Skip to main content /transcript


Timothy McVeigh Executed

Aired June 11, 2001 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, the man condemned for the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil is dead. We'll talk with witnesses to the execution of Timothy McVeigh in Terre Haute. Paul Howell, his 27- year-old daughter, Karan Shepherd, was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing.

In Oklahoma City, Roy Sells. He lost his wife, Leora Lee, in the 1995 tragedy. Also, Sue Ashford, an uninjured survivor of that bombing.

And then back in Terre Haute, two journalists who watched McVeigh's final moments, Lou Michel, co-author of the controversial bestseller, "American Terrorist," and CBS newsman Byron Pitts.

Also joining us, two of Timothy McVeigh's attorneys, one of whom saw his client put to death this morning. In Miami, the former attorney general of the United States, Janet Reno. McVeigh was caught and convicted on her watch.

Then, death penalty opponent Phil Donahue faces off against a supporter of ultimate punishment, Dr. Albert Mohler Junior, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. We have a lot to do. It's all next on LARRY KING LIVE!

We're back, and we start with Paul Howell there in Terre Haute -- I always say "Terra Hote," "Terra Hout" -- it's pronounced many ways, Indiana, Paul Howell. His 27-year-old daughter, Karan, was killed in the bombing and he was one of the witnesses chosen to observe.

Are you glad you were there, Paul?

PAUL HOWELL, WITNESSED MCVEIGH EXECUTION: Yes, sir, I very definitely was. It was something that I had to do, Larry. You know, I've watched this man on TV and closed-circuit TV, but I had to be there today to watch him in the eyes, sir. I needed to see his face.

KING: And what was it like? What did you observe?

HOWELL: Well, when we first opened up the curtains, you know, you could see him nodding his head at the his witnesses. He turned around and nodded his head to all of the press people, and then he turned around and tried to see us but he couldn't see us, so he looked over there for about a minute -- I mean about a second, I'm sorry, sir -- and then turned his eyes away from us. Looked like he was a little disappointed he couldn't see us.

KING: Roy Sells, your wife was killed in that bombing and you got to observe it by closed-circuit television. What was that like for you?

ROY SELLS, WATCHED MCVEIGH EXECUTION: Well, I think the anticipation of the execution was more stressful than the execution itself. So whenever the screen came on, it showed McVeigh -- it showed his face. And it was kind of shocking, that it was the first thing that came on the screen, was his face. So after just a second or two, I went back to my normal mode and the execution itself was not hard to take at all.

KING: Not hard at all.

SELLS: No, sir.

KING: All right. Sue Ashford, you're back in Oklahoma City now, but you were there in Terre Haute this afternoon -- this morning, rather -- witnessed it and then flew back to Oklahoma City. What was it like for you?

SUE ASHFORD, WITNESSED MCVEIGH EXECUTION: It was very exciting for me because I've waited for this for so long. I didn't want him to breathe our air anymore.

KING: Was it emotional for you?

ASHFORD: Not for me, it wasn't. I clapped and said, "Oh, yeah! He's finally dead."

KING: What was it like to see someone die?

ASHFORD: Well, honestly, it didn't look like someone who was dying -- just that he went to sleep. You know, it was so painless to him, and it was just as if he went to sleep. It wasn't like someone was actually dying.

KING: Lou Michel back in Terre Haute. He wrote, with Dan Herbeck, the book "American Terrorist," which has been on the bestseller list ever since it came out.

Lou, you witnessed the execution and you know the man who was executed. What was it like for you?

LOU MICHEL, WITNESSED MCVEIGH EXECUTION: Larry, it was horrible watching somebody die. I never want to go through that again. Granted, he is the man that killed 168 people in a horrific act, but yet he was human being, and I will not be doing that again -- going to see someone die.

KING: Did he recognize you?

MICHEL: I think he did. He saw his lawyers, Nate Chambers and Rob Nigh, and nodded to them. And then just before the chemical, the first chemical poison knocked him out, he nodded again and mouthed the words "OK." I think it was his way of saying he was ready go. It was his -- it was his death wish. It was his wish to die.

KING: And Byron Pitts, who is one of the media witnesses to the McVeigh execution with CBS news, were you were chosen by lot, Byron?


KARL: Were you glad you were chosen? Did you want to watch it?

