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Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights
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Not In Our Name

Back Up Next

 

NOTE- This is a transcript of a presentation made at Harvard University on March
16, 1999 by two members of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, Executive
Director Renny Cushing and President of the  Board Of Directors Bud Welch, at a
program sponsored by the Human Rights Initiative at the Kennedy School of
Government


"Not In Our Name": Homicide Survivors Speak Out Against the Death Penalty

A Joint Presentation by Renny Cushing and Bud Welch to the Human Rights Initiative, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University Tuesday, March 16, 1999.

Renny Cushing

Last Fall I had the opportunity to come to Cambridge and watch Nelson Mandela honor
Harvard University by accepting an honorary degree. In the presence of Nelson Mandela, I
couldn't help but think what an amazing story he represented, because this a person who at one time faced the death penalty; who was found guilty in court and sentenced to life in jail; who spent 27 years in prison; and at the end of that walked out without much bitterness. He didn't look back, because he had things to do. He had to free a nation from the burden of apartheid. He eventually took his place as the leader of a new South Africa, as the President of a free South Africa, a country that as part of its rebirth abolished the death penalty. During the course of Nelson Mandela's honoring Harvard by accepting an honorary degree, there was a song sung in his honor. It was the song, "Amazing Grace." My youngest daughter's name is Grace-- we had brought her there as a first birthday present.

The song "Amazing Grace" was written by a man named John Newton. John Newton was a slaver in the early part of his life. He was someone who trafficked in human beings who extracted people in bondage from Africa and transported them to bondage here in the New World. John Newton was a man who by his own admission was responsible for the deaths of scores of innocent men, women and children. In another time and in another jurisdiction John Newton would have been subject to the death penalty. But as fate would have it, whatever reason, he was not subject to death. He went on to reevaluate his life. He went about a transformation and eventually went from being a slaver to an ardent abolitionist, and also gave us the gift of this song, "Amazing Grace," where he talks of amazing grace, he once was lost but now he's found, was blind but now he sees. And I think the song "Amazing Grace" with Nelson Mandela makes me stop and want to pause, and contemplate possibilities that take place in the aftermath of murder and the aftermath of crime.

On June 1, 1988, Robert and Marie Cushing planted a garden in the backyard of their home in New Hampshire. It was a ritual of the seasons, and the same 1,200 square foot plot of land they had planted a garden on, in the backyard of the same home they bought in 1951 on the GI Bill where they raised their seven children. Robert had retired as an elementary school teacher, Marie was 17 days away from retiring after 23 years as a reading teacher. They were celebrating the birth of a new granddaughter -- also named Marie -- the oldest child of their oldest son, my daughter. Life for them was very good. They were happy.

At about 10 o’clock at night, there was a knock on the front door. My mother was lying on the couch watching the Celtics playoff game. My father was at the kitchen table reading the newspaper, and he got up to answer the door. As he did, a couple of shotgun blasts rang out, ripped his chest apart, and he died in front of my mother. From that day, from that moment, I became the survivor of a homicide victim. And in the aftermath of that I had reason to contemplate -- on numerous occasions and in some depth -- how we deal as a society and individually in the aftermath of murder.

I can just tell you murder's awful. I would not wish any of you here to have the experience. Because after the killing ends, there's a whole series of events that you experience make lead to a kind of revictimization. Things like funerals and caskets; cemetery plots and headstones; empty chairs at holidays; maybe police investigations; hearings, trials, sentencing, appeals; I refer to that time as the "dead zone." I always to think that in the aftermath the most difficult thing I had to do was ask someone for help to get my father's blood cleaned off the walls in the house.

Prior to my father's murder, I had a position that had me opposed to the death penalty. Although I’m from the Irish-Catholic tradition, whose teachings include, "Thou shalt not kill," for me it was something more akin to a set of principles upon which I consciously decided I want to lead my life, a vision I had of the world which I wanted to live in. It was just a matter of wanting to live in a society where life is respected. In the aftermath of my father's murder, I never really wavered from that position. But what I did find is that there was a presumption on the part of most people, on the part of many people, that would take place. A few days after the individuals who murdered my father were taken into police custody, a friend came up to me in the grocery store, and this gentleman I’ve known my whole life said to me, "I hope they fry those people" -- he didn't say "people" though -- "I hope they fry those people so your family can get some peace." He was just -- he had a certain amount of pain in saying that. I realized at the time that the individual meant well, he meant to offer me some comfort, I think. But probably at the time he did that, there was nothing that he could have said -- and the way he said it -- that would have caused me more angst I had at that point, and I didn't know how to respond. Because what the inference was not only that I would have changed my position because of my father's murder. To me, it meant that not only would murder take my father's life from me, but in the moment that the did so, they would also take my values. There was a presumption that the murder of my father would make me change, and make me become or want that which I previously said I abhorred, that I would want somehow to balance my father's life out by extinguishing the life of someone else.

