Speaking publicly for the first time, Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry L. Nichols on Monday asked survivors and families of victims for forgiveness and offered to correspond with them if they felt it would help them cope with the 1995 bombing that killed 168 people.
The slight, bespectacled Nichols made his comments at his sentencing to life in prison on a state conviction on 161 charges of first-degree murder, as well as charges of conspiracy and arson.
"My heart truly goes out to all the victims, survivors and anyone who has been affected by the Oklahoma City bombing," he said. "Words cannot adequately express the sorrow I have had over the years for the grief that so many have endured and continue to suffer. I am truly sorry for what occurred."
Nichols read calmly from a prepared statement as he sat in the witness stand, his ankles and wrists shackled, the word "INMATE" stamped in large black letters on the back of his blue-gray prison suit. He asked for forgiveness and said he had found "a real and personal relationship with God through . . . Jesus Christ."
"I do pray that for many, that this day will be the beginning of their long-awaited healing process," said Nichols, 49. "And I pray that all who hold any hatred, bitterness and unforgiveness toward me, that they will find in their hearts to forgive me, as others have done, for this is the first stage toward true healing."
He invited the relatives of those killed in the bombing, as well as others, to write to him if they felt it would "assist in their healing process."
But his words did nothing to soothe the dozen or so relatives and survivors who attended the sentencing. They said they remained disappointed that Nichols did not directly admit to his role in the bombing, and they said they were unimpressed with his profession of faith and entreaties for forgiveness and reconciliation.
"It was all self-serving," said Darlene Welch of Guthrie, who lost her 4-year-old niece, Ashley Eckles, and the child's paternal grandparents the day of the bombing. "It's just all about what's good for him."
As for writing Nichols, Gloria Taylor of Edmond, whose 41-year-old daughter, Teresa Lea Lauderdale, was killed in the blast, said: "I can put my stamp to better use. There will never really be closure. He's asking us our forgiveness. Looking us in the eye might have helped."
Nichols was already serving a life sentence without parole in federal prison for the deaths of eight federal agents in the building when, on May 26, a jury here convicted him on state charges. Oklahoma prosecutors had hoped to win the death penalty, but the jury deadlocked, leaving District Judge Steven Taylor to sentence Nichols to life.
Taylor ordered Nichols to serve 161 consecutive life terms without parole; prosecutors had charged Nichols with murder for each of the remaining victims, including a fetus. Taylor also sentenced Nichols to 10 years and a $5,000 fine for a conspiracy count and 35 years and a $25,000 fine for first-degree arson. Nichols was ordered to pay $5 million in restitution and $10,000 per murder count to an Oklahoma victim-compensation fund, as well as legal fees.
The judge addressed Nichols directly for 12 minutes, calling him a terrorist several times. "No American citizen has ever caused this much destruction and devastation . . . against any fellow American than you have," Taylor said. "The question of how could you do this, what could motivate you to do this, there is no answer that could satisfy me."
Nichols's former Army buddy, Timothy J. McVeigh, was convicted of murder in federal court and was executed in 2001.
In his statement Monday, Nichols, who has 10 days to file an appeal, tried to differentiate himself from his co-conspirator, saying that his views "were never the same as Timothy McVeigh's." The two allegedly bombed the federal building to protest the federal government's siege of the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Tex.
For almost a decade, the bombing has consumed some Oklahomans, as they tried to cope with the aftermath of the murders and the destruction. They have closely followed the federal and state trials, the design and erection of a $30 million memorial at the bombing site and the dedication of a replacement federal building. Whether Nichols's sentencing and his statement signals final closure for them is still a question.
"He is the biggest mass murderer, and I expect that we'll still hear about him," Welch said of Nichols. "We still hear about Tim McVeigh even though he's dead. I don't know that there's ever really what you guys classify as closure. That word means nothing to me."