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Wednesday, May 26, 2004
Terry Nichols Found Guilty On 161 Counts of Murder
The trial of Terry Nichols ended with a whimper, not a bang.
The accused conspirator in the Oklahoma City bombing was convicted of 161 murder charges by the state of Oklahoma, making him eligible for the death penalty as sought by prosecutors.
The Oklahoma state murder trial was more notable for what was left out than for what it revealed. If anything, the state trial was far less complex and detailed than the federal proceeding that netted Nichols life in prison.
And despite early indications from the defense team regarding its strategy, in the end, the trial broke very little new ground. Nichols' attorneys attempted to introduce evidence of a broader conspiracy to bomb the Alfred E. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, but the defense was thwarted by the trial judge.
In the end, the case came down to a simplistic argument in which both defense and prosecution took opposite extremes. The prosecution argued that Nichols was not only involved in the bombing but suggested he was its mastermind, a conclusion that came off as a significant stretch, based on the known evidence.
The defense argued, conversely, that Nichols had nothing at all to do with the bombing, an equally dubious argument. "He's not involved. He's never been involved," attorney Brian Hermanson said in his closing arguments.
Judge Steven Taylor ruled that testimony relating to the possible involvement of a gang of white supremacist bank robbers would not be allowed during the Nichols trial, cutting the legs out from under the planned defense strategy.
Several defense witnesses were disallowed based on the judge's ruling that there was insufficient evidence to allow their testimony. The judge barred the defense team from presenting any testimony that attempted to show a conspiracy involving the bank robbery gang, citing a lack of physical evidence to support that line of investigation.
The ruling came despite several stories by the Associated Press revealing documents and evidence that the federal government had failed to provide during the federal trials of Nichols and co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh. The judge said the new evidence did not meet the legal standard for admissibility and was not directly exculpatory of Nichols.
However, the defense team was allowed to present testimony relating to John Doe 2, a suspect in the bombing who was never apprehended. The FBI later claimed he didn't exist. This testimony was permitted because it involved suspects seen with McVeigh in the act of committing the bombing. Several new accounts described sightings of additional suspects at the scene of the bombing.
Some of those following the case had hoped that the trial would shed light on longstanding claims that Middle Eastern terrorists were involved in the Oklahoma City bombing. However, there was no motivation for either side to raise such allegations.
For the prosecution, it would have been a costly and quite possibly unproductive addition to an already expensive case that nearly bankrupted the Oklahoma criminal justice system.
For the defense, there was even less motivation to raise the specter of an al Qaeda link. The latest prosecution of Nichols had only one purpose, winning a death sentence against Nichols to satisfy a perceived anger among the state's population and victims of the bombing. The state had no motivation to cut a plea deal with Nichols, which would only have created additional defendants and an even more difficult criminal prosecution.
Furthermore, any cooperation with al Qaeda or other foreign terrorists would open a can of worms that would expose Nichols to possible incarceration and interrogation as an enemy combatant, and possibly set up new federal criminal charges, incurring further risk of a death penalty.
Now that a death penalty is virtually a fait accompli, however, Nichols could conceivably choose to talk -- assuming he has anything to say, and also assuming he is not concerned with the welfare of those he might implicate.
An FBI internal investigation is again reviewing evidence of a broader conspiracy in Oklahoma City and looking at irregularities in the federal investigation of the bombing, which was the single most deadly terrorist attack on U.S. soil prior to September 11. The outcome of that investigation could still influence the outcome of the Nichols case on appeal.
AN INTELWIRE SPECIAL REPORT: OKC
Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.
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