I think that people who are survivors of homicide victims want three basic things. You want to know the truth. When I say we want to know the truth, its almost like a literal understanding -- in a chronological sense -- of what took place; how it happened that somebody that we loved could be taken from us. I think we need to know that because homicide is unlike other deaths. We are accustomed to death coming by natural causes, we can accept disease, we can accept an automobile accident, we can accept some force that's outside other human beings. But what is very difficult for us to contemplate, I think, with homicide, is how it is that another human being who seemingly has all the same faculties that you or I have could take it upon themselves to make a conscious decision to be the deity. We think in our own selves that is not something we would do. Its hard for us to try to understand how somebody else could do it. We need to know the truth just to help us gain some kind of control over our lives, if we can understand how it is that we came to such control removed. Some part of our criminal justice system, I think, is intended to do that -- an information gathering, an investigation.

The second thing that victims of crime, survivors of a homicide want is justice. Justice is a very difficult thing to grasp somehow and to explain. Because when you're dealing with murder, the only justice that could come would be if you exchanged the life of the one who's lost it in the grave with the one who did the taking and who's still walking the earth. But we can't do that, much as we might want to. So we have to fashion something as best we can to secure justice. I think the manner in which we do that ought to be done in a way that tries to make those who feel the loss -- as individuals and greater society as a whole -- whole, to the extent that's possible, and repaired. Obviously, one of the ways we feel whole and repaired is to restore the sense of security that's been lost from having a murder. And that means people need to be separated from society. We need the security of that, and a manner of offender-accountability.

I think that the third thing we want to have is healing. And to a certain extent, an understanding of the truth and an attempt to fashion justice are necessary pre-conditions -- or are desirable pre-conditions -- to healing. Healing is not an event. One of the things that the proponents of the death penalty offer out, or incorrectly presume in offering out execution as a goal of a process that takes place in the aftermath of murder, is that it focuses upon a single event, and it raises the expectation that if you simply extinguish the life of someone who took a life, that event in itself will be a healing event. That all of a sudden, if you just kill the bastard it will all be better, and you'll feel better, and you can just go on. The reality is, though, that healing is a process that goes on all the time. It is part of the burden, the reality that homicide survivors -- survivors of homicide victims -- come to grips with, that healing is a process that will go on for the rest of your own natural lives.

There are a couple of reasons why the death penalty might present some impediments to healing. One is that the existence of the death penalty itself, and the whole carnival-like atmosphere that exists in our society around executions, is incredibly demeaning. Its incredibly demeaning to life in and of itself. I can never figure out what the celebration is that would be involved in an execution. And we also -- in a way -- take the focus off the good works of the individual we've lost, and we become very offender orientated. Very murdered-fixated. That's what the death penalty is all about, its not about the victim, its about the murderer. So we have a society where all of a sudden we make icons out of demons. We make icons out of murderers. Even though we demonize them, we have this fascination with murderers that we reinforce this value, if you will, this notoriety of a violent act in and of itself. So we all know the names of John Wayne Gacy, or Gary Gilmore, or Ted Bundy, or Timothy McVeigh. There's very few of us who know a single name of a single one of their victims. And that's why I don't like the death penalty, because it focuses on the offender and not on the victim.

Another reason I don't like the death penalty is that it involves a further revictimization. It relates to the act and the expansion of the net of victims. I came to realize listening to my father's murderers that those who were affected by his killing were not just the immediate family, not just the people in the community. But it also involved the family of the people who killed my father. I remember one time after a pre-trial hearing, coming out of the courthouse and running into this guy named Robert McLaughlin Jr., who is the son of the man who murdered my father. For a moment, we met in this parking lot, we spoke with each other, we happened to meet, although we'd never met before. We stood next to each other, and there was this sensation of a black hole being laid between the two of us, with both of us trying desperately not to get sucked down into it, because this horrible event had taken place and we were both involved, although we didn't want to be. I said to him, "We both lost our fathers on June 1, 1988. My father is dead in the grave, and your father is in jail." And I realized just thinking about it that in a way I was the lucky one, because I had my father's life to celebrate. I don't wish my father had been murdered when he was but I honor his life. I am the son of a murder victim. But for Robert McLaughlin Jr., it's a different legacy. He lives his life as the son of a murderer. And how often have I heard the comment made about the apple not falling far from the tree. And I would not want the pain that I felt in losing my father to go on Robert McLaughlin Jr. The idea that some I would be healed, that any murder victim would be healed, by inflicting pain upon the child of the family of a murderer, its not a zero sum. My pain doesn't get eased by inflicting pain on him. So I'm opposed to it because it just creates more victims.

The final reason -- there's a few other reasons -- but there's one more thing I'll say is that for better or worse, one thing I have to wrestle with for the rest of my life is trying to figure out how to relate to the people who murdered my father. I don't want to be in this situation. There's two people sitting in jail serving life without parole, and I'm sitting here at a table talking about the impact of why I oppose the death penalty, and the reason we're all linked is because there was this horror in June of 1988. I can't ignore the fact that we're linked. It's a very weird connection to realize that this significant event that is so pain-based exists. And I gotta figure out a way to relate to the people who murdered, who caused me so much pain. I don't exactly know how to do that. I did take it upon myself, at one point, to go to the New Hampshire State Prison to meet with one of the people responsible for my father's murder. It was something I'd wanted to do for a while, although, again, somewhat nervous about doing it, because there's almost an implication on the part of some people that, "How could you betray your father's memory by dignifying the existence of the people who killed him, by dignifying that they have any kind of value at all?" Its almost like a torn loyalty, like being disloyal to his memory. I have my own reasons for wanting to do it. And I did it, I went to the state prison, I had an exchange with her. To be honest, it wasn't very fulfilling. I don't know what exactly I thought it would be, but it was a good witness on my part. I was glad I did it at that time.

