I know I was sadly disappointed, and no doubt millions of Americans like me were extremely disappointed about the pathetic way the federal government dealt with mass murderer Timothy McVeigh. Frankly, the government let a singular opportunity for entertainment just slip away.
The timing could not have been more fortuitous—right in the middle of the summer blockbuster movie season. Pearl Harbor had opened just weeks before. Shrek was wooing young audiences all over while Nicole Kidman’s sexy performance in Moulin Rouge baffled us all about Tom Cruise’s sexuality. It was June after all. Could the execution have been timed better? Tomb Raider and Atlantis were set to open on Friday, with Jurassic Park III waiting in the wings.
I was certain that the execution had been moved from its original date of May 16th to June 11th in order to take advantage of the public’s appetite for summer entertainment. I don’t think any of us really bought the story about the FBI mysteriously forgetting to turn in 4,000 pages of important investigation related documents anyhow. No, the real intent behind the government’s sheepish admission was to place the execution right in the middle of America’s picnic table, an entrée in America’s summer entertainment feast.
The federal government killed Timothy McVeigh all right, but they were outright wimpy about it. I mean the truth is, if you’re going to ignore all those left wing, pinko-commie, tree-hugging, pro-abortion, pro-gay, marijuana smoking, free-love activists and kill a man, you might as well do it right. Lethal injection—please!
Where’s the entertainment there? I didn’t see the execution, but if the boring newspaper and television accounts of that moment shortly after 7 a.m. were accurate, I didn’t miss anything. All that hype—and the show was a dud. The American media, as typical, did its best to milk the event for all they could, but there was nothing there. It had to be the most boring execution in history. Who was the director anyway?
I don’t have a whole lot of experience at it, but I could have directed that show better. I could have made that execution the bomb. No lethal injection—wouldn’t have even considered it.
First of all, I’d have to cast the show. I would have hired one of those secret government doctors. We all know they exist—those scary amoral doctors trained by the CIA to extract information from traitors and spies—I would have made that doctor, whom I’ll affectionately call Dr. Botha (after one of my favorite torturers), the star.
During the weeks leading up to the execution, Botha would make an appearance on Larry King Live to talk about his expertise at torment and persecution. America would salivate at the possibilities and the prospect of watching this fiend work on McVeigh. Then Botha would have to go on Oprah to discuss his painful childhood, endearing him to liberal women all over the country.
Just for kicks, ol Botha could make a surprise guest appearance on Fraiser as Daphne’s loveable Uncle Buck, and he could be gay (but not in real life). And finally, CNN could bring Bernard Shaw back to interview three of Botha’s victims before arranging a traumatic face-to-face encounter.
Death, torture, execution—all heavy subjects. So I, like every good director, would realize the need for comic relief. It would probably take some big money negotiations with federal prison officials in Terra Haute, but I think they’d do it. Just for the duration of the execution, I would replace the regular warden with a plucky, jive-talking stand-in.
I’d probably get Eddie Murphy, that wonderful Negro comic who was the jackass in Shrek. America could take bets on whether or not, one-on-one, in an enclosed cell, Eddie could make Timothy McVeigh smile or crack up laughing. I’d put my money on the colored guy. And when McVeigh asked for two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream as his last meal, a snickering Eddie could direct marshals at the prison to secretly replace the chocolate with ex-lax.
Everyone in America except McVeigh could be in on the joke as he squirmed in the chair while trying to face execution stoically. He could claim to be captain of his soul, but that ex-lax would be the master of his fate. I’d direct the cameraman to get a close-up of the sudden alarm on his trademark stony face, his darting eyes making for raucous laughter for audiences across the country. He’d be funnier than Jim Carey as he writhed about, strapped in that chair.
Only then would I bring Dr. Botha in to begin his brilliant performance. If I still had money left in my budget, I’d cast a scantily clad, gun-toting Angelina Jolie/Lara Croft as his trusty assistant. Beside the doctor as he sat, would be a rack containing hundreds of instruments of torture. There would be drills of varying sizes, ball-pein hammers, long-nose pliers, cattle prods, bamboo razors, nail guns, hot pepper oil-filled douche bags—you name it.
Smiling pleasantly, Angelina would spin a large wheel that displayed many of the instruments on the racks and all America would wait breathlessly until it stopped. A ball-pein hammer! At that point, the good doctor would take a small hammer, walk over to McVeigh and slam the pein savagely onto his kneecap, completely obliterating it, giving a whole new meaning to “collateral damage.”
Naturally, McVeigh would groan aloud in pain as tears ran down his face and the seat area of the orange prison jumpsuit became suddenly darker. Next spin—Icepick! Thus demonstrating his versatility as an artist, Botha would place the pick in McVeigh’s ear and gently pierce his eardrum. A trickle of blood would drip onto his neck. The pain would be horrendous, causing the prisoner to scream aloud, much to the delight of victims’ families who would be allowed to watch from an observation area.
When the cheering stopped, Angelina would be peddling a cycle/generator as Botha placed the arcing prods at McVeigh’s crotch. When McVeigh screamed aloud, the doctor, in a clever, sophisticated move, would slip a pair of long-nosed pliers into McVeigh’s mouth and could clamp on the third molar on the bottom right jaw.
