Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Timothy McVeigh & Terry Nichols: Oklahoma Bombing

Supermax Superstars

In his new Florence, Colorado home — the federal prison known as "The Supermax" — McVeigh had time enough to reflect on his last days in court. His last days there had seen the jury unanimous in their decision — Timothy McVeigh must die.

Judge Matsch
Judge Matsch (AP)

Some two months later, Judge Matsch formally sentenced McVeigh. He kept it simple, concluding with: "...it is the judgment of the Court that the defendant, Timothy James McVeigh, is sentenced to death on each of the 11 counts of the indictment."

Shortly, a chopper whisked McVeigh to the Supermax, and a new set of neighbors. They were all high profilers:

  • Ramzi Yousef, who masterminded the World Trade Center bombing on February 26, 1993 – a crime that killed six and injured more than 1,000. His sentence approached 250 years. It was his crime that initially led investigators to assume the Murrah building was an act of foreign terrorists.
  • Ted Kaczynski — the notorious Unabomber — serving four life sentences for mail bombings. He was the intellectual in the group.
  • The last member of this unsavory quartet was the only non-bomber — Cuban born Luis Filipe. Dubbed "King Blood," he'd headed a notoriously grisly NYC street gang.

Ted Kaczynski
Ted Kaczynski (AP)

But it was only McVeigh and Kaczynski that had more than crime in common. They both espoused personal freedom — something this quartet has no hope of knowing again.

They lived in relative harmony, although communication between them was extremely limited.

Eventually, Terry Nichols joined the other hard-liners. But was bitter, seeing McVeigh as having bullied him into participating in the bomb plot. Sentenced for life for his part in the Murrah Building Bombing, he has — so far — escaped the death penalty. Oklahoma wanted to try him on state murder charges, but his lawyers argued he can't be charged twice for the same crime.

But Oklahoma claims Nichols had only been charged — and found guilty — on purely federal crimes of conspiracy and manslaughter. His appeal for a new trial was rejected on April 16, 2001, and he now awaits trial in Oklahoma on the other charges. If convicted, like McVeigh, Nichols may face the death penalty.

Reportedly, Nichols eschewed any communication with McVeigh in prison.

Robert Nigh Jr.
Robert Nigh Jr. (AP)

The other player in the bomb plot, Michael Fortier, also showed up at Supermax. He'd received a 12 year prison sentence for failing to warn police that McVeigh planned the Oklahoma City bombing — a relatively light punishment, probably because he'd agreed to cooperate with the prosecution at the trial.

On July 13, 1999, McVeigh was invited to a grand opening — that of the only federal death row institute for men now operating. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons' media release read:

"On July 13, the United States Penitentiary (USP) Terre Haute, Indiana opened a Special Confinement Unit to provide safe and secure confinement of male offenders who have been sentenced to death by the Federal courts... inmates with Federal death sentences have been transferred from other Federal and State facilities to USP Terre Haute.

"The physical design of this two-story renovated housing unit includes 50 single cells, upper tier and lower tier corridors, an industrial workshop, indoor and outdoor recreation areas, a property room, a food preparation area, attorney and family visiting rooms and a video teleconferencing area that is used to facilitate inmate access to the courts and their attorneys".

McVeigh thought the place looked like a "dump," report Michel and Herbeck — he hated the place on sight.

Along with 19 others awaiting death, McVeigh had found a new home — one none of them will enjoy for long — if at all. Life at Terre Haute is far from social. There's little to do except exercise in a confined space, eat at unusual hours, sleep, watch TV and brood over the past.

Timothy McVeigh
Timothy McVeigh (AP)

Perhaps that is why he failed to meet a deadline on February 13, 2001: It was his last chance to appeal for clemency. His lawyer, Robert Nigh, had drafted the petition on the chance McVeigh chose to sign.

At that time, the book American Terrorist by Michel and Herbeck had not been released. But McVeigh would have known that, on publication, this definitive work would include McVeigh's first public admission of guilt.

As a man who enjoyed the freedom of the outdoors, McVeigh is resigned — perhaps looking forward — to being done with life. On May 16, 2001, he will make his final exit.

And, for the last time, Tim McVeigh will be the center of attention — when a select group of invitees will get to watch him die.

 

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