PITTS: I did. I mean, you know, all of us as journalists would like a front row seat to history, so that's how I view this assignment. I found it haunting. This is the second execution I'd witnessed, and I was surprised this time. I was surprised by how he looked. He lost a considerable amount of weight. His skin was pasty. His eyes were sunken and dark.

For years, you know, we've heard about Tim McVeigh the soldier, the man who hated the government. This morning I didn't see a soldier. I saw a young man who, it seems to me, was preparing to meet his maker.

KING: The other execution you witnessed, was it also lethal injection?

PITTS: No that was electric chair in Virginia in 1986.

KING: Is that much more horrific?

PITTS: It's different. In that case, some 80, 85 percent of the man's body was covered by leather straps, a huge hood put over his face. That seemed much more distant. Today was much more intimate because 0we were physically so close to Tim McVeigh when he died.

And also, because he could make eye contact with us. I mean, there was a moment where he sat up, as best he could and made eye contact with each person. And deliberately spending at least a second with each of us and then moving down the row. I'll never forget that.

KING: Did he look frightened?

PITTS: When he eyeballed each of us, that was the moment where he still seemed to be holding on to Tim McVeigh, the soldier. But in the end when he was looking up in the ceiling, or looking into the camera, in Oklahoma City, it seemed to me at that point that he was beginning to realize that this was about it. And it seemed to me, at least, that I felt like I saw some fear in his eyes.

KING: We'll be right back with more from this group of five with us to open the show tonight. This is LARRY KING LIVE. Paul McCartney tomorrow night. Lots more to come. Don't go away.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This morning the United States of America carried out the severest sentence for the gravest of crimes. The victims of the Oklahoma City bombing have been given not vengeance, but justice. And one young man met the fate he chose for himself six years ago.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got a hot flash. Get him back!


KING: A scene that will live with all of us. Paul Howell, your daughter Karan was 27 years old. She was killed. Did you think her this morning?

HOWELL: Yes, sir. I kind of held on to my billfold. That's where her picture is at, and I was thinking about her, some of the other family and survivors that I knew that was given me support. Telling me just to make sure that everything was all right. And that's what I was trying to think about, Larry, more than anything, sir.

KING: Roy Sells, your wife, 57 years old, Leora Lee. She was killed. Did you think about her today?

SELLS: I think about her every day, Larry. There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about her, one way or the other.

KING: Did it bring closure for you, Roy? That's an oft used word these days.

SELLS: Well, that's an oft used word, but I don't know whether it brought closure to me, but, Larry, I tell you, it brought relief knowing that he could no longer talk to anybody, speak to anybody, say anything to anybody, to hurt anybody again. So, that is a relief for me, knowing that he will never be able to do that again.

KING: Sue Ashford in Oklahoma City, as well who was at the death sentence today, execution of Timothy McVeigh, and then returned to Oklahoma City. You said you were applauding. You must -- did you know a lot of people killed in the bombing?

ASHFORD: Yes, I did. They -- I worked across the street from them, and one of the girls in my office, her little 14-month-old daughter was killed in the bombing, and others in my office were hurt. And I went to a lot of funerals of the people across the street in Murrah building.

KING: So what crossed through your mind today was finally -- is that what you were feeling? Finally, this happened?

ASHFORD: Finally some justice. No closure to me, just some justice, finally. Maybe the victims and their families and everybody can get a little more peace and maybe a little more sleep now.

KING: Lou Michel, what did you make of him? He wrote a written statement, he included quotes from "Invictus." A lot of people love that poem. It has been called, however, the agnostic's prayer. What did you make of that?

MICHEL: Larry, he sent that poem to us months ago. He -- it basically represented the drummer that marched to himself. He marched to the beat of his own thoughts. I once asked him if he wanted to join -- why he never joined a militia. And he said: "I'm not a follower. I'm a leader," and that is how he perceived himself right up to the end.

KING: So in your mind, Lou, do you think he had fear this morning?

MICHEL: I think that he had a pensive look on his face, and it looked like in the corner of his left eye, there was a tear. But Larry, I can't say if that was caused by the chemicals or emotions, something we will never know.

KING: It is a very, though, isn't it Lou, peaceful way to go? I mean, it looks like he is just going to sleep, right?

