Robert Nigh's Statement On McVeigh

Timothy McVeigh AP

A statement from attorney Robert Nigh upon the June 11 execution of his client, Timothy McVeigh:

At 7 a.m. this morning, we killed Tim 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; the young soldier that was so dedicated to his duty that he became the top gunner in this battalion of 100.

He was the young man who took up arms on his country's behalf and traveled half-way across the world to meet and engage our enemy. He placed his own life in jeopardy because we asked him to and because he thought it was his duty to do so.

His actions were of such character that he was awarded the Bronze Star with designation of valor.

But much more importantly than any of that, what we did this morning was to kill Tim McVeigh, friend to Bob Popovic, Allen Smith and Elizabeth McDermott. We killed Bill and Mickey's son this morning. And we killed Jennifer McVeigh's big brother.

Of course, we can say that it was Tim himself that caused their pain.

And we would be half-right. But it would be a lie to say that we did not double their pain and that we are not responsible, because there is a reasonable way to deal with crime that doesn't involve killing another human being.

Although we might not express it in these terms because we know better, we might say that these people are simply collateral damage, but we know too well that there is no such thing as collateral damage. There are only real people with faces and names and loved ones who may never heal because of our actions, and that is true whether their grief was inflicted by Tim McVeigh or by federal law enforcement or by us collectively.

To the survivors in Oklahoma City who have had the courage to come out against capital punish in spite of the tremendous pain that they have suffered, I say thank you. To the victims in Oklahoma City, I say that I am sorry that I could not successfully help Tim to express words of reconciliation that he did not perceive to be dishonest. I do not fault them at all for looking forward to this day or for taking some sense of relief from it. But if killing Tim McVeigh does not bring peace or closure to them, I suggest to you that it is our fault. We have told them that we would help them heal their wounds in this way.

We have taken it upon ourselves to promise to extract vengeance for them. We have made killing a part of the healing process. In order to do that we use such terms as reasoned moral response, but I submit there's nothing reasonable or moral about what we have done today. That is true when killing a human being even means killing Tim McVeigh.

There was a time when we recognized this in our country. In 1972, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the death penalty as it existed at the time. In its concurring opinion in Furman v. Georgia, Justice Marshall wrote, "The meaure of a country's greatness is its ability to retain compassion in time of crisis.

"This is a country that stands tallest in troubled times; a country that clings to fundamental principles, cherishes its constitutional heritage and rejects simple solutions that compromise the values that lie at the roots of our democratic system. In striking down capital punishment, this court does not malign our system of government; on the contrary, it pays homage to it. In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute. We achieve a major milestone in the long road from barbarism and join the approximately 70 other jurisdictions in the world which celebrate their regard for civilization and humanity by shunning capital punishment."

There has been a movement in the states to celebrate the dignity of human life and to start a moratorium on executions. It did not come soon enough for Tim McVeigh, but it can come soon enough for others.

Where we go from here is a question of critical importance. I have told you, honestly, that Tim cared for people. And some of the people he cared deepest about were his brothers on the federal death row. Even Tim recognized that our claims that we are not racially biased are false. If we believe that, then we ignore the reality that 18 of the 20 men behind me on the federal death row in Terre Haute are persons of color. Fully 90 percent belong to a minority. If we do not acknowledge that, we are lying to ourselves about what we are doing. We are killing the poor and the minority and people that we believe to be different and lesser than ourselves.

Even in Tim McVeigh's case, to which the racial disparity doesn't apply, we were incapable of inflicting the death penalty in a fair manner.

The FBI could not participate in the prosecution without breaching its obligation to turn over the witness statements. This must make us realize that we are too fallible, we are simply too human to extract so final and irreversible a punishment.

If there is anything good that can come from the execution of Tim McVeigh, it may be to help us realize sooner that we simply cannot do this anymore. I am firmly convinced that it is not a question of if we will stop, it is simply a question of when.

Thank you all very much.



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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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