June 27, 2001 11:00 pm

Where were all the photographers, television cameras, reporters, advocates for and against, the morning talk show hosts and others who brought us the minute details surrounding the execution of Timothy McVeigh? Where were those who called McVeigh the worst mass murderer in U.S. history? Those who compared him to the devil?

Only eight days after McVeighs execution at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., another man was executed by lethal injection. Although he wiggled his legs under the white sheet that covered him before the intravenous needle was put into his leg, Juan Raul Garza apologized for his actions. Garza was executed for killing three men to maintain his drug empire.

Garza, a 44-year-old Texan, may have impacted more lives and done more harm than McVeigh did, even though McVeighs deed killed 168 in one fell swoop. But in both cases, these defendants had the ability to make numerous appeals and opportunities to make sure that both were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Due to the high profile execution of McVeigh, the death penalty has come back into the forefront of American public opinion. Should the federal government or states execute individuals convicted of aggravated murder? Amnesty International recently released data showing the U.S. as one of the top seven countries worldwide that had more than 20 state-sanctioned executions. The U.S. ranked third (85) behind Saudi Arabia (123) and China (1,000) in the number of executions performed in 2000.

There is a significant difference between the kind of justice in the U.S. and China. Anyone found guilty of aggravated murder in the U.S. and sentenced to death has immediate appeals made. The process can take up to a decade or more. Consider McVeighs execution. He spent six years awaiting his execution and most of the way was unwilling to file appeals because he wanted to accept his sentence. In China, those convicted of murder often find themselves led from the courtroom to the execution square, after being paraded through the city streets in a truck, and then shot in the back of the head. In one recent case, Jin Ruchao, who was found guilty of killing 108 people in a bomb explosion, was prosecuted and found guilty and sentenced, with the sentence being carried out in only seven weeks. In the U.S., only people convicted of aggravated murder or killing a police officer face the death penalty. In China people can be executed for non-violent crimes, such as selling the explosives to a person who made the bomb that was used in a crime.

We are a country that seems bent on sensational crimes and those who commit them. The death penalty seems to enlighten our senses on the one hand and disgust us on the other hand. Americans seemed quite willing to see McVeigh executed, but then we struggle when the crime isnt as publicly visible.

To compare the U.S. to China when it comes to the use of the death penalty seems unfair. But then the debate about the death penalty will continue to rage in every generation. One thing is sure. Once it is carried out, the act is final and the person involved in it is dead.