MICHEL: Larry, that is what the experts say. But no one has ever come back to say that it was peaceful. We don't -- we don't know, as a society -- and I'm just struck by the fact that we call ourselves civilized -- and this on a personal level, Larry, this not talking on behalf of Tim McVeigh or as a journalist and biographer -- it's just -- it seems to me that there has got to be a better way to handle this.

George Bush had said that McVeigh was lucky to live in America. Well, in most civilized Western countries, criminals don't face the death penalty, so I don't see where the luck is. But I do understand the hurt of the people of Oklahoma City.

KING: Byron Pitts, we are doing it, so it seems, superfluous to discuss it, but are we overdoing it?

PITTS: Well, I don't know. Fair question, I guess. But I think about people like Paul Howell, that gentleman you talked to. He is tough as Oklahoma leather, but he has a heart as big as Texas, and I think it is worthwhile for people to hear the story of this man who loved his daughter so.

I talked to Mr. Howell after the execution today. He told me he was also mindful of Bill McVeigh, a man who lost his child today. I don't know -- I also think it is important to have a discussion about what created Tim McVeigh. That's an issue your buddy Dan Rather will discuss tonight on the special edition of "48 Hours" at 10:00 Eastern.

KING: And we might, since he isn't here, we might never know that, will we, Byron? That is one of the arguments against capital punishment, is that there is no study anymore of Timothy McVeigh, psychiatric or otherwise.

PITTS: That is exactly right. But I'll tell you what, Larry, there are a lot of families, Paul Howell's family included, who think that justice was served today. And who can argue with how those people feel?

KING: Thank you very much, Byron, and Lou, and Sue. We are going to hold Paul and Roy over with some other guests when we come back on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


KING: We are back. Staying with us in this segment is Paul Howell in Indiana. His daughter was killed, and he was at the execution this morning. In Oklahoma City, Roy Sells, who witnessed it. His wife was killed. He witnessed it by closed-circuit television.

Joining us now from Washington is Marcia Kite. Her daughter, Frankie Merrell, was killed in the bombing. She works for NOVA, the National Organization for Victim Assistance. She has been with us before. And back in Terre Haute is Bed Welch, daughter -- his daughter killed in the bombing, and he is national spokesman for Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation.

Marcia, do you feel -- what -- relieved tonight?

MARCIA KIGHT, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR VICTIM ASSISTANCE: I can't really say that I have a sense of relief. Tim McVeigh's execution, that didn't bring my daughter back. The price of hatred took quite a toll on the family members and survivors of Oklahoma City, and it will be exacted for a lifetime.

KING: So, closure is not a word that applies to you today?

KIGHT: No. Never.

KING: Bud Welch, your daughter was killed in the bombing. How did you feel today?

BUD WELCH, DEATH PENALTY OPPONENT: Well, I had several different feelings during the course of the day. I -- at the time of the Tim's actual death, I was in a silent place, and had a chance to say a few prayers, and I of course knew that we were going to do this, I had promised his youngest sister Jennifer nearly three years ago that I would do everything under my power to see that this day didn't happen, but it did, and I guess in some respect, I guess I failed.

KING: So, you were an opponent of capital punishment and an opponent of the state executing now -- the United States of America executing him today, even though he was responsible for your daughter's death?

WELCH: That is correct. Because we -- you know, I saw the sunset set right over my shoulder, right over the green -- the green killing house, if you will, just a few moments ago. And what that did, is really closed this today that we started this morning, with an event that was staged, and we ended up here today, this morning, with a staged political event. An execution does nothing more or less for our society than that. That's all. And tomorrow...

KING: And tomorrow we go on.

WELCH: Tomorrow we go on, and emotions will still be there. Those that were looking for retribution, they will still have that as well.

KING: And Paul, how do you respond to what Bud's feeling?

HOWELL: Well, I can understand where Bud is coming from. I have talked about it a few times in the past, and really it is not a closure per se for any of us, Larry. What it's going to do to us it's going to give us a good peace of mind, you know.

It is not that I'm for it -- or for or against death penalty. I like to look at the situation, and figure out what this guy has done, what he has he done for the last six years. This man has done nothing but create hate every way that he possibly can, and the only way that we can get a good peace of mind is to execute this man.

KING: Roy, how do you feel about what Bud feels?

SELLS: Well, I'm totally different from what Bud feels. I have looked for this day to see McVeigh executed, so I am -- I am totally glad that he is out of the system.

