Judge Disqualified in Nichols Case
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A state judge was disqualified Wednesday from presiding over pretrial hearings in the state murder case against convicted federal building bombing conspirator Terry Nichols.
Associate District Judge Robert Murphy Jr. violated ethics codes when he had private talks with a law firm that had offered to perform clerk duties for him, ruled District Judge Charles Goodwin.
Nichols was charged last year with 160 counts of murder in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. He was returned to Oklahoma in January from a federal prison in Colorado.
The decision means a new judge will have to be appointed by the state Supreme Court, and that could prolong the Nichols case.
June Chubbuck, a former classmate of Murphy, had volunteered the services of her law firm for free to help with legal research, but a judicial ethics advisory panel told Murphy that he should not use the firm.
Assistant District Attorney Richard Wintory said a meeting with Chubbuck had ``an appearance of communications that are hostile and adversarial to the state.″
Prosecutors have accused Murphy of being ``openly hostile″ to their side.
Nichols’ attorneys argued that the judge was not biased or prejudiced against prosecutors.
Murphy twice denied motions to disqualify himself.
Goodwin’s ruling may not be appealed.
It was not immediately clear how the decision will affect an Oct. 9 preliminary hearing date for Nichols, but Wintory believes the hearing can still be held on that date.
There was no immediate comment from Murphy, who was not at the hearing. He was conducting court in Payne County.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Nichols, 45.
He was sentenced to life in prison for his conviction on federal bombing conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter charges. Timothy McVeigh was sentenced to death for the bombing and eight counts of murder.