Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, June 6, 1997

Diane Chang is on vacation.

Why Tim McVeigh
will atone with his life

THERE is nothing wishy-washy about the crime, trial and anticipated punishment of convicted murderer and conspirator Timothy McVeigh. An eerie purposefulness is still powering this case through the judicial system and into the consciousness of the American people.

It's all so extreme that its finale is inevitable.

Years ago, McVeigh told family and friends that he was going to do something "really big" in protest against the U.S. government.

It wasn't just waha. McVeigh methodically collected the materials to build a monstrous explosive and rented the Ryder truck that delivered it to the Oklahoma City federal building on April 19, 1995.

Then, at 9:02 a.m., McVeigh followed through on his threat -- according to the jury. He showed no mercy by detonating the device when fewer lives would be taken. The guy went for it, waiting for a weekday morning when even the busy day-care center was accepting toddlers for safekeeping.

After McVeigh set off the blast, determined rescuers, both paid professionals and Good Samaritans off the streets, pawed through rubble like manic bloodhounds to find and carry out the human wreckage. Photographers captured their work in Pulitzer-winning images.

A somber Bill Clinton flew to the city to offer his hand and his promise. The culprits would be found and punished, the president thundered in a speech, because they had declared war on the entire country. Clinton would not be denied.

Security in every state tightened like the tuning of slack ukulele strings. Grim-faced, shaken bureaucrats made certain that public transactions at federal office buildings and airports would never be the same. Ever since Oklahoma City, a little bit of aloha has died, and not only in Hawaii.

When McVeigh was apprehended, he and his lawyers steadfastly denied guilt. But prosecutors were just as vehement. They promised that McVeigh would be found guilty and sentenced to society's ultimate thumbs-down, capital punishment.

Thankfully, the trial was not an exercise in stupidity and wheel-spinning like another high-profile murder case, also based largely on circumstantial evidence. While a judge in Los Angeles had allowed the hype inside and outside the proceedings free rein, his Denver counterpart shut it down. No cameras in the courtroom, bizarre conspiracy theories, lawyerly theatrics or overheated book deal negotiations with jurors would be allowed.

The testimony itself was straightforward and intense. "McVeigh did it," was the repeated, unwavering message. The jury, handed a list of 11 indictments, came back with 11 convictions, a clean sweep. The only surprise was that the deliberations took so long.

OVER the next week, testimony and tears again will flow in the courtroom as this panel ponders appropriate sentencing. Given the tenor and intensity of this macabre case, however, its recommendation should be obvious.

McVeigh will not be allowed to putter around in prison for the rest of his days. Anything less than a life sentence would be a crime in itself.

Nothing about the defendant has ever been wishy-washy -- from his deep hatred of the feds to the deliberateness of his sin. Likewise, his fate is clear.

His was an existence of extremes, of black and white, good and bad, to bomb or not to bomb. Now, Timothy McVeigh must die.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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