McVeigh Is Guilty. Will the Prosecution Cheer? (6/11/97)

Last week, bringing to an end the most notable federal trial in our nation' s history, Timothy McVeigh was found guilty and sentenced to death. The death sentence, of course, was understandable. "If it is not appropriate in this case, then when is it?" was the battle cry heard around the nation before the sentence was announced.

It was a victory for the families of those that perished in Oklahoma City and for the citizenry of the United States. Even those that live on the other side of the globe probably were elated in knowing that justice was served.

But for the prosecution team, it was the emotion of satisfaction that was experienced. Of course, I do not know this for a fact. But if my experience as a prosecutor is any gauge, I feel very confident about this statement.

For those of us who serve as players in the criminal justice system, satisfaction is the best that we can hope for. No matter how much a prosecutor prepares, how hard the trial battle was fought, or how long the jury deliberated, the prosecutor will feel only satisfaction in response to a positive verdict received from the jury.

After he returns to his office with his co-workers and shuts the door, there will be no cries of joy, no "high fiving", and no champagne poured over another's head. It is the equivalent of the calm after the storm. A mixture of powerful emotions. Nevertheless, a celebration simply does not take place.

For in the end, a verdict of guilty and a sentence that is just does not erase the tragedy of the crime. It did not go away as the jury filed through the court house doors in order to return to their homes. It will never go away.

The burden on the prosecution is to see that justice is done. A verdict of "not guilty", therefore, in the eyes of the prosecution, means they have failed in that respect. Consequently, a successful prosecution simply means that the "right" thing occurred. So when that result ultimately comes, it is a sense of relief that permeates the room.

In the end, it is only satisfaction that keeps the prosecutor going. And when he reaches for the next manila folder that contains the paper work of the next case, it is only satisfaction that he hopes he will feel again.

Barry Green is the District Attorney for the 271st Judicial District.

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