For survivors, execution isn't the end
As she watched Ricky McGinn lying in front of her in the death chamber, Mozelle Hamm could not find it in herself to forgive him. He had murdered her granddaughter, Christi Jo, and now the state of Texas was going to give him his own back.Skip to next paragraph
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Finally, after the waiting, the trial, the appeals, she would at least know - for certain this time - that McGinn would never hurt anyone again.
But then, as the execution spooled out in front of her last Sept. 27, something happened. Or rather, it didn't happen. Ms. Hamm felt ... less than one might suppose. There was no flood of relief. There was no lifting of weight, no sense of turning a personal page.
And today, months later, that is the message Mozelle Hamm has for the Oklahoma City bombing survivors and victim relatives who were to watch Timothy McVeigh's execution: Remember, closure is for doors.
"The people who are going to witness McVeigh's death need to know, it's not going to be a clean ending," she says. "They're going to go out to the site of that building, and they are going to leave flowers and they are going to cry, and they always will."
Mr. McVeigh's scheduled June 11 execution by lethal injection is notable for many things, but perhaps none more so than this: It will be one of the most widely viewed such events since the United States ended public executions almost 70 years ago.
Besides 25 on-scene witnesses, more than 300 survivors and next-of-kin are expected to watch a special closed-circuit broadcast of McVeigh's final moments. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the broadcast on April 12 after meeting with survivor representatives. "I hope that we can help them meet their need to close this chapter in their life," said Mr. Ashcroft.
Undoubtedly, some of the witnesses to McVeigh's execution will feel a sense of relief. If nothing else, the long legal process that began with McVeigh's arrest and ended with a confounding delay from missing documents will finally be over.
But if the experience of victims' relatives in other cases is any guide, the response of many will be mixed. "There will no doubt be a range of responses, from a delight in retribution to a feeling of emptiness," says Peter Brooks, director of the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University and author of "Troubling Confessions."
The right of survivors and victims' relatives to watch executions, if they wish, is a relatively modern development in the long history of capital punishment in America.
Many death-penalty states now have laws guaranteeing such access. The point, according to supporters, is to allow those who have been hurt the most by a crime to bear witness to society's justice, giving them some measure of peace of mind.
Some say it does just that. As a teenager, Brooks Douglass witnessed two men kill his parents. As an adult, Oklahoma State Sen. Douglass authored a right-to-witness law, and was then present when one of his parents' killers, Steven Hatch, was executed.
The 1996 event meant his long, draining involvement in Hatch's legal process was over. Never again would he have to testify at an endless string of court hearings. No more would he worry that Hatch would be paroled and be free to harm again. "My life [was] my own again," says Douglass.