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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 August, 2002, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
The limits of mercy
Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Kay Fulton is the sister of one of the victims. She watched McVeigh die by lethal injection. Fulton kept an audio diary of her experience.

Stephen Smith
Reporting from Red Wing for American Radio Works and Crossing Continents

Kay Fulton has seen extraordinary things.

She witnessed a terrorist bombing. She watched the man responsible die by lethal injection. She saw Ground Zero - what used to be the World Trade Centre.

She has seen grief beyond imagination.

The Alfred P Murrah Federal Building
Kay Fulton grew up in a small community in Oklahoma, where the highs and lows of life were determined by the success of the town's high school football team, The Bombers.

World events seemed far away. Fulton does not recall thinking much about terrorism or the death penalty.

That changed in 1995 when Fulton's only brother, Paul Ice, a Federal Customs Agent, was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Ice was one of the 168 who died when American-born terrorist Timothy McVeigh targeted federal employees in his rage against the United States government.

Just punishment

Fulton deeply mourned the loss of her brother. She felt numb and ill-equipped to handle the simple demands of everyday life, like balancing a chequebook.

Yet, she also felt compelled to do everything possible to honour her brother's memory.

She joined other Oklahoma City families in lobbying the U.S. Congress on anti-terrorism legislation.

She shook President Clinton's hand when he signed the bill into law.

She did countless interviews with the news media to let Americans know what they had lost: a patriotic 42-year old man who had spent all of his life serving his country, as a US Marine, and later as a federal customs agent.

She testified in the penalty phase of McVeigh's trial, and became convinced that the death penalty was just punishment for the man who took her brother's life.

In the spring of 2001, Fulton was one of 10 family members of Oklahoma City bombing victims to win a seat by lottery to view McVeigh's execution.

American Radio Works, which produces documentaries for public radio in the United States, asked Fulton to keep an audio diary of her experience.

The limits of mercy

What had started out as a story on the death penalty - and whether watching a murderer die can really bring peace - was changed by the attacks of 11 September.

It became a story about the connections shared by victims of terrorism, and the strange, media-celebrity world they can find themselves in.

In coping with her own loss, Fulton had been deeply touched by support she got from the families people killed on Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded in 1988 over Lockerbie in Scotland.

Fulton wanted to provide that same steady support to the families of 11 September.

Her story grew much bigger than one woman's thoughts on the death penalty. It explored the limits of mercy - toward McVeigh, and toward other victims of terrorism.

Years of pain

A year after the execution, National Public Radio broadcast the documentary about Fulton's experience.

Mail poured in, some praising the network for such an intimate view of the life of a woman hurt by terrorism.

Others criticized the "cult of victim hood" they said the story celebrated.

Fulton, back at home in her small Minnesota town of Red Wing, got no reaction from her neighbours.

She tries to take comfort in the rituals of daily life with her husband and their pets, but she admits that the loss of Paul still overshadows much else in her life.

"Time helps", says Kay. "But, I mean, seven years of your life consumed with this...it's just too much.

"Before it really was a perfect life...I mean a good, strong, happy, healthy family.

"But I always knew that, and I did think often about how lucky I was... and all that goodness was just taken away, so quickly."

Crossing Continents: The Limits of Mercy was broadcast on Thursday 22 August 2002 on BBC Radio 4.

Correspondent: Stephen Smith
Producer: Sasha Aslanian
Editor: Maria Balinska

Crossing Continents


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Timeline: Oklahoma bombing
11 May 01  |  Americas
Profile: Timothy McVeigh
11 May 01  |  Americas
Oklahoma and NY unite in grief
19 Apr 02  |  Americas
McVeigh's story to become TV series
15 Jun 01  |  Entertainment
Europe criticises McVeigh execution
12 Jun 01  |  Americas
Defiant McVeigh dies in silence
11 Jun 01  |  Americas
McVeigh 'ready to die'
08 Jun 01  |  Americas

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