I came away from it, contemplating what I'd done, and a few weeks later I went for a walk with an old friend of mine down the beach. It was somebody I'd known for my whole life, and we talked a little bit about life, how our paths meandered. After about 2 hours -- at some point I told him about going to the women's prison -- and I said out loud, for the first time, I said, "You know, on some level, I'm going to end up spending the rest of my life trying to figure out a way to help the McLaughlins get me to forgive them." That's a convoluted way of putting it, but I can't put it any simpler. I don't know if that'll ever happen. I don't work at it every day, but its always in the back of my mind. I want to do that, because for some reason I have this crap inside of me that I need to solve. I don't want to be consumed by hate, I need to deal with the reality. I'm not sure -- I'm not going to be able to unilaterally forgive, there needs to be more interactive acknowledgment, and I'm not sure if what I think I need could ever take place with these individuals.

One thing with the death penalty, there's a kind of finality. When we kill people who kill our loved ones, we forever preclude the opportunity for those of us who want to figure out how to have an interactive forgiveness. The existence of the death penalty in and of itself becomes a barrier to victim healing. I don't want to live in a society where, in the aftermath of murder,
policy prevents people from healing.



Bud Welch

My name is Bud Welch, and I hope you can understand my Oklahoma accent. Actually, you have the accent, I don't. I'm gonna tell you briefly about myself. I'm the third oldest of eight children, raised on a dairy farm in central Oklahoma. I've run a gasoline service station for 34 years. I lived a quiet, unassuming life until April 19, 1995 when my daughter, Julie Marie, was killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing.

Julie was my only daughter, my pal, my sidekick if you will, and my best friend, and my wife understands that, that Julie was my best friend. We hung together, we fought together, we did everything together. Julie attended the public school system in Oklahoma City, K through 8. In the eighth grade, she met a young Mexican girl who was a foreign exchange student. Some of the children had been picking on the little Mexican girl because she couldn't speak English quite the same as the rest of them. The particular Junior High that Julie was in was mainly all Caucasian, there were a few minorities there. Julie befriended this little girl, and they kind of hung out together pretty much through the eighth grade year. In March or April, it suddenly dawned on Julie that this little girl was speaking English, and she was speaking it fluently, as well as her native tongue. Julie being a 13-year-old kid, she was intrigued by that. She knew that she was going to go to Bishop McGuinness High School, because I had told that for several years that she was going to go to a Catholic High School. When she enrolled at McGuinness in her freshman year, she enrolled in German, Latin and Spanish. Her freshman advisor reminded her that McGuinness also taught math and science and history and a few other courses besides languages. Nevertheless, she did remain enrolled in those courses, in her sophomore year she pretty much did the same thing.

She had decided by about January of her sophomore year that she wanted to try to go for a foreign exchange to a Spanish-speaking country. So she applied through Youth For Understanding -- some of you might be aware of YFU -- and she got accepted, and lived with a family in Pontevedre, Spain, on the Atlantic Ocean, about 30 miles north of the Portuguese border. Her host mother couldn't speak English, her host father could speak very little English. Julie couldn't speak Spanish, even though she had two years of it in high school. But she got a crash course in it when she sat down at the dinner table and wanted a food item passed, she had to learn how to request it. Her host father was an attorney for a bank in Pontevedre, and they had many friends down in Portugal, and lots of weekends they would travel to Portugal to meet these friends. Through this travel, and I guess Julie paying close attention, she learned to speak the Portuguese language.

She returned to Oklahoma City for her junior and senior year in high school, she actually ended up spending 5 years in high school. She enrolled in more foreign language courses -- French, Italian and some other courses. Her senior year, she applied at several colleges and universities, mainly Jesuit schools. She applied at Boston College here, Loyola College, Fordham in New York, in Marquette University in Milwaukee. After being accepted, she had received a letter in February of her senior year from Marquette saying they were having a foreign language competition, and inviting her to compete. She had never been to Milwaukee. I hadn't either, I had been to Chicago a number of times, the two cities are about 80 miles apart. And I thought, "Well, gee, do I spend the nearly $300 on an airline ticket and get to Milwaukee to compete in this foreign language competition? She needs to go the campus at least." So I did that, she competed with 91 other kids, got lucky and finished first. That provided about $6,000 per year in grants and scholarships, so it enabled a service station owner to send his daughter to what I consider a high profile private university -- an expensive university, all these private schools, I guess you guys know they're expensive.

