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Struggle continues for widow of bombing victim

4/1/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: This report is a sidebar to UMNS story #189. Photographs are available.

A UMNS Report By Tom McAnally*

After her husband died in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, Anne Marshall began the long and painful journey of putting her life back together.

She tested her own psychological resources, examined her spiritual values and sought to discern the will of God. As a faithful member and full-time staff executive in the United Methodist Church, she felt a special need to consider official teachings that condemn the death penalty.

Her husband Raymond Johnson was one of the 168 victims, including 19 children, who died in the Oklahoma City bombing. Marshall is a staff member of the denomination's Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, with offices in New York.

Marshall has shared her personal experiences several times with United Methodist News Service, but not until now has she revealed publicly that she was one of 10 people randomly chosen to view the execution of Timothy McVeigh, the convicted bomber. The execution took place June 11, 2001, in Terre Haute, Ind.

As Marshall sought to square her own hurt and pain with the position of her church, she turned to her own Native American heritage for insight and guidance. She is a member of the Creek nation.

"I consulted ministers of the church but then I went back to who I am as a native person," she said. "I talked to elders in my community who told me about our own court and judicial system before the white people came.

"Native people never had to build a prison, I learned," Marshall said. "People understood that when you broke the law you were punished."

If McVeigh had been native, he would have been expelled from the tribe until the green corn ceremony of the next year, she said. "It would have been determined then if he were to die or be welcomed back. It would have been a community decision."

She said he could have been welcomed back into the community only if he had worked to right the wrong, been remorseful, and done what the community required. And, if he were readmitted into the community, he would have had to provide for the family of the victim.

"The victim's family would have had a large say," she continued. "If it was decided he should die, McVeigh would have chosen his executioner and the method of his death."

The United Methodist Church, in its Social Principles, opposes capital punishment and urge its elimination from all criminal codes. The Social Principles are found in the denomination's Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions.

Marshall believes each case should be handled on an individual basis, taking into consideration the nature of the crime and the attitude of the person who committed it.

She finds particularly hurtful the fact that Timothy McVeigh never expressed remorse for his actions and returned, unopened, the letters sent to him by family members of the victims.

"He (McVeigh) never really expressed himself to make me feel sorry for him or question how a society could have let a man like this go astray," she said. "He was never remorseful. He only spoke of the victims of the bombing as being 'collateral damage.'"

Sitting a few feet from McVeigh as the lethal injection was administered, Marshall said she felt no joy or sadness. "I felt no emotion. I saw a person die who committed an atrocity and he was making it right with the community. All the time, a line from a song kept going over and over in my mind: 'There is a balm in Gilead.'" As in the case of all executions, a screen blocked the inmate from seeing those present.

"World Trade Center families don't have anyone to execute," Marshall observed, referring to those who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on New York. "The perpetrators who did it are gone. They are dealing with issues far different than those of us related to the Oklahoma City bombing. We saw justice being served."

Marshall said some church members are upset with her for not condemning the execution and forgiving McVeigh. "I have a lot of admiration for people who can forgive, but I wonder if they really do. Do they really? I can't say up to this point I can really ever forgive McVeigh. I don't know if we as humans have that realm. Jesus did. We can give the verbal forgiveness, but deep down can we really do it? I'm struggling with that still."

Before she dies, Marshall said she hopes she can forgive McVeigh and all the people involved. "I'm still struggling with it now. I appreciate my rootedness in the church that has kept me focused on what it means to be a Christian. I have limitations as a human being.

"I don't think God wanted people to die in the World Trade Center or for Raymond to die in the Oklahoma City bombing. That was McVeigh's choice, and we are living with the consequences of that choice. It was never God's plan."

Since that horrible day in 1995, Marshall says she has moved on with her life. "I must speak about what I believe and my own struggles. It is a struggle today. I want to be a person of God and do things that God calls me to do."
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*McAnally, former director of United Methodist News Service, resides in Nashville, Tenn.

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