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Nichols Jurors Are Seated In Second Bombing Trial

Judge Richard P. Matsch
Judge Richard P. Matsch
(File Photo)
By Tom Kenworthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 31, 1997; Page A03

DENVER, Oct. 30-Seven women and five men were selected today to serve as jurors in the Oklahoma City bombing trial of Terry L. Nichols, clearing the way for opening statements Monday in the second and final case stemming from the April 19, 1995, bombing that killed 168 people.

Nichols, a 42-year-old father of three children, faces the death penalty if convicted on 11 charges of murder and conspiracy in the truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. His co-defendant and former Army buddy, Timothy J. McVeigh, 29, was convicted on all of those same counts by a separate jury and sentenced to death in June.

Attorneys for Nichols and the government completed jury selection today, after 4 1/2 weeks of closely questioning prospective panelists, when each side used its 23 peremptory challenges against members of a 64-person pool. Six alternate jurors, evenly split by sex, also were chosen today.

The panel that will decide Nichols's fate includes two bus drivers; a day-care worker; a bank clerk; a soda machine installer; a telemarketer; a loading-dock worker; a maintenance employee; a nurse; a remedial reading tutor; a contract seamstress, whose husband is a corrections officer; and a geophysicist. Two members of the jury are African American. Several jurors, in answering questions posed during the selection process, said they have had personal experience with crime, and many acknowledged wrestling with how they feel about the death penalty. To preserve their anonymity, U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch has had the jurors identified only by numbers.

Juror No. 215, for example, an obstetrics nurse whose husband is a physician and who once belonged to the Southern Poverty Law Center that monitors right-wing political activity, cried when questioned about the death penalty on the opening day of jury questioning. "It's a very serious decision," she said.

As the process neared its conclusion today, Nichols's defense attorneys seemed almost ebullient at the selections, smiling and conferring animatedly with their client, dressed in a blue blazer, white shirt and black turtleneck.

"We look forward to talking to the jurors on Monday morning," said Nichols's lead counsel, Michael Tigar, as he emerged from court in mid-afternoon. "That's when the action starts. Mr. Nichols feels very good about this process."

Larry Mackey, the government's chief prosecutor in the case, said, "We're quite satisfied we've ended up with a jury that will hear both sides fairly."

Though the government's case against Nichols closely parallels its earlier case against McVeigh, prosecutors face what legal observers feel is a tougher task in convincing a jury of his guilt in the bombing plot.

First and foremost, as Nichols's attorney has frequently pointed out and the government acknowledges, the Michigan native was not in Oklahoma City when a massive bomb packed into the cargo compartment of a rented Ryder truck exploded there. Nichols was at home at the time, with his family in Herington, Kan., and two days later when he learned of McVeigh's arrest he voluntarily submitted to a nine-hour interview with FBI agents.

In addition, where McVeigh left an evidence trail littered with his anti-government writings and verbal expressions of his violent intentions, the government has far less evidence of motive in Nichols's case. It will present evidence, however, allegedly tying Nichols to the purchase and theft of bomb-making components, to the robbery of an Arkansas gun dealer the government contends was used to finance the conspiracy, and to the rental of storage lockers allegedly used to store the components used in the homemade fertilizer and fuel oil bomb.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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