When I took her to Milwaukee in August of 1990 for freshman orientation, I didn't have any shirt that would fit my swollen chest because I was so proud of her. I didn't attempt to put a hat on, I knew there was no point in that -- I don't wear hats anyway. I can remember so well entering the city of Milwaukee from the south side and finding the university.  I never attended college myself, and I think parents are certainly guilty of reliving their childhood over through their children, and this was what I was doing with Julie. I even had tried to influence Julie. My school was always Notre Dame, and I had tried to influence her into applying to Notre Dame. She refused. Finally, she told me one day, when I asked her, "Why won't you just apply, Julie?" She said, "Dad, I have to apply to schools where I think that I need to go. I don't want to apply to some place where you should have gone!" And that kind of answered that.

In January, Julie's freshman year, the university got a request from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Milwaukee that they would like to have a Spanish major accompany them to the Dominican Republic. Out of 21 people, Julie went down to help out down there. Julie's sophomore year in college, she went back to Madrid -- Marquette has a campus in Madrid,
and she returned for her junior and senior year. She graduated in March of 1994, with a degree in Spanish with a minor in French and Italian. I brought her back to Oklahoma City over the 4th of July weekend in 1994. The next month, she got a job as Spanish translator for the Social Security Administration in the Federal Building. Julie had met a young lieutenant at the Tinker Airforce Base, a recent graduate from the University of Arizona, I think he had graduated in 1993. She had heard about a prayer group that met at Tinker, a Catholic Chapter, and they said the rosary, I think, every Friday night, and a few other prayers. I always accused them of praying for 20 minutes and drinking and dancing the rest of the night -- I'm not sure if they really did it that way. Her and Eric fell in love, they dated until her death. I found out after Julie's death that Eric and Julie had planned to announce their engagement, and that still tears at my heart.

All my life, I had always opposed the death penalty. My entire family has, even going back to my grandparents. I'd often been told over a cup of coffee with friends that supported the death penalty -- or thought they supported the death penalty -- that if something violent ever happened to one of my family members -- when Julie got to be a teenager, they would always use Julie as an example, because they knew how close we were. I would have some of them make such statements to me as, "What if you get a call tonight and Julie was raped and murdered in Milwaukee?" That's something a father just doesn't -- you just can't sort that out in your mind, that anything like that could ever even. They said, "If that happens, you'll change your mind about the death penalty."

Well, after Tim McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building, the rage, the revenge, the hate -- you can't think of enough adjectives to describe what I felt like. I did change my mind about the death penalty. After McVeigh and Nichols had been charged -- I mean, "Fry the Bastards." We didn't need a trial, a trial was simply a delay. That was my feeling, that was my emotion. You've heard people speak of temporary insanity, and you've heard people trying to use it, lawyers try to use it in court. Temporary insanity is real, it exists, I can assure you. I've lived it -- I lived about 5 weeks of it. You no doubt probably saw at some point McVeigh or Nichols being rushed from an automobile to a building, bulletproof vests on, and the reason that the police do this is because people like me will kill them. That's why they do it. The police presence around Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols was the very deterrent that kept me from being on death row in Oklahoma today. Because had I thought that there was any opportunity to kill them, I would have done so. I didn't come up with a plan to do it, I knew there was no way I would be able to do it. I wouldn't have cared if they had killed me, if I could have been successful in killing them. So, suicide meant nothing to me either during that insanity period.

For about the next 8 months, I struggled with the thought of what's going to happen to these people, how am I going to get some peace. I had remembered that President Clinton and Attorney-General Janet Reno -- the bombing was on Wednesday morning at 9 o'clock, I think by Thursday afternoon, the next day, while Julie's body was still missing -- her body was not recovered until Saturday -- I heard those two leaders say that they were going to seek and obtain the death penalty for the perpetrators. That sounded so wonderful to me at the time, because here I had been crushed, I had been hurt, and that was the big fix. We were going to find these guys and we were going to kill 'em. I thought about that over the next 8 months, also remembered the statement that Julie had made to me driving across Iowa one time of her junior year when we were returning from Milwaukee to Oklahoma City. We heard a news cast on the radio about an execution that had happened in Texas the night before. Julie's response to that was, "Dad, all they're doing is teaching hate to their children in Texas. It has no social redeeming value." I didn't think a hell of a lot of it at the time, but I remembered her saying that. Then after she was killed, and after I got past this initial 5 week period, this kept echoing in my mind, what this kid had said to me. She was active for Amnesty International in high school and in college, was working for organizations and groups like that all through college.

I went down to the bomb site. Across the street there's an old American elm tree, the only living thing left there. All the survivors had been relocated, all the dead had been buried, and just one thing survived the bombing, and its that old American elm. Its said to have come up from a seedling about the turn of the century, about 1900. That tree is older than the state of Oklahoma -- Oklahoma became a state in 1907, I like to tell people that we're one of the 46 original colonies, then the last 4 followed us. But I went down and stood under that tree one January, it was a cold day. There weren't any leaves on it. I was watching the people walk the fence -- there's a chain link fence that surrounds the footprint of the building, no doubt most of you have seen it at some point. People hang wooden crosses on it, license plates, wheel covers, rosaries -- there's everything imaginable hanging on that fence. Because people will be traveling from Boston across the country, and they will suddenly want to leave something. I see them open the trunks of their cars and pull out an old license plate they've had there for 2 or 3 years, they find a piece of wire and they hang it on the fence. There's thousands of people who walk past every day. I kept looking at those people, just kind of watching them and I was in deep pain, because this was 9 months after the bombing. I'm drinking too much, I'm smoking 3 packs of cigarettes a day, I was smoking about a pack and half when Julie was killed -- and about the smoking, I can tell you I quit smoking July 6 last year after sucking on them for 42 years, so I'm proud of myself for that.