Putting his foot against his victim’s throat, Botha would yank as hard as he could. Despite his athleticism, the doctor would fall sprawling to the floor as the tooth, root and dangling nerves left McVeigh’s mouth, a surge of blood spilling over the prisoner’s quivering lip. According to my script, only after the doctor began drilling a 3/8th inch hole in McVeigh’s right elbow would McVeigh move the action toward a conclusion.
“Okay! Okay! I’ll say it!”
“You’ll zay vhat?” Botha would answer as he squeezed with all his might, the pliers clamping on McVeigh’s big toe.
“I’ll say I’m sorry! I’ll say it!”
Gripping McVeigh’s hand, the doctor, prepared to insert a bamboo razor under the thumbnail, would warn.
“Then zay it, and it better be goot or else.”
At this point, all the networks would be notified that a McVeigh apology was forthcoming. Cameras would close to a head-and-shoulders shot of McVeigh as he panted there, fearful of the bamboo razor off-camera. Seemingly heartfelt tears would be steaming down his face as he turned toward America.
“I’m sorry I did it! I’m so, so sorry I did it! I’ll never do it again!”
And that would be enough. There might be a few skeptics out there who might think he wouldn’t mean it, but that undue cynicism wouldn’t matter to many of the friends and relatives of victims looking on. They wouldn’t care if he meant it—just hearing it would feel good. And over time, we have to consider the awesome power of television. Played over and over again on TV—anything, even the most blatant lie—becomes the truth. A television news editor told me that.
Anyway, revenues for the rights I could sell to the taped confession, the books, the “making-of” documentary and un-edited, un-cut movie would more than pay my expenses. After I paid for the prison privileges, for Murphy, for Jolie, for the doctor and for the production crew, I’d probably still have enough money to launch a Hollywood company that produced execution entertainment on a regular basis. I’d at last be the media mogul I’ve always dreamed of being.
But leave it to the federal government to ruin it for me. How did they punish a horrible man who on April 19th, 1995, consciously set out to kill and maim people? How did they punish this man who bombed a federal building, killing 168 persons, including 19 children, wounded more than 500 and caused pain and suffering in thousands more who lost loved ones?
They gave him what he asked for. They gave him the easy way out. They let him retain his hate, his anger and arrogance to the end, completely assured that he would die a calm, peaceful, painless and remorseless death. Now where’s the equity in that? Where’s the justice?
When I realized the execution date had been moved to June 11th, in the middle of the summer blockbuster movie season, I made several attempts to contact government officials in Washington in order to make a pitch for me directing the show. They were no better than the folks in Hollywood—all I got was hang-up after hang-up. That’s when I got really pissed off. If they weren’t going to let me do my treatment, they could have at least done something better than a lethal injection!
You think families watching that painless, remorseless lethal injection got any satisfaction from it. Hell no they didn’t! Just ask them. Ask persons who lost children to the action of that sick asshole if they consider lethal injection collateral damage. Ask a woman who lost a husband if she feels justice was served. Ask a boy who’ll never grow up with a father if he feels a sense of equity has been achieved. Ask a grandmother who’s lost two grandbabies if giving McVeigh exactly what he wanted somehow makes everything better. Take a poll, and you’ll find many of those people are left feeling unsatisfied. You’ll find that they would prefer my show to the one the government put on.
But I don’t completely blame the federal government. They’re a government of all the people—so try as they may, they can’t ignore the protests and antics of all those left wing, pinko-commie, tree-hugging, pro-abortion, pro-gay, marijuana smoking, free love activists out there who no doubt believe that no one should be cruel to even Timothy McVeigh. Yet I have to fault the federal government for not availing itself to another alternative—perhaps the most reasonable and equitable alternative of all.
The federal government could have given Timothy McVeigh life in prison without the possibility of parole. Initially, I scoffed at such an idea. I mean, I just imagined him sitting in some country club prison, sipping mint juleps, working out in the weight room, doing occasional media interviews and watching television with a huge, hip, buffed, dark-skinned soul-mate named Bubba. To me it sounded more like the life of a Hollywood actor.
Yet in the days after the execution, I began to reconsider the whole notion of putting a man in a prison and never letting him out. And after thinking more, I realized that forcing Timothy McVeigh to life without liberty for the next 40 or so years would have been the most equitable and most effective sentence of all for many reasons.
First of all, you have to consider the notion of Hell—not Hell itself, because many people don’t believe in it, but the notion of it. The very idea of a nether realm where the damned are sentenced to suffer everlasting punishment appeals to our innate sense of justice. The notion of justice and retribution transcends religion and philosophy because it is uniquely bound and ingrained in our humanity.
Despite the diversity of our cultures, we as humans believe it is proper for the wicked to suffer for their wicked deeds. Perhaps the most central concept in the whole notion involves suffering—namely that the wicked should suffer. Whether it has been a witch burned alive at the stake in Europe, a murderer chained for the rest of his life to his victim in Africa, the entire household of a traitor put to death in Asia or an assassin skinned alive and boiled in hot oil in Persia, human society has approved of suffering as punishment for the wicked.
