Religion and Social Trends

Americans Willing to Wait Longer for McVeigh's Execution

Slim majority says it should be delayed past June 11

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- If convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh decides to ask for a stay of his pending execution, currently scheduled for June 11, it may be the first time since he was sentenced to death that public opinion will be on his side, at least in one narrow respect.

A recent Gallup Poll finds that a slim majority of Americans (52%) believe McVeigh's execution should be delayed as long as necessary to properly review newly discovered FBI files concerning his case, while 47% believe the federal government should not postpone it any further. McVeigh's original execution date was May 16, but Attorney General John Ashcroft moved it to June 11 once it was discovered that the FBI had failed to turn over all evidentiary documents to McVeigh's lawyers prior to his trial.

Most Still Favor Death Penalty for McVeigh

The FBI blunder, although extremely embarrassing for the agency, has not changed the public's view that McVeigh deserves the death penalty for his role in the bombing, which left 168 dead at the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.

According to the May 18-20 Gallup poll, 80% of Americans believe that McVeigh should be executed, nearly identical to the 81% who felt this way a month earlier (and several weeks before the problem with the missing FBI files was revealed). Despite some slight variation in the exact percentage, that view is the consensus of all major groups in society, including men, women, whites, nonwhites, "liberals" and "conservatives." Only 16% of Americans oppose the execution.

Support for McVeigh's execution comes mostly from people who more generally support the death penalty, but it also includes many Americans who otherwise oppose the death penalty. Of the 80% who favor the death penalty in McVeigh's case, 57% tell Gallup they favor the death penalty for murder in general, while 23% generally oppose the death penalty.

News of the FBI files has also not changed the public's view that McVeigh is guilty. Eighty-six percent of Americans tell Gallup that they "were convinced McVeigh was guilty before and still are." Only 8% say they were previously convinced of his guilt but now have doubts because of the FBI file issue. A miniscule 2% say they have never been convinced that McVeigh was guilty.

Americans Skeptical FBI Made a "Mistake"

The public's support for delaying McVeigh's execution may stem in part from a basic respect for due process in the law, but it could also be a result of concerns that what is contained in the previously withheld documents could be relevant to the McVeigh defense. The FBI maintains that their failure to turn certain files over to McVeigh's attorneys was unintentional, but the public seems a bit skeptical. While a slim majority of Americans (52%) believe that the omission of files was "an honest mistake," a sizeable number (42%) believe that the FBI "knowingly withheld evidence in the McVeigh case."

A majority of young Americans (53% of those aged 18-29) believe the FBI intentionally withheld the McVeigh evidence, while a majority of older Americans tend to give the agency the benefit of the doubt.

Survey Methods

The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,010 adults, 18 years and older, conducted May 18-20, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Which comes closest to your view -- [ROTATED: I generally support the death penalty and believe McVeigh should be executed, I generally oppose the death penalty but believe McVeigh should be executed in this case, (or) I generally oppose the death penalty and do not believe McVeigh should be executed]?

 

 

2001 May 18-20
%

2001 Apr 20-22
%

     

Support death penalty and believe McVeigh should be executed

57

59

Oppose death penalty but believe McVeigh should be executed

23

22

Oppose death penalty and don't believe McVeigh should be executed

16

16

     

OTHER (vol.)

2

1

No opinion

2

2

     

(vol.)=Volunteered response

   


As you may know, the FBI recently discovered documents that were related to the McVeigh court case but that were not previously made available to his defense lawyers. Which comes closer to your view -- [ROTATED: the FBI knowingly withheld evidence in the McVeigh case, (or) the FBI made an honest mistake]?

 

 

Knowingly
withheld evidence

Made an
honest mistake

No
opinion

       

2001 May 18-20

42%

52

6



Which comes closer to your view -- [ROTATED: the federal government should delay the McVeigh execution as long as necessary to properly review these files, (or) the federal government should not delay the McVeigh execution beyond the June 11th date it already set]?

 

 

Should delay

Should not delay

No opinion

       

2001 May 18-20

52%

47

1



Still thinking about the recently discovered documents, which comes closest to your view -- [ROTATED: you were convinced McVeigh was guilty before and you still are, you were convinced McVeigh was guilty before but now you have doubts, or you have never been convinced McVeigh was guilty]?

 

 

2001 May 18-20
%

   

You were convinced McVeigh was guilty before and you still are

86

You were convinced McVeigh was guilty before but now you have doubts

8

You have never been convinced McVeigh was guilty

2

   

OTHER (vol.)

1

No opinion

3

   

(vol.)=Volunteered response

 


Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/3652/Americans-Willing-Wait-Longer-McVeighs-Execution.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030