Terre Haute Paper Immersed In McVeigh

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Editor Max Jones predicted it would be at least a decade before his newspaper would cover the execution of Timothy McVeigh.

Now just two years after McVeigh transferred to death row at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Jones and his news staff of 40 at the Tribune-Star are immersed in daily coverage of the man who bombed a federal building more than 600 miles away.

“Anyone involved in the news operation, basically everybody but sports, has at some point been touched because it’s so big and has so much dimension to it,” Jones said. The Tribune-Star plans a 12-page special edition on May 16, McVeigh’s execution date. Some 8,000 copies will hit the streets at 10:30 a.m., 3 1/2 hours after he is scheduled to die and shortly before competing afternoon papers in nearby towns are printed.

The newsroom activity is a rarity in Terre Haute, a college town of 61,125 people near the Indiana-Illinois state line. Terre Haute hasn’t received comparable national attention since Larry Bird played basketball for Indiana State in the 1970s — and that was on a much smaller scale.

Planning at the Tribune-Star began in January when it was announced that McVeigh, convicted of murder and other charges for the April 19, 1995, bombing, had informed his attorney he no longer wanted to continue appealing his death sentence.

“That is what shocked us,” Jones said. “It shocked everybody, except possibly the people close to him.”

The blast at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killed 168 people.

The Tribune-Star has almost daily stories on the upcoming execution, ranging from media access issues at the prison to some Terre Haute residents selling T-shirts with messages reading “Final Justice” and “Stop the Killing, Let McVeigh Live.”

Jones has rented golf carts to haul photographers around the vast prison grounds and is negotiating with a homeowner across from the prison who wants $100 for parking privileges on his front lawn.

Reporters have swapped stories with other Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. newspapers in Edmond, Okla., outside Oklahoma City, and Niagara Falls, N.Y., near McVeigh’s hometown.

And the staff still finds time to field interview requests from journalists from around the world.

Karin Grunden, a 27-year-old reporter hired six months ago to cover the crime and courts beat, expects to be among the 10 journalists selected to witness McVeigh’s execution. Grunden said she’s agreed to appear on some TV news programs, but doesn’t plan to accept an offer by a German television producer to be the lead interview in a story about the execution.

“It’s strange. I’d rather be doing the interviewing,” Grunden said. “I’d prefer to be the reporter.”