You know, I just cannot do like Bud does. He -- as far as I'm concerned, he is prostituting his daughter for money gain, and I don't believe in that. I could not do that for my wife. I think if I had a cause to say and do things, it would be on my own, nobody would be paying me money to go around and say these things.

KING: Bud, are you being paid for this?

WELCH: No, I'm not being paid a dime for this. I just got through with a four-day...


KING: Hold it. Roy, where do you get the idea that Bud is being paid for this?

SELLS: Bud told me when we had the Ed Bradley show that he got from eight to 10 thousand dollars that year.

KING: Is that true, Bud?

SELLS: Now, Bud tell me that's not so.

WELCH: In -- in expenses paid. One of the television networks -- one of the television networks paid my expenses to come here to Terre Haute.

KING: I see.

Marsha, how do you feel about this concept between Bud and Roy and Paul? KIGHT: I wrote to the Bureau of Prisons back in February of this year requesting that there be a closed-circuit viewing of the execution, because it comes from the very core principles of victims' rights, and it should be an individual choice and decision. It is something that I didn't care to see, but I could understand those that wanted to witness this execution. And I think it is...

KING: Do you also understand Bud?

KIGHT: Yes, I do. But I'm not going to be out waving a banner trying to stop an execution. I think it should be case by case.

KING: You have the thoughts of many? I'm sure many Americans, people around the world discussing the same thing today. The two attorneys for Timothy McVeigh, one of whom witnessed the execution, and then Janet Reno, and later Phil Donahue. Don't go away.



ROBERT NIGH, MCVEIGH ATTORNEY: At 7:00 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.


KING: That was one of the lawyers. Two other of McVeigh's lawyers are with us. In Terre Haute, Nathan Chambers, the attorney for Timothy McVeigh, one of McVeigh's witnesses at the execution, and Christopher Tritico, the attorney as well for Timothy McVeigh.

Nathan, what's it like to be a lawyer in a death penalty case and then to witness your client's demise?

NATHAN CHAMBERS, MCVEIGH ATTORNEY: Well, Larry, it is really almost beyond description. It was -- some aspects of today's events were surreal.

KING: Painful?

CHAMBERS: Yeah, it was. It's not at all a pleasant experience. I must say, though, that -- Mr. McVeigh's conduct throughout these last days definitely made his attorneys' job easier, the way he conducted himself, his calmness. There were no histrionics, and I think that made it -- I think that made it easier for us, who were spending some time with him.

KING: Christopher, did you think at all it was -- weird may not be the right word -- unusual to bring up the fact that he was a sergeant that was executed today?

CHRISTOPHER TRITICO, ATTORNEY FOR MCVEIGH: No, I didn't think that was unusual or weird at all, Larry. What Rob wanted to do with that talk he gave today at the press conference was to talk about Tim as a human being and some of the things that Tim has done and accomplished. And the fact is that Tim was a sergeant and he's a decorated soldier, and that's a fact that we can't ignore today.

KING: Nathan, were you surprised that his demeanor -- what was that like? There was apparently no fear.

CHAMBERS: No, I wasn't surprised by his demeanor. It was perfectly in keeping with what I have seen over the last several years in dealing with Mr. McVeigh. He was calm throughout the day. He was calm when I met him at about 4:30 this morning. He was not at all anxious. He conversed with us freely. He smiled.

I -- I detected no hint of fear or anxiety in him during the meeting at 4:30, and I didn't really detect any of that in witnessing the execution either.

KING: Christopher, he could have prolonged this for a long time going back. He could have had many appeals upon appeals. Why did he give it up? Why did he choose to die?

TRITICO: Well, when Tim waived his first appeal of the writ of habeas corpus, (a) you need to understand his writ process, the last round of appeals in a federal case, was really drawing to the close. Tim didn't see that he was going to get any relief in the courts based on the ruling that Judge Matsch gave at the writ hearing, and he did not prefer to live the existence that he was living in prison any longer.

KING: In other words, the life in prison was worse than the fate he got today? From his point of view?

TRITICO: Yes, from Tim's point of view, that is exactly right. In this prison, in this existence on death row, you spend 23 hours a day in your cell and you get one hour out into a very small, enclosed recreation area, and Tim didn't like that life.

KING: Nathan Chambers, much has been made of the fact that he expressed no sorrow at all to the end for the victims. Why not?

