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Nichols Called Drifter, Devoted Dad

By Sandy Shore
Associated Press Writer
Sunday, September 21, 1997; 12:31 p.m. EDT

DENVER (AP) -- When the court convenes for the second Oklahoma City bombing trial, all eyes will be on the defendant Terry Nichols.

But which Terry Nichols will they see?

Will it be the man described by prosecutors -- a quiet, brooding former soldier, an unhappy drifter who was unable to hold a steady job and grew disillusioned with his lot in life?

Or will it be the Terry Nichols described by his relatives -- an independent adventurer who is eager to embrace all kinds of careers, a devoted family man?

Both aspects of Nichols will figure prominently in his trial, scheduled to begin Sept. 29 in the same room at U.S. District Court where Timothy McVeigh was convicted and sentenced to die.

But will the jury ever learn enough about Nichols to understand him?

Some of his history is straightforward. He was born on April Fools' Day in 1955 in the small town of Lapeer, Mich., one of four children of Robert and Joyce Nichols.

Like most of their neighbors, the Nichols children did farm chores from an early age, from picking rocks out of the fields to pitching manure, recalls his brother, James.

In high school, Terry Nichols was a shy boy. He earned mostly Bs and Cs, with electives in such subjects as crafts and business law. He graduated with a 2.6 grade-point average.

"Terry got good grades in school. He was kind of book smart," said his brother. "He was good at artwork, drawing, things like that. Mother always encouraged him to be an artist, maybe to be a doctor."

Terry Nichols went to Central Michigan University for one semester, receiving Cs in biology, chemistry and trigonometry, a B in literature and an A in archery.

He quit in 1974, about the time his parents divorced, and returned home to help with the farm. His brother speculated that Nichols may have found college too structured.

"He's used to being out in the open, free to do," James Nichols said. "It wasn't like going to high school. This is only my opinion, but you're put in a dorm and you're restricted; it was almost like being in a prison."

In 1981, Nichols married Lana Walsh, a real estate broker in the Decker area of Michigan; their son, Joshua, was born a year later.

Nichols tried carpentry. He sold life insurance and real estate. He even managed a co-op grain elevator.

"He takes on a job and after a while, it gets boring. He kind of masters it," says James Nichols. "How many people in society hold one job in their life anymore?"

Finally, with his wife's encouragement, he enlisted in the Army. It was May 1988, and he was 33; most other recruits were in their early 20s.

Nichols became a driver for his commanding officer at Fort Riley, Kan., but personal problems hounded him. His wife filed for divorce in October 1988 and, the following May, Nichols was granted a hardship discharge so he could care for his son.

Within months, Nichols registered with a mail-order bride service in Cebu City, Philippines, and married Marife Torres on Nov. 20, 1990. She was 17, less than half his age.

When Mrs. Nichols joined her husband in the United States, she was six months pregnant with another man's child. The boy was born in September 1991, but suffocated in an accident on Nov. 22, 1993.

Over the next few years, the Nichols family drifted between Michigan and the Las Vegas area, where young Josh lived with his mother.

At basic training, Nichols had forged a close friendship with McVeigh, founded on shared conservative political views and survivalist beliefs. Now his disillusionment with the government grew.

In April 1992, he renounced his citizenship.

"I am stating that I no longer am a citizen of the corrupt political corporate state of Michigan and the Unites States of America ... I am a 'non-resident alien,' " he wrote to a Michigan agency.

That year, Nichols also wound up in court because of credit card debt. He claimed the judge had no jurisdiction over him.

After McVeigh was discharged, he and Nichols grew even closer, working off and on at the Michigan farm. They eventually went into business, selling military surplus at gun shows.

On April 19, 1993, the two were in Michigan, watching television when government agents raided a Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, killing about 80 people.

Prosecutors say that was the impetus for the bombing. They allege Nichols and McVeigh spent months on their plans -- financing their efforts through a robbery, purchasing and stealing the ingredients and constructing the bomb.

Nichols was at home with his family in Kansas when the bomb went off. He went to the Herington Police Department two days later and asked why his name was broadcast on news reports about the bombing.

Since Nichols has been in prison awaiting trial, family and friends say he has remained a devoted father, writing to Josh at least once a week and calling twice a week.

He also is visited by Mrs. Nichols, his daughter, Nicole, and son, Christian, who was born after he was arrested.

"He continues to give solid, fatherly advice," said Ron Delphi, a spokesman for his ex-wife. "He has a deep commitment to family, which is why this is so incongruous."

© Copyright 1997 The Associated Press

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