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Unanimity in a Disparate Group

By William Claiborne
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 14, 1997; Page A01

DENVER, June 13 -- They are a disparate group of men and women, ranging from a gray-haired, grandmotherly Lutheran Church volunteer who said she did not know what was meant by the term "New World Order" to a 25-year-old landscape gardener who wore an earring and tied his long hair in a ponytail.

The seven men and five women on the jury that voted unanimously today to sentence Timothy McVeigh to death for the Oklahoma City bombing also included a bearded Vietnam War Navy veteran who seemed to absorb trial testimony with intensity and purpose and a young waitress who reads Glamour Magazine and whose attention seemed to wander during lengthy trial testimony.

But there was a common thread that emerged during the jury selection process: All of the future panelists said they could vote for execution if circumstances warranted. They said it would be a painfully wrenching decision if it came to it, and they also could vote for life in prison if they thought it was a punishment that fit the crime. But they did all agree that they could vote to put a human being to death, some with more qualifications than others.

In lawyers' jargon, they were a "death-qualified jury," a characterization that was obvious in the voluminous transcripts from the three-week-long voir dire, or jury selection process. Last week these men and women found McVeigh, 29, guilty on all 11 counts of murder and conspiracy in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, in which 168 people were killed.

To protect their privacy, U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch had the jurors identified only by numbers and erected a wall in the courtroom to partially obscure them. They left today, when the case ended, without saying anything publicly.

The jury foreman, Juror No. 11, a mid-thirties engineer and marketing manager who usually wore a suit in court, said he would not relish the "huge responsibility" and "very uncomfortable process" of decreeing death. But he said jurors had to filter fiction from fact and not be influenced by deft courtroom presentations. Whether the verdict was guilty or not guilty, he said, he wanted to be able to look the defendant "square in the eye and live with that ruling."

And that is exactly what Juror No. 11 did when the guilty verdicts in the first phase of the trial were read to the court June 2. He fixed a long, cold stare at McVeigh while many of his colleagues in the jury box averted their eyes from the defense table.

Juror No. 1, a grandmother in her sixties from the Denver suburb of Loveland who used to own a small ice cream store in northern Colorado, said she cried and prayed as she watched television coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing. She also recalled seeing images of McVeigh being led in an orange jumpsuit from the Perry, Okla., jail and that it saddened her "for such a young man to waste his life."

But asked by prosecuting attorney Beth Wilkinson whether she could look McVeigh in the eye and sentence him to death, she replied, "I think so." She also said, according to jury selection transcripts, that she would not waver if she alone among the jury favored a life sentence. "Oh, no, I'm too strong-headed for that," she said.

Defense attorney Stephen Jones asked her if she knew what is meant by the term "New World Order," which some anti-government militia groups apply to their perceived threat of a loss of individual freedoms. The juror replied, "No."

Juror No. 2, a teacher of learning-disabled children in Denver's most affluent suburb, said the "social worker in me" made her inclined to favor rehabilitation of criminals. But she said the McVeigh case had forced her for the first time to think seriously about the issue of capital punishment. She said that if she were certain a person had committed a heinous crime, "then I guess that would have to happen—that person would be put to death."

She also said during jury selection that McVeigh "looks like a nice kid." But during trial testimony by bombing victims, Juror No. 2, who appeared to be in her forties, was one of several panel members who cried frequently.

Juror No. 3 is a 25-year-old divorced landscape gardener for the city transit authority who has sole custody of his three children. He told Judge Matsch that he had given little thought to the death penalty before the trial, but had since decided that murderers deserve the death penalty "with very few exceptions." Those most deserving of death, he said, are criminals who "show no regard for human life" and display no remorse.

"It's kind of hard to take when you see children die," the juror said.

Juror No. 4, a blunt and outspoken elderly woman who once interrupted the judge during questioning to offer her opinions about capital punishment, said she would do a lot of praying to reach her decision, but "I'm capable of doing it as long as it's proven to me."

A retired Sears employee who was dubbed "Mrs. Doubtfire" by courtroom regulars during the seven-week trial, she drew chuckles during jury selection when she poked fun at conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

Juror No. 5, a Vietnam veteran and former appliance salesman in his forties who is pursuing a real estate license, said he had some reservations about the death penalty. But he said that if he felt it was warranted, he could sit in a jury box, look a defendant in the eye and deliver a verdict of death.

"If that was the decision I had reached, I would have no problem announcing that," he said. He said crimes deserving death include those that are "cruel and unusual" and committed coolly rather than in the heat of passion.

Juror No. 6, a computer technician who donated food and clothing to the Oklahoma City bomb victim relief effort led by his Denver-area employer, expressed no reservations about imposing a death sentence when questioned before jury impanelment.

An Air Force veteran who appeared to be in his thirties, Juror No. 6, was asked if he could be the 12th person to cast the deciding vote for execution. "If that's my choice," he replied. When asked if it could ever be his choice, he answered, "Yes."

Juror No. 7, who works as a nurse for an agency that serves the handicapped, said she would be open-minded, but that she could impose a death sentence on a criminal who killed "with a conscious effort and with intent."

"I guess my opinion was formed from realizing just how vulnerable, innocent people can be victimized. . . . And we were all vulnerable," said this juror, who appeared to be in her thirties.

She also said during jury selection that she had heard the Oklahoma City bombing suspects had some kind of link to the raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Tex., and that "the individuals charged with the crime are of the white supremacists' belief." But she insisted she would not allow that to influence her while hearing evidence in the case.

Juror No. 8, a maintenance man for a small northern Colorado grocery chain who said he reads the Bible once a week, said his test of whether the death penalty is warranted would be whether the crime was "real horrendous."

In his thirties and married to his high school sweetheart, this juror said, "If a person is truly sorry for his crime, I ought to be swayed a little bit not to give him the death penalty." When asked by defense attorney Stephen Jones during jury selection whether anything other than remorse would prompt him to be lenient, he replied, "No, that's about it."

Juror No. 9, in his thirties, is a property manager for federally subsidized apartment complexes who said he lost part of his hearing by attending concerts of the Grateful Dead rock group. He told lawyers during jury selection that he believes the death penalty is "an acceptable form of punishment" for certain offenses, particularly those "with an intent to kill."

When prosecuting attorney Patrick Ryan told him the question in the McVeigh case would be more than academic and asked whether that "sunk in," Juror No. 9 answered, "Yes, it has."

Juror No. 10, a single woman in her early twenties who moved here from Minnesota and works in a restaurant, described the death penalty as a "very personal" issue that she had not discussed with her parents or boyfriend. "You know, we haven't had any candlelight dinners about it," she told Ryan during jury selection.

However, Juror No. 10 said she believed in the biblical notion of "an eye for an eye," and that she thought she could vote for execution. "If someone is going to take another person's life, they are in essence forfeiting their own," she said.

Juror No. 12, a computer programmer in his forties who retired after 20 years in the Air Force and now works on contract with the military, said that while the death penalty should not be imposed lightly, it is a "viable means of punishment for certain crimes."

The juror, who said he sometimes listens to Rush Limbaugh and believes government should be smaller, said execution is most appropriate in particularly heinous crimes. When asked during jury selection by defense lawyer Christopher Tritico to define "heinous," he replied, "The word that pops into my mind is 'revolting.'‚"

Staff writer Lois Romano contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Co.

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