But I had this anguish about what was going to happen. The trials hadn't even begun yet, and I went to asking myself, once they're tried and executed, what then? How's that going to help me? It isn't going to bring Julie back. I had asked that question for a period of 2 weeks probably. I realized that its all about revenge and hate. And revenge and hate is why Julie and 167 others are dead today. That was McVeigh and Nichol's revenge and hate for the Federal Government, for Waco, for Ruby Ridge, whatever other cause they felt justified what they did. After I was able to get that revenge and hate out of my system, I made a statement to an Associated Press reporter one day, that I did not believe in the death penalty. This after a long conversation of bragging on my child, telling what a wonderful daughter she was, how close we were, but yet -- in the same breath -- I told her that I didn't want her killer killed. The reporter's mouth -- it didn't fly open, but it was almost as if it had, because she couldn't imagine how I could be so close to this child and not want her killers killed. Anyway, she wrote a wire story on it, and that's how I ended up here today, because people like Renny Cushing heard about my name and what I felt, and I guess I didn't realize it was that unique in this country to be a victim's family member and not want the killers executed.

I saw Bill McVeigh, Tim's father, on television a few weeks after the bombing. He's a very quiet type of person, did not grant hardly any television interviews. There was a crew out at his house in rural New York, just outside of Buffalo. He was working in his flowerbed. The reported asked him a question -- I don't know what the question was or the answer. But I saw him look into the television camera for a short 2 or 3 seconds, and I saw a deep pain in a father's eye that probably none of you could have even recognized. I could because I was living that pain. And I knew that some day I had to go tell that man that I truly cared about how he felt, I did not blame him or his family for what his son had done. I had made a number of speeches across the country, from coast to coast really, and in June of last year, a nun by the name of Sister Rosalyn called me from Attica prison. She's been a minister in Attica prison for about 10 years, and she was wanting me to come to the Buffalo area to speak at colleges and universities, civic groups, churches, about the death penalty. Through our hour to an hour and a half conversation of getting to know one another, I related that story to her about what I had seen in Bill McVeigh's eyes. The question I asked her was, "Is the McVeigh family from someplace around Attica or someplace in that area of New York?" I wasn't real sure. She described to me exactly where it was. She then said, "Well, would you want me maybe to pursue that?" And I told her that I would. I wanted the message to go to him that I did not want any media involved, I wanted it to be a very private thing between the two of us.

She contacted a parish priest where Bill goes to Mass, the natural sister of the parish priest directs a religious program there for school children. She's a former nun -- had been a nun for 14 years, she's now been married I think about 28 years, she's a bit older than I am. And she had been a neighbor of the McVeighs while her children -- she has a daughter, 24, and a son, 19; Jennifer McVeigh is 24 and Tim is now 30 -- she had been a next-door neighbor to the McVeighs while the children were growing up. Bill and Nikki McVeigh divorced about 15 years ago, Nikki now lives in Florida. Bill moved away from -- this lady's name is Liz McDermott -- he moved away from the McDermotts a few miles, got a couple of acres of land, build him a small frame house, and this was where the television crew was when I saw him working in his flowerbed. So she contacted Sister Rosalyn in early August with the news that she had made the arrangements for us to meet on September 5, a Saturday, at 10 a.m. I'll never forget that date or time. Well, I went to Buffalo 6 days earlier than that, to make a series of speeches in the Buffalo area. I got to know quite a bit about Bill McVeigh. I had heard that he had quite a large garden in his backyard. I was desperately trying to find out some things about him, and I finally met Liz McDermott, and she and I were able to sit down and she told me a lot of things about him.

On this Saturday morning, Sister Roslyn takes me out to the country, to Bill McVeigh's house. Ros is a careless, careless driver. You really don't want to ride with her. She pulls into his driveway at the speed of probably 50 miles per hour, it's a gravel driveway, the house sits back off the roadway. She comes to a screeching halt, says, "There's the door. Go knock on it." Like its something that you might do everyday. I was sitting in the car, and I didn't know how I was going to be able to do this at all, I didn't know what I was going to be able to say. Anyway I went up and knocked on the door, he came to the door, and I introduced myself. I asked him, I said, "I understand that you have a large garden in your backyard," and that excited him. He said, "Oh, yeah, would you like to see it?" I said, "I'd love to." This just put relief all over me, because I knew this was gonna be some common ground. I knew what big gardens were all about, there was 10 of us in the family in Central Oklahoma, and we always had a big garden. I hoed gardens every year when I was a child. So, we spent the first half-hour in that garden getting to know one another. We went into the house, spent about an hour and a half in the house visiting at the kitchen table. His 23-year-old daughter Jennifer was there. As I walked in the kitchen I noticed a photograph -- there were some family photos on the kitchen wall up above the table. And I noticed this photo of Tim. I kept looking at it as we were sitting at the table, with Bill sitting off to my left. I knew that I had to comment on it at some point, so finally I looked at it and I said, "God, what a good looking kid." And Bill says to me, "That's Tim high school graduation picture." By Bill's own admission, he has a difficult time showing emotion, he has all his life, he told me that when we were in the garden. And then I saw a big tear roll out of his right eye. He's a big guy, he's about 6'2'', 6'3'', and I saw love in a father's eyes, at that moment, for his son, that was absolutely incredible. And I know without a doubt that Bill McVeigh loves his son more today that he did 4 years ago. Because we, as parents, have a way of loving our children more the more they need us.

