Killing McVeigh

The Death Penalty and the Myth of Closure

336 pages

June, 2012

ISBN: 9780814796108



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Jody Lyneé Madeira is Associate Professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

All books by Jody Lyneé Madeira

On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh detonated a two-ton truck bomb that felled the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. On June 11, 2001, an unprecedented 242 witnesses watched him die by lethal injection.
In the aftermath of the bombings, American public commentary almost immediately turned to “closure” rhetoric. Reporters and audiences alike speculated about whether victim’s family members and survivors could get closure from memorial services, funerals, legislation, monuments, trials, and executions. But what does “closure” really mean for those who survive—or lose loved ones in—traumatic acts? In the wake of such terrifying events, is closure a realistic or appropriate expectation?
In Killing McVeigh, Jody Lyneé Madeira uses the Oklahoma City bombing as a case study to explore how family members and other survivors come to terms with mass murder. The book demonstrates the importance of understanding what closure really is before naively asserting it can or has been reached.


  • "Sixteen years after the horror of the Oklahoma City bombing, it may now be possible to examine that dark day with some objectivity. In Killing McVeigh, Professor Madeira offers a faithful account of what followed through the words of victims and survivors. Her analysis shows how the death penalty forced so much energy and focus to be put on McVeigh, and how difficult it is to make sense of such a tragedy."

    —Richard C. Dieter, Executive Director, Death Penalty Information Center

  • "Everyone seems to have an opinion about whether the execution of murderers can offer 'closure' to the victims’ loved ones. Finally, we have a study that has investigated the largest, most media-saturated mass murder and execution in recent times—the Oklahoma City bombing and the execution of Timothy McVeigh. Madeira’s in-depth, fair-minded, and sensitive account opens a window for us into the struggles of those affected and explores the complicated role that our public institutions of criminal justice play in the complex and difficult work of reconstructing life after atrocity."

    —Carol Steiker, Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

  • “Intense yet compassionate, Killing McVeigh is a window into the horror, trauma and outrage experienced by the survivors and family members of the 168 victims murdered in the Oklahoma City bombing. This important volume thoughtfully chronicles the challenges encountered in the victims' quest for healing, testifies to the importance of attending to anger and grieving, and affirms the continuation of life in the aftermath of murder and loss. Madeira provides us with a blueprint for reengaging with closure and healing, penetrating glib rhetoric to chronicle both the blessings of friendship and community and the wrenching experiences of incessant media crisis coverage and capital proceedings, while identifying new challenges that confront us in this age of terrorism."

    —Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking

  • "Clearly written and persuasive, this is an important contribution to the literature of closure."

    —Harry Charles, Library Journal

  • "Madeira proves a sensitive, nuanced, and empathetic witness to the painful journeys of the [Oklahoma City] survivors' and victims' families."

    Contemporary Psychology

  • "This is an important book . . . . Madeira's thoughts on closure and the workings of memory are provocative, interesting, and deserve attention."


  • "Important, comprehensive, and insightful analysis."


  • "Madeira's book does a great service to the nation because it helps explain, using a tragedy and a trial we all remember, how differently victims of crime react to the legal process that takes hold in a high-profile case.”

    The Atlantic

  • "Suitable reading for professionals, encompassing criminal justice, news media, and mental health professionals."


  • "Killing McVeigh confronts us with a kind of reality that few of us ever experience. What Madeira achieves is the appreciation of a reality that is at once known and unknown. She accomplishes this through the painstaking detailing of survivors' narratives, making it more difficult for us to hold this knowledge at a distance so we remain safe, untouched by tragedy. Her work reminds us that we are never completely beyond the reach of terror and once traumatized, the wounds are there and unremitting. Yet, she does not leave us without hope. Madeira's detailed, first [hand] narratives of grief and adaptation provide a very personal view . . . of resoluteness, situated in one of the most disturbing chapters of our collective history."

    —Ronald C. Naso