YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Nichols' Fate Going to the Jury

The panel now has to decide whether the convicted Oklahoma City bomber should die.

June 09, 2004|Scott Gold | Times Staff Writer

McALESTER, Okla. — The state jury that convicted Terry L. Nichols of murder in the Oklahoma City bombing will begin deliberating today whether he should die for his crimes.

Prosecutors, in closing arguments Tuesday, labeled Nichols a heartless killer; his attorneys called him a bit player, unaware of the scope and specifics of the 1995 attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

After a two-month trial, Nichols, 49, was found guilty on all counts brought by the state: arson, conspiracy to commit arson and 161 counts of first-degree murder.

He already is serving a life prison term without the possibility of parole for his 1997 federal conviction in the deaths of eight law enforcement officers in the bombing of the Murrah building. Because prosecutors then were unable to secure a death sentence for Nichols, the significance of the state trial rests largely with the jury's choice between life and death.

This morning, attorneys are expected to conclude their arguments in the penalty phase of the trial. Limited by sentencing rules, the jury has three choices: life in prison, life in prison without the possibility of parole, or death by lethal injection.

Relatives of those killed expressed relief Tuesday that the trial, after seven delays, was coming to an end.

"I'm glad we've gotten as far as we have," said Dallas Davis, 77, whose daughter Kathy Seidl, 39, was killed. "Now we'll just have to wait and see when the results come in."

Family members also noted that the state trial marks the first time that anyone has been held legally responsible for the bulk of the deaths. Bomber Timothy J. McVeigh was executed in July 2001 after his federal conviction but before he could be brought to trial on state charges.

"You ever hear the word 'accountability?' " Davis asked. "Someone needs to be held accountable."

At the end of the day Tuesday, District Judge Steven Taylor told jurors to pack their bags and to prepare to be sequestered for deliberations under tight security.

Taylor implored jurors not to discuss the case and to avoid scenarios that could influence their decision.

There was nearly a mistrial last week when Taylor was forced to dismiss two jurors who apparently had improperly discussed the case. There are no alternates remaining.

It has been a tense and heartbreaking week in McAlester, where the trial was moved in an effort to find an impartial jury. A complex picture of Nichols emerged, and a parade of witnesses testified about the pain that began that sunny morning nine years ago and never subsided.

One man took the witness stand and said that he tried to find comfort in the fact that his 6-month-old son, one of 19 children killed in the bombing, apparently died instantly.

The lead prosecutor, Sandra Elliott, began to cry while questioning one witness, a man whose face was crushed in the explosion.

"Terry Lynn Nichols acted as judge, jury and executioner," Oklahoma County Assistant Dist. Atty. Suzanne Lister told the jury Tuesday. "To sentence Terry Nichols to anything less than death would be to allow him to laugh, to learn, to love, to listen to music, to read, to form friendships."

Defense attorneys have offered several reasons why Nichols should not be executed.

Nichols' brother and sister pleaded for mercy this week, and defense attorney Barbara E. Bergman told the jury that Nichols was "a person who values and is valued by other people."

Los Angeles Times Articles