CHAMBERS: Well, I think that that may be a slightly inaccurate phraseology, Larry. I think he did have remorse. He did have sorrow for the fact that 168 people died. That was not something that brought him any joy. And he was -- he was saddened by the loss of life. But that should not be interpreted as any expression that he was sorry for what he did. He maintained his belief that what he did was proper, was right. He thought he was justified in what he did.

KING: That he did.

CHAMBERS: It's difficult to explain, but he viewed what he was doing as a military act.

KING: Nathan Chambers and Christopher Tritico, thank you. When we come back, we'll pick right up on that with a lady who was attorney general of the United States when he was apprehended and attorney general when he was convicted. Janet Reno is next. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About a third -- about a third -- about a third of the building has been blown away. And you can see this smoke and debris and fire on the ground. Downtown on the ground. It's...




GOV. FRANK KEATING (R), OKLAHOMA: This is the middle of America. This is -- this is a peaceful city, a peaceful state. We don't have problems like this, but it's a -- it's a -- it's a -- it's really a scene of unspeakable horror and tragedy behind me. The death toll now is 26, 11 of those were children, Larry.

I was informed just shortly ago by the fire chief, they are going in now to take out some bodies that they know are there. That's probably another 15 to 20, and that's not even considering those that are under all that pancake rubble, some 12 floors from basement all the way up.


KING: That was Governor Frank Keating on this show the night of the occurrence. We are joined now in Miami by Janet Reno, the former attorney general of the United States. What are your thoughts tonight, Janet, upon this auspicious occasion, so to speak?

JANET RENO, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: My thoughts are with the people of Oklahoma City, the survivors, the victims, those that died. Those that have lived have been an example for all of this country of courage and spirit, and I think this nation owes them a great debt of gratitude.

KING: Have you as a -- when you were a prosecutor, sent people to their death?

RENO: I have authorized the death penalty on a number of people.

KING: Is that very hard for a prosecutor, no matter what the crime?

RENO: Yes, it is.

KING: Do you think Timothy McVeigh deserved to die?

RENO: I'm personally opposed to the death penalty, but if ever the death penalty was warranted, I think it was warranted in this case.

KING: Because?

RENO: It's one of the most horrible acts I think a human being could commit.

KING: How about his charge that it was the Waco thing that spurred all this? And I remember the night of the Waco incident, when you were on this program and said that that was a mistake.

RENO: What I said, Larry, was that we would never know what the answer was. Numerous investigations have been conducted, and there is one thing that is clear: David Koresh set those fires, nobody else did. He ordered the fires set.


KING: I'm sorry, go ahead.

RENO: One of the things that I think is important is that you don't walk away from four agents being killed and 16 wounded. You don't leave them unatoned for. You try your best to affect a safe and lawful arrest. And if somebody wants to create his own Armageddon, you can't stay in the way, as we have observed with this situation at Waco.

Senator John Danforth wrote me shortly after I came home, saying: "You did exactly the right thing in Waco. You couldn't walk away from the deaths of agents. You couldn't stay there forever, and a delay of two weeks or two months wouldn't have made any difference, because David Koresh was out to create his own Armageddon."

I rank David Koresh and Tim McVeigh in the same categories, as cowards who were afraid to use the processes of this land and used violence that was totally unnecessary.

KING: What is your assessment as to how the gentleman who followed you in that office, John Ashcroft, has handled this whole McVeigh situation, the 30-day delay and the eventual execution?

RENO: So far as I have been to observe -- I have not been briefed except what I see in the papers and on television -- he has handled it correctly.

KING: Were you disappointed in the FBI's performance?

RENO: I was very disappointed to learn that they had not produced the papers.

KING: Surprised?

RENO: I think this has been a problem that the FBI has been grappling with, as it tries to make sure that it's automated and its record management procedures are in place.

KING: Any impact from that, do you think, on Terry Nichols?

RENO: I won't comment on that matter. That would be pending.

KING: When McVeigh's case was solved so quickly, were you very surprised at how the turn of events -- in two days, I think, they had him, right?

RENO: I think it's important to recognize what tremendous efforts from state and local police, and federal agents, and FBI agents, and federal prosecutors, all the work that went into making that conviction a strong conviction that was upheld.

I think it is important to acknowledge the great work that was done, but I think most of all we owe the people of Oklahoma City so much. I remember that Sunday after the bombing, coming to that city, and seeing the strength, and the spirit, and the courage of those people. They were magnificent, and they are.