We talked about -- Jennifer's starting to teach school, she just started teaching this last fall. She's a year older than Julie when Julie was killed, Julie was 23. And Julie, unknown to us, had a job teaching Spanish at a Catholic elementary school in Oklahoma City at the time of her death. We know that because the Principal of that school -- the bombing was in April -- the Principal called in July wanting to talk to Julie, to inform her when the start day of school was, not knowing that she had been killed in the bombing. So Jennifer and I talked about Julie wanting to teach school as well. She told me about how several family members have threatened to withdraw their children from that school because a McVeigh was going to be teaching there. As it turned out, there was one family that did withdraw their children. And I assured her that was -- she was better off, the school was better off and that family was better off that they did what they did.

Tim's guilt or innocence never came up, that was not my purpose in going there. I didn't have to have Bill McVeigh look me in the eye and say, "I'm sorry my son killed your daughter." I didn't have to hear that. But I was able to tell him that I truly understood the pain that he was going through, and that he -- as I -- was a victim of what happened in Oklahoma City. We talked about how many generations of McVeigh's had been in western New York. They were Irish Catholic, I'm Irish Catholic, and I told him that I was a third generation of Welch's in Central Oklahoma. So that was more common ground for us. But after our hour and a half long visit, I got up from the kitchen table and Jennifer came from the other end of the table, and gave me a hug, and we cried, and we sobbed, and I was able to hold her face in my hands -- I'll never forget it -- I was able to hold her face in my hands and tell her, "Honey, the three of us are in this for the rest of our lives. And we can make the most of it if we choose. I don't want your brother to die. And I will do everything in my power to prevent it." And she hugged me again, and I left -- they had left a rental car for me outside of this house so I could drive back into Buffalo, its about 20 miles back into town, and I wanted to get back to Hope House, which is a halfway house for released prisoners, that I had spent about 5 days in and out of. I got to know Sister Karen who runs Hope House, and I knew Sister Rosalyn would be there as well. And I'm driving back to Buffalo, I couldn't see through my glasses because I was still sobbing, I'm driving practically 80, 85 miles per hour -- probably another short time of temporary insanity again, I've thought about it since, I think it was. When I got back to Hope House I sat in the living room and sobbed, and sobbed, and made a total ass out of myself for an hour. I honestly did. But after I got through that period of time, I had all of a sudden -- I don't know what it is to be a born again Christian. I've heard that term all my life. I occasionally become suspicious when someone tells me they're a born again Christian; I don't know why I do that, but I do. But I have never felt closer to God in my life than I did at that moment, once I was through that sobbing, because I felt like there was this load taken completely off my shoulders. I wish I could explain it to you; I wish I could make you understand the way it felt to me.

I left the next day to go back to Oklahoma City. And on Monday morning, Liz McDermott called me -- she was the next door neighbor -- and she said, "Bud, I haven't heard a spirit in Bill McVeigh's voice for 3 years like I've heard now." She said, "I want you to understand that this is the greatest thing you ever could have done for him." And I wasn't doing it for Bill McVeigh, I was doing it for myself, it was a selfish thing on my part. But, as it turned out, it worked for all three of us. Liz McDermott writes to Tim in prison, he's in prison in the federal penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, and Bill told me when I was visiting with him that he writes once a month as well. Liz gets angry because she will write to Tim, and he will answer her letter the same day or the next day. He doesn't give her any breathing space. And she would like to just continue the once a month correspondence, and she would feel better if he would just wait a week or so to respond. So, anyway, Liz writes a letter to Tim and explains in detail about the visit I had with his father and his sister. I was talking to her 3 weeks later, she still hadn't heard from Tim. Finally, about another week after that, she called me on the phone, she said, "I got a letter from Tim today," and I was curious to know what he'd had to say. I said, "What did he have to say?" and she said, "Nothing." In all of the correspondence that she has had with him, he has never acknowledged the Oklahoma City Bombing. Not his guilt or innocence, not that it even happened. He doesn't even acknowledge that the bombing happened. I think -- I don't know if he's driven by some insanity or not, I really can't explain that. But it would make it a lot easier for me -- I haven't forgiven Tim for what he did. But it would make it a lot easier for me if he would acknowledge what he did. I'm thoroughly convinced that he did it. I'm also thoroughly convinced that there were others besides him and Nichols involved in it. They just have not been indicted yet. I want to go meet with Tim McVeigh some day, and I want to ask him who all was involved. But I'm not going to be able to do that until he acknowledges at least that it happened.

