Terry Nichols Convicted of Conspiracy and Eight Counts of Involuntary Manslaughter in
Dec. 24, 1997
Terry Nichols Convicted of Conspiracy and Eight Counts of Involuntary Manslaughter in Oklahoma City Bombing; Still Faces Death PenaltyBy SANDY SHORE
DENVER (AP) _ Terry Nichols was convicted Tuesday of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter in the Oklahoma City bombing, found to be a junior partner rather than an equal to Timothy McVeigh in the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil.
Nichols, who still faces the death penalty for conspiracy, was safe in his Kansas farmhouse more than 200 miles away at the time of the blast and portrayed by his lawyers as a family man ``building a life, not a bomb.''
Jurors deliberated 41 hours over six days to conclude that the circumstantial prosecution case built on fertilizer receipts, phone records and Ryder truck sightings was not enough to make him an equal to McVeigh.
The seven-woman, five-man panel will return Monday, and Nichols is expected to rely heavily on his family to help get him a sentence of life behind bars rather than death by injection.
The mixed verdict came six months after McVeigh was convicted and sentenced to death on all murder, conspiracy and weapons charges. Jurors in that case did not have the option of considering lesser charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.
Under the instructions from U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, the jury was allowed to consider the lesser charges only if they were unable to find premeditation in the eight first-degree murder charges, covering the federal agents who died in the blast.
Second-degree murder, which carries no more than a life term, is killing ``without premeditation and malice.'' Involuntary manslaughter, which alone carries no more than six years behind bars, was defined for the jury as ``the unlawful killing of a human being without malice.'' This would be a ``lawful act done without due caution, which might produce death.''
In Oklahoma City, District Attorney Bob Macy said he would seek 160 murder charges against Nichols for the others who died in the blast.
``I've made a lot of pledges to the people of Oklahoma City and Oklahoma County that I will prosecute these cases,'' Macy said.
Prosecutors contended McVeigh and Nichols worked side by side to acquire the ingredients and build the 4,000-pound fuel-and-fertilizer bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, in a twisted plot to avenge the FBI siege at Waco exactly two years earlier.
The thunderous explosion collapsed nine floors into an area the size of three, crushing the victims, in the words of one rescuer, ``like grapes.'' Among the dead were 19 children, most of whom had just been dropped off at the building's day-care center.
While McVeigh's trial had heavy doses of survivors describing the ordeal, the streamlined case against Nichols honed in on the ``road to destruction'' the two took in the seven months leading up to the blast.
Prosecutors traced the trail of low-budget motels, calling card communiques and coded letters that linked Nichols and McVeigh. They introduced evidence that Nichols used an alias to buy two tons of explosive fertilizer at a co-op and helped McVeigh steal explosives from a rock quarry in central Kansas in the fall of 1994. And they contended he robbed Arkansas gun collector Roger Moore to raise money to live on while they prepared for the bombing.
The government conceded Nichols was at home in Herington, Kan., when the bomb went off, but accused him of helping McVeigh deliver a getaway car to Oklahoma City three days before the bombing and of working with McVeigh to pack the bomb inside a Ryder truck on the day before.
Two prosecution witnesses reported seeing a Ryder rental truck at the Kansas lake where the McVeigh and Nichols allegedly built the bomb. One man also saw a dark-colored pickup that resembled Nichols' car.
FBI agents also described evidence seized from Nichols' home and garage: 55-gallon barrels resembling plastic fragments found at the bomb scene; weapons traced to Moore; a dismantled fuel meter and anti-government literature.
Nichols' ex-wife, Lana Padilla, recalled for jurors two letters Nichols gave her five months before the bombing. One letter detailed how to distribute his assets and the other, for McVeigh, contained two mystifying phrases: ``go for it'' and ``you're on your own.''
Two days after the bombing, a farm wife said she saw Nichols furiously scattering ammonium nitrate fertilizer on his lawn, creating a layer that resembled snow. After Nichols found out authorities were looking for him and turned himself in that same day, he told the FBI he was trying to get rid of the fertilizer because he feared it would ``make him look guilty.''
But Nichols' lawyers stressed that he was at home with his family in Herington, Kan., at the time of the blast. And they pounded home the idea with the mostly blue-collar jury that the government abused its power and discarded any evidence that didn't fit the theory that McVeigh and Nichols were the culprits.
They produced nearly a dozen witnesses who were positive they saw a Ryder truck at the lake as much as a week before prosecutors say the bomb was built. Defense attorneys also called several other witnesses who reported seeing McVeigh with short, burly men during that key week, suggesting those sightings matched the description of the mysterious John Doe 2.
The last defense witness, however, proved to be one of the best witnesses for the prosecution.
Nichols' 24-year-old mail-order wife from the Philippines, Marife, was unable to provide an alibi for her husband on the crucial day when the bomb was allegedly built.
She also recalled that Nichols received a cryptic letter from McVeigh the weekend before the bombing, in which McVeigh referred to ``shake and bake,'' a military term for explosives.
``At each stop along the road, Terry Nichols made a choice,'' prosecutor Beth Wilkinson said in closing arguments, ``a choice to participate in the plot to bomb and kill.''