At the Scene of the Tragedy,
By Bill McAllister
An Easing of the Pain
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 14, 1997; Page A09
OKLAHOMA CITY, June 13—Moments after Timothy J. McVeigh was sentenced to death today for bombing the federal building here, Cathleen Trainer, who lost her daughter, mother-in-law and father-in-law in the explosion, embraced Catherine Alaniz, whose father died in the bombing.
"We got him," Trainer whispered.
Gathered by the concrete remains of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, survivors of the explosion that killed 168 people here two years ago erupted into a lusty cheer this afternoon as word of the death sentence was relayed from a Denver courtroom.
Some of the survivors and their families unfurled an American flag that had flown over the Murrah site the day McVeigh's trial began and burst into a chorus of "God Bless America."
They praised the jury for a punishment that most of them said will ease—but not end—the wounds caused by what prosecutors described as the worst act of terrorism in American history.
"I have a hard time saying I want him to die," said Glenda Riley, who survived the blast that killed 35 of her co-workers at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. "But there isn't any place on earth for him. . . . He had used up all his time and space on this earth."
"It was the least he deserved," said Jacque Walker, who lost a pregnant niece in the explosion.
Trainer, who testified during the penalty phase of the trial, had no doubts about today's verdict. "I looked at the jurors' faces and I could see he was a dead man," she said. "They had nothing but contempt for him.
"I look at him as less than a human," she said. "When he made the conscious decision to kill these people and to maim and destroy others, he ceased becoming human. He became an animal and, in my opinion, when an animal kills a human being, they deserve death. So he got what he justly deserves."
Even death penalty foe Bud Welch, whose daughter died in the explosion and who was one of the few family members of victims to speak publicly against executing McVeigh, accepted the verdict.
"I don't disagree with the jury," he said. "They just followed the law. I disagree with the law.
Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy came to the Murrah building site to tell survivors and reporters that he would continue to press his plans to try McVeigh separately in Oklahoma City on state murder charges. He said that such a trial would not begin until "possibly in November, at the earliest."
The federal death penalty under which McVeigh was convicted for the murders of federal law enforcement officers is relatively new and untested in the appeals courts, the prosecutor said. He added that about 26 percent of all death sentences are overturned on appeal.
Some of the survivors said they did not want more trials. "I don't need it," said Riley. "It will put more strain on the people of Oklahoma City."
"Anyone that can kill 168 lives doesn't deserve a life. They forfeited that," said Sharon Madearis, whose husband Claude Madearis, a Customs Service agent, was one of the eight law enforcement officers McVeigh was convicted of killing. Today, her daughter was wearing her father's ring as she awaited the verdict with her fingers crossed.
"It's not going to close anything," Sharon Madearis said of the death penalty verdict. "It's been two years, two long years. It's time to start moving on."
Dawn DeArmon, whose mother, a federal credit union worker, died in the explosion, said the verdict would send a message "to other people who believed like him: You cannot do this. If you do, you are going to give up your life. We're not going to tolerate this. . . . The jury did a wonderful job by saying it's not okay."
"This doesn't close the door on the whole thing," Walker said. "It's just another day and I don't think there will be a closure. There will always be some healing to do."
As the jury began deliberations, some of the survivors expressed sympathy for the difficult decision that the panel of seven men and five women would have to make.
"I'm not a vengeful guy who wants to see someone put to death," said Jim Denny, whose two children were among the six youngsters in the building's day care center to survive. "The guilty verdict meant we have a terrorist off the streets. That was good enough for me."
A steady stream of visitors stopped by the Murrah Building site now little more than a chain-link fence surrounding a lush, green lawn and the building's gray concrete foundation. The fence has become a shrine to the victims. Teddy Bears, T-shirts and license plates adorn the fence in tribute to the dead.
For many it is an emotional stop, one that several Oklahoma residents said they have made repeatedly since the bombing.
"I just wanted to take pictures," said Shannon Logan, 21, of Lawton as she held her 8-month-old son. "The day care has torn me up . . . all the children."
The buildings still standing near the Murrah site bear the scars of the bombing. Plywood covers the windows of the First United Methodist Church and the condemned YMCA building. And the false front is peeling off the twisted remains of the abandoned, red brick offices of the Oklahoma water board.
"It makes Oklahoma City ugly, real ugly," said Lisa Steffes, 21, of Norman, Okla., whose neighbor lost a 6-month-old child in the explosion.
A large monument is planned for the site, but today the unadorned site and the many tributes to youngsters that line the fence move many visitors to tears.
"There is nothing like seeing it in person. It just brings it all to you," said Margaret Stinson of Farmington, N.M., who said television had not prepared her for the emotional impact of the fence.
"There are just so many people who lost loved ones and it shows the caring," agreed Francine Sooter of Tishomingo, Okla., her voice breaking with emotion as she put down her video recorder.
Then, she spoke of McVeigh: "He just sat there so cold. At lease he could have shown that he had a heart."