As far as the death penalty is concerned, it won't help me any when Tim is killed. The death penalty is about revenge and hate, and I know there are people sitting around this table right now that profess to be Christians. If we're going to truly follow Christ, as I feel like I try to do, I think we must ask ourselves this one question about the death penalty: "Would Jesus pull the switch?" I don't think that he would, because Jesus stopped an execution, when he said, "Let those who are without sin cast the first stone." I think Ghandi put it very well about the Old Testament -- "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."

I want to thank you so much for hearing my story, and I would love to answer any questions, and I know that Renny would as well, that you guys might have.



Questions

Q: You talk about helping the McLaughlins to get you to forgive them. If you were at the point where you could forgive, do you know what that means?

A: (Renny Cushing) No. It's a process. I can't exactly explain why it was I went to the prison for the first time. I had a pretty good excuse, I had some questions -- it was part of the truth-seeking. I had one question in particular. The individual who murdered my father -- after my father was murdered, the women who was involved did a television interview on our local television network. She said, basically, "It was really strange, my husband were out and we came home, and saw all the lights on. It was really weird, living next door to someone who was being murdered." And she said, "I think it had something to do with the nuclear stuff." I had been involved in opposition to the nuclear plant. And this woman, as part of the alibi that she had developed, part of the coverage, was putting out publicly to the press that somehow it was related to my activities. And that was directed at me. The moment I was conscious of it, I wanted to go ask her why she said that. After going through a year's process of getting into the jail, getting vetted, go visit the warden and all this stuff, I finally got in, and we sat down for the first time in this room. I just asked her why she said that. She said she didn't really know, her husband made it up. That was the reason I went there, and that was the answer I got. But beyond that, I came to realize afterwards there were probably lots of reasons why I wanted to go there to interact with her.

Q: Could you talk a little about your dealings with other families? Have you had a dialogue with them about the subject?

A: (Bud Welch) Yes, I have. Like myself, it took me about 9 or 10 months to reach the point where I no longer wanted the death penalty. Some other family members that did want the death penalty, some did not. Probably I would say that around the time I reached that decision for myself, there were maybe 10 or 12 % of the people who didn't want the death penalty. As time as gone on -- Tim McVeigh's sentencing was in June 1997, and I would say that at that point there were probably 20% who didn't want the death penalty, and since that time the number keeps growing. I had a man tell me the very day that McVeigh was sentenced to death-- there were a lot of us who met at the bomb site, we had 20-25 minutes notice once the jury had reached their decision, the judge announced that and gave everyone some time to get wherever they wanted to be, and there were literally thousands of people that gathered at the bomb site. Downtown office workers, who weren't even survivors or family members arrived at the site, because the media was there, and there were many television screens set up where they could watch. I had this one guy that had lost his wife, and he said to me after McVeigh was sentenced to death, and I had said the comments I said on television that I was disappointed about the sentence -- I wanted life without parole -- that he had always thought that I was a team player. Somehow, because I didn't want him killed, I was no longer "a team player." That same man came to me before Thanksgiving this last year -- we have a monthly families and survivors meeting -- and he didn't look at me, he was looking at the floor. He's even more country than I am, he said, "You know what? Hell, it ain't going to help me when they kill that guy." Then he looked me in the eye, and he says, "I bet you never thought you'd ever hear me say that." I said, "Well, frankly I didn't think that I would, but I hoped that I would hear it someday."

This is kind of the process that goes along, the steps that people take. All of my family members oppose the death penalty, oppose Tim McVeigh being executed. The last one to come aboard was my mother. My mother's 87 years old, she'll be 88 in July. She has 25 grandchildren, and her and Julie were quite close, but she would have felt the same way about any of her grandchildren. Mom was very angry at me for speaking out against the death penalty for Tim McVeigh, because she wanted him dead. Finally, about a year ago, she called me on the phone one day. It kind of surprised me. She said, "Where's your next trip." I said, "Well, Mom, why the hell do you want to know? You're just gonna give me a hard time about it." And she asked me, and I told her where I was going next. Seems like to me I was going to Syracuse, New York, I think. And we got to talking about that, and she said, "Well, Bud, I hope it goes well for you. You're right about the death penalty - you're right about the death penalty. I guess I have enough of my anger gone now that I can believe that we shouldn't kill him." And that's kind of the process I think that we all go through. Renny can relate to that. You talk to countless people and the closer they are to the crime, you can't really be rational. It's unfair to ask them a question about the death penalty. We have politicians that are so bad about going in on a case immediately after it happens, and trying to stir these people up. The prosecutors, they try to get the victim's family members angry. We even have governors that do that. I think there might be one here in Massachusetts who's guilty of that. Maybe you have politicians who want to prove that they're tough on crime, and the way they prove the best that they're tough on crime is to pound on the podium and be the baddest ass in the jungle. And that's the ones that we've been voting for. They're not telling the truth about the death penalty.