Yet here in modern America, during the national debate on the appropriateness of putting condemned criminals to death, death penalty advocates made a strategic landmark concession. In answer to critics who believed it was unusually cruel to kill criminals in electric chairs and gas chambers, they devised a technique that involved killing without suffering—lethal injection—veterinarians had been doing it for years.
Thus employing lethal injections, death penalty advocates and prisons have overcome cruelty and suffering objections and have been able to put men and women to death regularly in states like Florida and Texas. Simply put, lethal injections took the pain and suffering out of the death penalty.
So you’re a mass murderer like McVeigh and you have two punishment prospects before you: On one hand, you could be taken into a quiet peaceful room after eating whatever you wanted; a compassionate marshal would strap you to a chair; someone else would hook up an IV; and then, with friends, family, fans and a comforting priest nearby, you would simply and painlessly go to sleep and never wake up.
On the other hand, you could be taken to a prison and be assured that you would live the next 40 or so years that remain in your life in a cell; you would be assured that you would never be free again; you would be assured to live out that dreadful existence in isolation because the rest of the prison population would represent a danger to you; you would have zero choice; you would not be the captain of your destiny or the master of your fate; you would be assured to waste your life away in dull routine; you would suffer in your own private Hell on Earth; you would grow old and feeble…alone there—past the time you might represent a danger to society; and finally, you would die there.
Which punishment prospect would you choose? Ask Charles Manson if he’s enjoying the country club life he’s maintained for over the past 30 years. Ask Sirhan Sirhan if he’s enjoying a life of ease the next time he’s up begging the parole board to please understand just how very sorry he is. Murderer Gary Gilmore insisted on the death penalty, claiming life in prison without the possibility of parole was a fate worse than death.
Although a jury, and not McVeigh, decided his fate, he ultimately got what he wanted. Maybe it was that remorseless gag he played. Maybe he was acting. Maybe he played the hard, unrepentant role in order to goad the jury, the federal government and the American people into giving him what he wanted. Did anyone ever think of that? Now wouldn’t that be the ultimate mockery?
Maybe he played us all. That, we’ll never know. But we should certainly all realize by now that we gave him many of the things he wanted—all of us did. We gave him celebrity. We gave him headlines and television coverage right up to the end. We gave him a bestseller in an off-hand way. We gave him a secure place in our history. We gave him a voice. We gave him an easy, painless way out. And worst of all, we gave this wicked, twisted and demonic man—we gave all his hate, malice and illogic a surrogate form of legitimacy. In the end, he went out like a movie star.
Is this what anyone in this country besides McVeigh wanted? No. He played us all. It was interesting to read the comments from family members of victims—some of the 232 family members who watched the execution. One woman said she wished the electric chair had been used “because it would have been more painful.”
A man who lost his mother as a result of McVeigh’s callous attack wanted McVeigh to feel the terror she felt. Disappointed about the painlessness of lethal injection, he offered, “I thought I would feel something more satisfying, but I don’t. So many people suffered, and for him to have gone asleep seems unfair.”
The problem that family members and many Americans had with the execution of Timothy McVeigh has its roots in our innate sense of justice, equity and retribution. We would all have a problem if the government executed an eighteen-year-old before a firing squad for failing to stop at a red light. The punishment would not be appropriate to the crime.
Yet by the same token, the federal government took this cold-hearted killer, the worst mass murderer in American history, a man who spent months planning and scheming destruction, a wicked man who was directly responsible for the deaths of 168 people and lifetimes of suffering for thousands more—they put this monster in a peaceful little cell and let him just drift painlessly off to sleep. It was not equitable. Justice was not served.
How much better a thing it would have been to have had ol Timmy around for a few years, suffering a dull life of endless routine in a prison cell. Life in prison without the possibility of parole is the only punishment sentence in which justice would have been served on McVeigh. He would have probably complained about it, but who’d care? Just as innate as its need for justice, the human soul also craves liberty.
Take away a man’s liberty and his spirit begins to die. The eyes dull a little each day as the life force is extinguished. It is a process that sometimes takes years, and occasionally during that process, remarkable things occur. Who knows—maybe thirty years down the line, McVeigh might have had a change of heart.
Maybe he might have overcome his hate, his wickedness and his arrogance. Maybe he might have realized the error of his ways. Maybe he might have apologized and might have truly meant it. Maybe that scintilla of good in him might have triumphed over all his evil. But now we’ll never know. They let him sneak out on us, his arrogance and hate intact.
Three days after the execution, I called Washington again to give my review of the show they put on. I told them that the lethal injection gimmick just doesn’t work, that critics all over were panning them for it. I told them that if they truly wanted to punish wicked, evil killers, they should let those souls stew in the bleak and dreary realization that they will never enjoy liberty again.
And finally, I pitched that if the federal government is going to kill people, they should do it with a little more style, with a little more flair, with a little more pizzazz. I told them I’d be happy to direct the show. I’m still waiting for their production people to call me back.
Dedicated to the families of the victims of Timothy McVeigh’s attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19th, 1995