July 5, 2001

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if they had let me serve as the defense attorney for Timothy McVeigh? Obviously that would not be a good idea, because my lawyer experience comes from watching Law & Order on TV and the prosecutors always win on that show. Besides I would not have been able to be unbiased. I think they have a law forbidding the defense attorney from voting for the death penalty for his client. But if I had been on McVeigh's defense team, I probably could have retired to Beverly Hills, bought a big boat and lived off the interest of my last pay check.

While this painful piece of history seems to have come to a just conclusion with the execution of the Oklahoma City Bomber last month, some startling figures have been released this week. According to a report I read on the Internet, the U.S. government footed the bill for more than $15 million for McVeigh's legal defense. Overall, the cases against McVeigh and his alleged accomplice Terry Nichols cost taxpayers a reported $83 million.

To put that in perspective, that's enough money to run the Scotland County R-I School district for the next 20+ years. We could have paid for plenty of things across Missouri with the money, like four lanes on Highway 61, shoulders on Highway 136 or maybe even a couple box seats in the new St. Louis Cardinal Stadium.

Now I realize everyone is entitled to a defense, and if they cannot afford one, the court will appoint an attorney for themÖ. yada, yada, yada. But $15 million to defend a guy who admitted he was guilty? Oh for the good old days of the wild west, when a group of Oklahoma City miners would have taken care of this mess with a rope and a tree and saved the taxpayers a bundle. Okay, I won't go as far as to condone vigilante justice, but there has to be some limit to this craziness.

It seems the death penalty is getting much of the blame for the massive expense involved in the case. With the ultimate punishment hanging over McVeigh's head, no one wanted to say that every effort wasn't made on his behalf before he was put to death. So now those of us who are disturbed by the cost of the case are being asked to challenge capital punishment. I for one will not be bought off. I still believe that he got what he deserved. Well actually I thought they should have sat him on moving truck full of fertilizer and lit the fuse, but ultimately justice was served.

Prison obviously isn't a nice place, but it simply doesn't scare some people either. We have to have the ultimate punishment for the ultimate crime. Instead of doing away with the death sentence maybe we should just add it to the penalty for lawyers who charge $150 an hour, charge trips to all kinds of foreign countries to "investigate" conspiracy theories, psychiatric experts and anything else that comes with a free tour of Europe and the tropics, just to defend a guy who doesn't want to be defended. It makes you wonder who was behind all the appeals, McVeigh himself or the lawyers and other defense team members that didn't want to see their gravy train end any sooner than possible.

When McVeigh died of lethal injection a few weeks ago, who do you imagine was the most upset? His family members, survivors of the bomb attack, the victims' loved ones, opponents of the death penalty, or the Timothy McVeigh defense team?

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