These people -- the people that are pro-death penalty, the most ardent supporters of it -- you can get them privately, and if they will be honest with you, they'll admit that it is not a deterrent, that it really is all about a popularity poll. We shouldn't be killing people because of a popularity poll. In this country, we take on the easy ones, we kill the easy ones. That's all we kill are the easy ones. We put about 1% of the murderers on death row in this country, and those are mainly poor people. They're all poor. There's 159 people on death row in Oklahoma today. Not a single one -- not a one of those -- paid for their own defense. Not a one. Regardless of what any of you think about the guilt or innocence of O.J. Simpson -- I have my feelings about that -- had he been found guilty, he wouldn't have received the death penalty, because that prosecutor was facing millions of dollars worth of defense attorneys. Turned out he was exonerated.

Another issue I'd like to bring up -- if Renny will permit me to keep on rambling -- is wrongful convictions. They had a conference in Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois last November. There were 76 people that are walking free in America today that once were on death row. One of those people had been on death row for 21 years. And when you talk to people about the death penalty, they'll say, "Well, I don't want my tax dollars feeding them while they're in jail." But the death penalty is 5 times more expensive than life in prison.  But back to the question of wrongful conviction. I met with Robert Miller, a black man who had been convicted of raping and murdering a white woman. He was sent to prison. And later they did DNA tests, and those tests showed that the DNA did not match either person who was convicted for that crime, it matched another person who is in Oklahoma State Prison right now. I asked him, "How can you talk and seem so normal, when you've just been let off of death row?" And he said, "I got religion while I was inside. Before I went to prison I was no angel, Id done lots of robberies and the like, although I've never raped, shot or killed anyone. But I figure I owed a debt to society, and death row was really better than the rest of prison, because there's no rape or anything like that."

Q: You talked about temporary insanity. I'm interested in how a person can be affected like that when they're a victim of crime, and how politicians try to keep that insanity boiling.

A: (Bud Welch) There was this case where a man used to beat his wife. She was in a coma, he was arrested and since his family was loaded, the $100,000 bail that was set was easy to meet. Two days before he was arraigned, he slipped into the hospital where she was and put arsenic in her drip. New York was outraged. This happened just before I was speaking in New York. And the first question I would be asked was, "Did you hear about what happened here in New York?" I would say "Yes, and you're angry and the community is angry." That's understandable. And like when the abortion doctor was killed. That doctor's oldest son said he wanted to torture the killer. A 14 year old son has a right to say what he wants to say, and a mother does too -- everyone does. They all need to get that out. But that's exactly why the state should not start a criminal trial within 72 hours of the crime, because if we did that we would have lynch mobs forming. Survivors of victims need a break to get to normalcy. It's the only way to get justice.

Q: What about people without closure, how are they doing?

A: (Renny Cushing) It varies. I wouldn't presume to dictate how an individual should heal, I just know that they need to. I respect the people who feel the need for an execution, I just don't think that it works. The whole criminal justice system reinforces the notion that people need an execution to heal. And there's this notion that goes along with that, that if you don't want an execution, then you obviously don't love your family. We need to publicly affirm that it is ok to not want an execution, that ultimately we'll be better off without it. I don't have any stats on this, it is just anecdotal evidence, but from what I have seen, people who oppose the death penalty eventually come to a better place than those who witness an execution. We all share the desire for something good to come out of the horror. Some people think that good can be found in the death penalty. But that just continues the cycle of violence. It also leads to this really odd contradiction, "We will kill people to show people that killing is wrong." The criminal justice system, with its fixation on the death penalty -- the criminal justice system and society ultimately abandon victims, because there's no infrastructure in place to help people heal.

(Bud Welch) I was speaking at a private residence in Seattle recently, there were about 70 people there. One lady said to me that she'd always supported the death penalty, but she wanted to hear me speak. Her husband had been murdered in 1981, in Florida, and the murdered had killed other people too. She had supported the death penalty right up until the execution of her husband's killer about 5 years ago. A week after the execution, she started to get this creepy feeling. After about 6 weeks, she went to visit her sister. She talked to her about this creepy feeling, and her sister had been having some of the same sorts of feelings. This woman used to be in counseling, she would go between 3 and 5 times a week. She has these moments of rage over her husband's death, which last from about 8 to 15 seconds. I get that too, I feel that, and I think, "What am I doing? That bastard doesn't deserve to live." We all know what rage is. Anyway, this woman told me that when the murderer was alive, she could take her rage out on him. But once he was dead, she had nowhere to release the rage to. So she moved to Seattle to get as far away from Florida as she could. She's still in counseling, only about once or twice a month. The prosecutor in Florida never told her that she might go through this, through this mental and emotional crisis once the guy was executed. She told me that if she knew then what she knows now, she would have done everything she could to stop that execution. Because her life was ok until that moment, until the execution -- she was moving to a place in her life where she was quite happy. The execution disrupted her life again. I have heard that many, many times. There was a similar situation where a girl was raped and she eventually wanted to confront her attacker, but he died in prison before she could do that. It took her a long time to get over that, she had nowhere she could vent her anger. And so the death penalty can actually prevent healing, rather than enabling healing.

 

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