KING: That was an incredible day. Do you think Timothy McVeigh is at all martyred?

RENO: I think he is a little coward. I don't think he is a martyr.

KING: So, you have no feelings at all, no understanding -- I mean, he was -- he fought in the Gulf War, he was -- we have just heard lawyers talk about how he felt he was in the right? His deed was bad, but he was -- he felt like an army calling?

RENO: I think for anybody to compare Timothy McVeigh's action in this instance to something that we expect of our soldiers is to demean the military of the United States. They serve this country with distinction and courage, and I wouldn't put them -- even begin to put them in the same category with McVeigh. That is just a travesty.

KING: How you are feeling, Janet?

RENO: Fell just fine. It's wonderful to be home, Larry.

KING: Yeah. Make a decision yet on the governor's race?

RENO: No. Still considering it.

KING: Got a timetable in your mind?

RENO: No, I want to do it deliberately and thoughtfully.

KING: Thank you, Janet, always good seeing you.

RENO: Take care, sir.

KING: Janet Reno, the former attorney general of the United States.

When we come back, we will meet a father, a mother and two children, all of whom felt this tragedy greatly today, and then we are going to debate capital punishment with Phil Donahue and the Reverend Dr. Albert Mohler Jr. Don't go away.


KING: As we come back, this is a live shot of the prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, where Timothy McVeigh lost his life earlier this morning. And this is the now famed Oklahoma City Memorial, one of the major tourist attractions in the American Southwest.

Joining us now in Oklahoma City, at that national memorial, are the Denny family. Jim Denny, father of two children, both of whom, those both kids survived this bombing. Claudia Denny is their mother, and in the front row, Brandon who is 9. He was 3 years old at the time, and Rebecca, who is 8. She was 2 years old at the time.

Jim, you did not want to witness this today. Why?

JIM DENNY, CHILDREN HURT IN BOMBING: Well, you know, Larry, Claudia and I are both pro-death penalty. We believe in the death penalty, but we -- I'm sure you have heard this 100 times today, but it bears repeating. We believe in it. There is a fine line between revenge and justice, and we firmly believe this is justice.

We have -- we did not want to see a person die. It's good enough for us to read about it in the paper and hear about it. The one thing we were worried about was this maybe being a happy day for some people. And we were so proud of the people we were around today down here at the memorial. No clapping, no laughing. It was a very solemn moment, as it should be.

But you know, Larry, what we tell Brandon and Rebecca is that even though Claudia and I believe in the death penalty, because it's justice, we tell them that life is the most precious thing on the face of the Earth. But there is law and Tim McVeigh broke the golden rule.

KING: Yeah.

J. DENNY: Go ahead.

KING: Claudia, do you feel relieved?

CLAUDIA DENNY, CHILDREN HURT IN BOMBING: In a way, yes. Part of the chapter is over. Hopefully some of the victims can go on and hopefully have some peace. For us, it's just another day. I mean...

KING: Yeah. Brandon, you're now nine. Brandon, do you hear me OK?


KING: OK. Look right straight ahead, Brandon, so we can see that handsome face in the camera. You were 3 years old. Do you remember that day?


KING: You don't remember it?

Rebecca, you're eight. Do you remember it?

REBECCA DENNY, BOMBING VICTIM: I only -- I only remember the bomb. KING: You remember the blast?

R. DENNY: Yes.

KING: Jim, what were your kids doing there?

J. DENNY: Well, they -- Claudia worked about four blocks from the south at the Internal Revenue Service, and we located America's Kids' Day Care Center. And it was a wonderful day care center, so they were enrolled there. And like you said, Brandon was three and Rebecca was two, and they had been going there since they were 6 weeks old. So we were very satisfied with the teachers, with the day care center.

And unfortunately, Timothy McVeigh decided to pull a truck up there and park it. And I'll tell you, the top of that truck was less than 5 feet from the day care center. So the kids were about 55 feet from the bomb itself, and what we're seeing here is two miracles.

KING: You're not kidding. Claudia, what has been the -- they don't remember it. I mean, Rebecca remembers slightly a blast. Brandon says he remembers nothing. Have you noticed any impact on them psychologically?

