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Defense Tries to Discredit FBI Account of Nichols Interview

By Tom Kenworthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 22, 1997; Page A07

DENVER, Nov. 21—Attorneys for Oklahoma City bombing defendant Terry L. Nichols today sought to discredit the accuracy of an FBI agent's account of a 9 1/2-hour interview he and other agents conducted with Nichols two days after a huge truck bomb devastated the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and killed 168 people.

"Don't they teach you to write down everything you can, especially early in the investigation because you don't know what's going to be important?" defense attorney Ron Woods asked FBI agent Stephen Smith.

Woods then consumed most of today's truncated federal court session by walking Smith line by line through 22 pages of handwritten notes he took during the interview at the Herington, Kan., police department where Nichols had gone seeking answers to why he was being mentioned on the radio in connection with the bombing.

Smith defended the accuracy of his notes, but he conceded he had not written down what he testified on Thursday was Nichols's silence when shown a letter he had written to Timothy J. McVeigh the previous November urging him to "Go for it."

McVeigh was convicted and sentenced to death in June on 11 counts of murder and conspiracy in the April 19, 1995, bombing. Nichols faces identical charges and also faces the death penalty if convicted.

During his long interview at the police station, Nichols told agents he had been spreading fertilizer on his lawn shortly before they arrived in Herington, but said he did it because he thought possessing fertilizer would make him "look guilty to a jury." But it was not until more than halfway through the interrogation that Nichols admitted he had the knowledge to build a homemade bomb after first telling agents he did not know how.

Thursday, prosecution witness Gladys Wendt told the jury that she saw Nichols, just 48 hours after the Oklahoma City bombing, furiously scattering fertilizer on his lawn. "I almost told him, 'You're putting too much on there, you're going to burn it up,' but I said to myself, 'Nope, keep your mouth shut, you're just an old lady,' " Wendt, 75, told the jury.

Woods also chided Smith for not keeping Nichols talking longer to elicit more information from him that night.

"Did you run out of questions?" he asked the agent. "I didn't run out of questions," Smith replied. "Terry Nichols ran out of answers."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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