as a lethal combination of drugs is injected into Timothy McVeigh and he breathes his last, the survivors of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City and the relatives of those who perished in the blast are supposed to heave a collective sigh of relief.
After McVeigh's execution (which has been delayed for a month because of FBI bungling), they are expected to begin the "healing process," or even achieve a sense of "closure" about the unimaginably cruel day, April 19, 1995, that forever changed their lives.
But in and of itself, McVeigh's execution won't bring about anything remotely resembling closure for the families of those who were killed in the blast, says Bud Welch.
Welch's 23-year-old daughter, Julie Marie, died in the explosion. While there's no doubt of McVeigh's guilt, Welch says, he opposes the death penalty in this case as in all others because the act of execution is one of "revenge and hatred."
"When we take him out of that cage and execute him, at the end of the day what we will have ended up with is a staged political event. It does nothing more or less for our society than that," says Welch, a service station owner who still lives in Oklahoma City.
Joining the chorus of opponents to the McVeigh execution is Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation (MVFR), a Massachusetts-based organization. "It's important to de-link the fate of the killer from what the needs of the victims are," says Renny Cushing, executive director of MVFR.
Cushing, a recent, two-term member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, lost his father in 1988 when a local police officer (the policeman and his wife, unbeknownst to the Cushings, held a long-standing grudge against them) fired a shotgun through their front screen door.
"We live in a society where the death penalty is supposed to be this event that is a balm to (survivors') pain. But it misses what the aftermath of murder is about: the healing process. I don't believe that you end up finding healing by replicating the act that brought the pain in the first place."
Shortly after his father's killer was identified (and sentenced to life without parole), an acquaintance came up to Cushing to express his condolences. "I hope they fry that bastard," Cushing remembers him saying.
"He presumed that I had changed my position on the death penalty. (But) I was opposed to the death penalty before my father's murder, and so for me to change my position would give power to the murderer. Part of reclaiming my life was not allowing my values to be taken away."
Much of the work MVFR does, Cushing explains, involves trying to educate the public about the real needs of survivors and the antagonism faced by surviving family members when they vocally oppose the death penalty.
"There is very serious discrimination against victims who don't embrace the death penalty. The proper response to murder in this country is that you should want the killer put to death. If you don't, you become suspect. Your love for your relative is challenged," he says.
"What happens for us is dual isolation: we lose someone to murder and people don't want to be near us because of that. And then we oppose the thing that everyone expects us to want, the death penalty, and people abandon us because of that as well."
To make matters worse, says Cushing, victims' assistance advocates and agencies often abandon surviving family members if they speak out against the death penalty. Those who oppose capital punishment can also suffer the wrath of prosecuting attorneys and judges.
In 1986, SueZann Bosler and her father, the Reverend Billy Bosler, were attacked in their Miami church by a mumbling, glassy-eyed intruder. Stabbed 24 times, Bosler's father was killed, while she herself was wounded in the back and head and left for dead.
Because her father had always been a tireless opponent of the death penalty, Bosler attempted to speak out against a death sentence for her father's killer, James Bernard Campbell, over the course of three trials and two sentencings.
During the first two trials, Bosler says, her desire to let the jury know that she did not seek the death penalty for Campbell was discouraged by the prosecuting attorneys. But by the third trial, Bosler had decided to speak out clearly in front of the jury, particularly as she had begun to learn more about her father's killer.
Campbell, she says, has an IQ of 71, and had to be medicated to keep him calm and alert throughout his own trial. "He tried drinking bleach when he was a child to kill himself," says Bosler, adding that he was abused as a child and has had life-long problems with drugs and alcohol.
And so, in answer to a simple question about her occupation during the third trial, Bosler answered that she is a hairdresser -- and an activist against the death penalty. The comment, heard by the jury, resulted in a swift admonition from the judge.
In the McVeigh case, the death sentence has pitted people against each other who once joined together for mutual support. On June 13, 1997, when the announcement was made that the jury had reached a verdict in the McVeigh trial, Welch joined a crowd of a thousand people gathered at the bomb site to hear the murderer's fate. When it was announced that McVeigh had been given the death sentence, says Welch, many hundreds clapped and applauded.
A woman whose child was killed in the bombing came up to Welch, who had by then made his opposition to the death penalty clear to everyone.
"She clapped within two inches of my nose," he recalls. "It felt awful."
"I'm uncomfortable being around people with so much anger. I wish they would deal with their anger and go beyond. But unfortunately, some of them will die with it. Some of those people have aged 20 years in the last six years because they're so consumed with anger," says Welch.
Not that Welch doesn't understand that kind of anger.
For the first 10 months after the bombing, he says, "I was so damn full of rage and vengeance that I drank myself to sleep every night.
"I smoked over a pack a day when Julie was killed," he states flatly. "That escalated within days to three packs a day. People would say, "You're killing yourself.' But my attitude at that point was that the sooner I died, the sooner I'd get to see Julie again."
Welch's harrowing experience has allowed him to develop a different kind of perspective on the killer himself. Now a friend of Timothy McVeigh's father, Welch sees the younger McVeigh as an angry, disturbed and suicidal 33-year-old.
"When we kill him, we've ended up with an assisted suicide," says Welch.
What's known about McVeigh's mindset at the time of the bombing is that his all-consuming rage over the federal government's 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Texas apparently precipitated a decision to pursue "a campaign of individual assassination." Former attorney general Janet Reno was at the top of that list.
McVeigh eventually decided that a strategic attack on a "command center" would send his message in a manner better suited to the outrage he felt over an "increasingly militaristic and violent federal government."
His decision cost the lives of 168 people, including 19 children, and another 700 were injured. It was the nation's worst act of domestic terrorism.
The death toll helped to seal McVeigh's fate in sentencing. Although the federal government hasn't executed anyone since 1963, the decision to kill McVeigh was spurred by outrage over the number of deaths as well as panic about domestic terrorism. (Initially, the attack was ascribed to Arab terrorists.)
When McVeigh announced last December that he did not want to pursue further appeals, proponents of his execution were satisfied. The convicted killer had, for all intents and purposes, consented to his own death.
But in an Amnesty International USA report released last month called The Illusion Of Control, the human rights organization argues that a decision taken by someone who is under threat of death at the hands of others can never be considered consensual. Executions like McVeigh's are a form of premeditated killing, says Amnesty, "a human rights violation that is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it."
Many have expressed concern that McVeigh has consented to his own execution in order to become a "martyr" for his cause, so that his death, in turn, may provoke further retaliatory acts.
Furthermore, says Rob Freer, author of the Amnesty report, capital punishment in the U.S. is both seriously flawed and disproportionately aimed at the poor, the mentally disabled and disturbed and people of colour.
Recognizing various problematic aspects of capital punishment, more than 100 countries have abandoned executions in law or practice. Twelve states in the U.S. have instituted moratoriums on the death penalty.
While popular support for capital punishment in the U.S. is still strong -- two-thirds of Americans favour the death penalty in cases of murder, according to the latest Gallup polls -- accounts of wrongly convicted death-row inmates have eroded that support from a high of 80 per cent in 1994.
More than 3,700 prisoners -- 54 per cent of whom are people of colour -- currently sit on death row in the U.S. Opponents of the death penalty believe that there are likely innocents among them. Already, 96 death-row inmates have been exonerated since the death penalty was reinstated in the U.S., and at least 23 people are believed to have been wrongly executed in the past century.