Facility" a few moments later. It was a house without windows. McVeigh didn't open any windows to his soul there either.

About 28 people watched McVeigh die. All of us saw something dfferent, felt something different. But we all agree: "He died with his eyes open."


By Byron Pitts
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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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