C. DENNY: None whatsoever. We have treated that as a positive. Everything was a positive -- we've focused on all the positives. Nothing on negative. And they haven't had any psychological help at all. And I think that's the way we handled it. And we've explained what happened, and we've answered their questions honestly. If they have questions, we answer them. And we just go on.

KING: Jim, how do you explain it? You would think that it would leave some kind of imprint.

J. DENNY: Well, you know, we've done quite a bit of media coverage. The reason we've done media coverage is to show what happens to the innocent people when a terrorist attacks, so possibly it won't happen again in this world. But when they ask a question, Larry -- you know, Rebecca, before she went to bed one night, she told Claudia she was lost in the rocks and couldn't find her, and they have little flashbacks to this. Rebecca said she didn't ever -- never wanted to go into the bad building with the lightning and thunder again.

And Brandon does remember a little bit. But we are honest and we sit down and talk to them. And I'll tell you, we talk to them as a family. We're a very strong faith-based family. We have family togetherness, and we use our friends and -- and use not being a bad word -- we focus on togetherness and positive.

KING: Brandon, do you feel lucky?

B. DENNY: Yeah.

KING: And Rebecca, do you feel lucky?

R. DENNY: Kind of.


KING: Kind of is a good way to put it. Thank you very much, Dennys. Jim Denny, Claudia Denny, Brandon Denny and Rebecca Denny, and we're so glad that all the Dennys could be with us.

We're going to take a break, and when we come back, our old friend Phil Donahue, former Emmy award-winning talk show host, who strongly opposes the death penalty, and advocates the broadcasting of executions, and Dr. Albert Mohler Jr., many times guest on this show, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who supports the death penalty.

That's next. Don't go away.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a boom and the building shook and the ceiling fell in and the walls fell in.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the explosion went off and stuff started falling all over.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we were talking in there, and then it seemed like the whole world ended.


KING: We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE Phil Donahue. It's always great to see that very appealing face and hear his thoughts on this program. He's also a pinch-hit host on this program as well. And Dr. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Always good to see him.

Phil, President Bush said today every living person who was hurt by the evil done in Oklahoma City can rest in the knowledge that there has been a reckoning. Your thoughts?

PHIL DONAHUE, DEATH PENALTY OPPONENT: I think we have become the thing we hate, Larry. We've actually somehow convinced ourselves that it's OK to kill somebody because they killed somebody. It doesn't work. It's arbitrary. It happens with pro bono lawyers who sometimes fall asleep at the trial.

"The National Journal" has written about a defense lawyer who didn't tell his client that another person confessed. This is a client who was sentenced to die. Didn't tell him that another person confessed to the crime. The man was subsequently released.

Attorneys available for this work are substandard, sometimes to the -- sometimes to the point of malpractice.

KING: So you're saying...

DONAHUE: Most of all, though, it doesn't work.

KING: So you're saying whether it's McVeigh or -- McVeigh or anyone, it doesn't work for you?

DONAHUE: No. I think -- I think spending your life in a cage with a toilet sticking out of the wall is a more -- is a more painful punishment than the punishment exacted on McVeigh today, who went out like the hero he thought he was. Almost treated regally in Terre Haute with the lights on his van as he's moved from one building to another.

I mean, the man will -- because of this, the man will live on T- shirts for the rest of this century and beyond.

KING: Dr. Mohler, many faiths oppose this death penalty, the pope and the Catholic Church being very prominent in opposing it. Why do you support it?

REV. R. ALBERT MOHLER JR., SOUTHERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: Well, the scripture clearly calls for the death penalty, and civilized nations throughout history have understood that the ultimate crime demands the ultimate punishment. Any society that calls itself civilized that refuses to use capital punishment for the most extreme of crimes really makes clear that there is nothing for which it would execute anyone. And human life is therefore not emphasized or valued. It is undervalued and it is -- it is to the satisfaction of justice that we look today for the execution of Timothy McVeigh, and we look back on that with no glee, with no gladness, but also with no sorrow for him, for this was exactly what he deserved given the gravity of his awful crime.

KING: So all of Europe, then, is uncivilized, in your opinion?

MOHLER: Well, it's interesting to know that even though the European Union outlaws capital punishment, polls continue to show that a majority of Europeans support it. And when it comes down to it I think there's something very basic in the human psyche, that is actually put there by God, that demands justice. And just as it is so clearly ingrained in us when someone deliberately takes a human life, and does that with great vengeance and with such evil intent as is here clear in the case of Timothy McVeigh, and there's no doubt about his guilt, then the execution of that person meets the demands of justice.

