TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Timothy McVeigh awaited transfer Friday to the windowless brick building where he will be put to death – a journey that will be his last chance to see the sky and breathe fresh air.
The 33-year-old McVeigh abandoned all efforts Thursday to stave off execution for the Oklahoma City bombing after back-to-back defeats in court.
He is set to die by chemical injection at 8 a.m. EDT Monday in the first execution carried out by the federal government since 1963. Prison officials said the chemicals that will be used for the execution have already arrived.
McVeigh is expected to be moved from his cell to the death house no later than Sunday morning, 24 hours before the execution. Prison officials would not say exactly when he would be moved, citing security concerns.
McVeigh has already instructed prison officials on what he wants done with his body, his money and any belongings.
Prison officials and McVeigh’s lawyers would not say what will happen to the body other than that it will be turned over to a representative of the family.
Before his original execution date a month ago, McVeigh had given away most of his belongings to fellow death row inmates, including a picture of himself inscribed with the words: “My head has been bloodied, but it remains unbowed.”
A final meal of his choosing will be served at noon on Sunday. U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokesman Dan Dunne said McVeigh has not yet selected his meal.
One complication surfaced Friday, when a federal judge in Pittsburgh ordered the execution videotaped for a case alleging the death penalty violates the ban on cruel and unusual punishment. But an appeals judge delayed the order Friday and a panel of judges later overturned it, blocking the videotaping.
Also, one of the people McVeigh selected to witness his execution, author Gore Vidal, announced that he would not be coming to Terre Haute. Vidal is writing a story about McVeigh for Vanity Fair magazine.
The magazine released a statement Friday saying that Vidal is unable to make the trip from his home in Italy because he didn’t have enough advance notice.
Jim Cross, special assistant at the federal prison, said McVeigh had to submit his list of witnesses 30 days before the execution. He said it will be up to the warden whether McVeigh is allowed to substitute another witness.
McVeigh was convicted of murder and condemned for the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building that killed 168 people in the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil.
In Oklahoma City, about 300 survivors and bombing victims’ relatives will watch the execution on a secure, closed-circuit TV broadcast.
“I’ve heard some people kind of plan to celebrate, and that’s up to every individual,” said Tom Kight, who lost a stepdaughter in the bombing. “I certainly plan no celebration.”
For security reasons, government offices in and around Terre Haute will be closed on Monday, and the start of summer school was postponed for a day.
McVeigh has been housed in the federal death row Special Confinement Unit — known as “Dog” unit because it was once the “D” wing of the prison — since July 1999, when he and the 19 other men facing federal death sentences were moved to Terre Haute.
For the transfer to the death house, McVeigh will be shackled at the arms and legs and swiftly moved past the cells of several of the death row inmates he has come to know. He will step outside briefly, then enter a prison van where his view through the windows will be obscured by heavy metal grilles. He will not be visible to any of the 1,300 other prisoners.
This carefully choreographed transfer, in which McVeigh will travel only about 500 yards, has been planned since 1993, practiced repeatedly so everyone knows where to be from the moment McVeigh leaves his cell until guards close the door on his 9-by-14-foot holding cell in the death house.
“There’s a team of people who’ve been formulated for the purpose of this execution,” Dunne said. “They’ve been trained here, we’ve done mock exercises and we’re training this week, just to ensure that everything is done in a coordinated manner.”