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Quiet Homecoming Greets James Nichols : Bombing: Brother of Oklahoma blast suspect is out of jail. He expresses thanks for family and friends who tended his Michigan farm.

May 24, 1995|ROBERT L. JACKSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DECKER, Mich. — Anti-government activist James D. Nichols received a low-key welcome home to Michigan's "thumb" region Tuesday from a small group of friends, neighbors and fellow farmers who tended his crops while he was in custody on federal explosives charges and as a possible material witness in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Nichols tearfully told reporters earlier in the day that he wanted "to try to get my life back together" by returning to his farm chores. "My family and friends, they've all done a wonderful job."

Standing alongside Robert Elsey, his attorney, outside the federal courthouse in Detroit before his 80-mile drive to Decker, Nichols, 41, denied involvement in last month's bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City but sidestepped questions about whether he had prior knowledge of the explosion that claimed at least 167 lives.

He also declined comment on questions about his younger brother, Terry L. Nichols, 40, who has been accused of playing a direct role in the bombing, along with Timothy J. McVeigh, a friend of both men.

"It's been tough for me," Nichols concluded. "I don't have anything more to say now."

Nichols was required to spend a final night in custody Monday for processing after U.S. District Judge Paul D. Borman released him on a personal recognizance bond over the objections of federal prosecutors who wanted to hold him indefinitely as a possible witness in the Oklahoma case.

But Borman ruled that since Nichols' indictment last month on explosives-making charges in Michigan was not directly related to the Oklahoma case against Terry Nichols and McVeigh, it would be unconstitutional to hold him longer.

Borman restricted James Nichols' travel to an eight-county area and required him to wear an electronic device so that authorities can monitor his movements. Although he may work his farm each day, he must spend 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. with Les and Rhonda Roggenbuck in their tidy, red-brick farmhouse in nearby Snover. The couple volunteered to act as guardians.

The Roggenbucks, who have known Nichols for several years as members of a farming group called the Organic Growers Assn., said they are happy to have him in their home.

"I have a 2-year-old daughter and one on the way," Rhonda Roggenbuck said. "I have no problem bringing James to our house."

Gary Blackwell, also active in the organic farming organization, added that Nichols has been a dependable treasurer for the group. "I've never known him to disobey the law."

Federal authorities said that they intend to keep a close watch on Nichols as they pursue the investigation of the bombing. Nichols told reporters Tuesday that he will continue to cooperate.

In Monday's court hearing, government investigators said they had information that linked Nichols to a group known as the Patriots, which they said once considered killing "cops, judges and lawyers." An FBI agent testified that a confidential informant had reported that Nichols believed that "once they got enough people, they would take over the government by force."

No trial date has been set for the federal indictment in Michigan in which Nichols has been charged with making, testing and possessing illegal explosives, along with his brother and McVeigh, on his farm over a six-year period.

Robert Nichols, father of the two brothers, called James Nichols' release from jail "a relief." He said he could not believe that either of his sons is criminally involved in anything.

At the Decker Tavern, where James Nichols often socialized with his friends, auto mechanic John Baer simply shrugged when asked his reaction to the homecoming. "I really don't know the man."

A gray-haired clerk at the Decker post office smiled politely and said: "I just have no comment."

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