KING: Phil?

DONAHUE: It is true Tim McVeigh was guilty, but as I'm sure you know, Reverend, more than 90 people have been removed from death row after having been found innocent. Your faith -- the faith to which you have devoted your life -- was founded by a man who was wrongly executed. A man who, incidentally on the cross, looked heavenward and said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." To use the prince of peace as a vehicle to justify the premeditated killing by the state of one of its citizens takes irony to a new level.

I don't think Jesus would approve of this barbaric behavior, and I think there are millions of Americans who are coming to recognize that this is a meaningless exercise which does not make us safer, and which is certainly not consistent. And incidentally, in that connection, God bless Mr. Welch. I can only guess on the pressure -- he is joined, incidentally, by significant numbers of other victims of loved ones in opposing the death penalty.

KING: I have to get a break.

DONAHUE: I applaud him for his courage in going public with this position.

KING: Let me get a break and have Dr. Mohler respond. This is LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


KING: Dr. Mohler, your response to Phil's use of the prince of peace.

MOHLER: Mr. Donahue made a serious statement and it deserves a serious response. The fact is that the Lord Jesus Christ, who was sinless, did indeed die innocently by execution, he died, the scripture tells us, in our place. And thus satisfied the just requirements of God's justice. He literally died where we should have died to pay the penalty for our sins, so that all who believe in him might have life everlasting.

But it's very important to note that Jesus Christ said that every single jot and tittle, every little spot of grammar in the word of God would remain and would be unshaken. And Jesus Christ never condemned capital punishment. The scripture clearly, in both the old and the new testaments stipulates that capital punishment is the appropriate penalty for those who take life and for those who commit the crime of murder.

It's very interesting to look at the case of Timothy McVeigh, and understand that this really gets down to core issues. There is no doubt about his guilt. There is no doubt about the awfulness and the extent of his crime. I think virtually everyone understands that the ultimate penalty is here called, for and the vast majority of Americans, not because of a blood lust and not because of vengeance, but for the satisfaction of justice, support the death penalty in this case and in others.

KING: Phil?

DONAHUE: You're right about that, Reverend. The death penalty is popular. And that's why people like Mario Cuomo, who stood alone against his own legislature, against a very hostile and angry nation -- for that alone, I believe he should got the Noble Peace Prize. To the Kennedy family, all of whose members got past their revenge and now join Mr. Welch and a significant number of other people in doing the truly Christian thing -- and that is opposing the premeditated killing of another person. It doesn't make us safer. We are definitely going to kill innocent people.

The Republican governor of Illinois said that this was so terrible that a class at Northwestern was able to take a man out of the jaws of the death chamber just before he was about to be executed, he's called a moratorium -- a moratorium! The Republican governor of Illinois -- what does he know that Reverend Mohler doesn't know? Why wouldn't the Christian thing be at least to say, let's wait a minute. We are railroading these things. We have rootin', tootin', shootin' prosecutors -- just win, baby. That's all that matters. And plea bargains be handed out willy-nilly. Punks are saying, "He did it, he did it," and getting a reduced sentence. It's not working.

KING: We only have 30 seconds. Go ahead, you respond, then we're going to do a whole show on this.

MOHLER: Well, there has never been demonstrated a case where an innocent person was executed in the American criminal justice system. Everyone who is on death row and in jail says that they are innocent. But the guilt of these persons is almost always, without doubt beyond question. The death penalty needs to be administered with equity and with justice. If the American death penalty needs to be fixed, let's fix it. But we must affirm the dignity and inherent integrity of every human life by protecting it.

KING: Thank you both. We're out of time. Phil Donahue and Dr. Albert Mohler Jr., thank you both very much for that spirited, if brief discussion.

Tomorrow night, Paul McCartney will be our special guest. And on Friday night John Travolta will be the guest. And Wednesday night, Steve Erwin from Australia, the man who mixes it up with alligators and crocodiles.

What follows next on CNN is Bill Hemmer, who is in Indiana hosting a special report on the McVeigh execution. You will not want to miss that. We thank all of our guests for being with us. See you tomorrow night with Paul McCartney from Los Angeles. Good night.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

Back to the top