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Nichols Prison Letters Ordered Purged

August 23, 1997| From Associated Press

DENVER — A judge ordered the government Friday to purge its files of prison letters from Oklahoma City bombing suspect Terry L. Nichols after defense attorneys claimed that the FBI violated his constitutional rights.

U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch overruled government objections, saying the return of letters is necessary to assure Nichols gets a fair trial. But he did not rule on whether prison mail inspection is constitutional, saying that remains a gray area.

Defense attorney Michael Tigar said the government overstepped its bounds when it used a grand jury subpoena to obtain the mail in August 1995, then kept reading it long after Nichols was indicted.

Tigar said the letters could be used to create a psychological profile to use against Nichols at trial.

Prosecutor James Orenstein argued that the government did not break the law, saying it had permission to read Nichols' mail.

A parade of FBI agents on Thursday said they examined the mail between Nichols and his wife, children and family friends for clues about possible co-conspirators or other information, but turned up no leads.

Matsch told Orenstein to conduct a search of all Justice Department files for any document that relates to the mail inspection. He said those documents should be turned over to the court clerk and sealed.

Nichols is charged with murder, conspiracy and weapons counts in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The blast killed 168 people.

Timothy J. McVeigh was sentenced to die after he was convicted of identical charges.

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