Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Timothy McVeigh & Terry Nichols: Oklahoma Bombing

Nichols Prosecution Begins

Terry Nichols
Terry Nichols

In mid March, Nichols' trial was moved to Judge Steven W. Taylor's hometown of McAlester, Oklahoma, approximately 130 miles from Oklahoma City. The judge decided on the move in order to ensure a fair trial and prevent publicity from influencing the jurors. Even after the move it was difficult to find jurors who were impartial.

Tim Tally stated in an AP Worldstream article on March 22nd that during the first day of opening statements at the Pittsburg County Courthouse, the judge had to excuse two jurors and an alternate because the judge discovered they were cousins of a prosecuting attorney within the DA's office. Taylor reprimanded the state for "inexcusable" conduct for holding back information that "disrupted the court's goal of seating 12 jurors and six alternates," Lois Romano of the Washington Post reported. However, the judge allowed the state to continue its case with a warning of dismissal if it happened again.

Pittsburg County Courthouse
Pittsburg County Courthouse

During opening statements, lead prosecuting attorney, Lou Keel, accused Nichols of being "a partner in terror" with Timothy McVeigh for plotting the attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. According to Tally's article, Keel said that Nichols provided McVeigh with the materials used in the bombing, including fertilizer and fuel oil used to create the bomb and blasting caps to detonate the device. Moreover, he claimed that Nichols' drill bit matched drill marks found on a padlock to a Kansas quarry that he was alleged to have burglarized. Keel further suggested that Nichols' motive for the crime hinged on his anger at the government for the attack on the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas, approximately two-years earlier.

Defense attorney Brian Hermanson countered arguments made by the prosecution, saying that Nichols, who was at his Herington, Kansas home at the time of the bombing, was not responsible for the attack. Hermanson claimed that, "Nichols was manipulated by McVeigh to take the blame" and suggested that other conspirators helped in plotting and carrying out the attack, Talley wrote. A March 23rd article by Newsday stated that Hermanson charged the prosecution team of relying too much on "assumptions and circumstantial evidence" in its case. Yet, the prosecution had evidence that would show otherwise.

Lou Keel
Lou Keel

During the first weeks of the trial, the prosecution presented evidence to the jury that linked Nichols to the materials used during the bombing. Talley stated in a March 23, 2004 AP Online article that FBI agent Mary Jasnowski testified that fuses and 55-gallon drums found at Nichols' home matched those used to blow up the federal building. Furthermore, a receipt for 2,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and traces of the material were also found at Nichols' residence. Another FBI agent testified that the receipt represented only half of the amount purchased prior to the bombing.

However, the testimonies did not always go as smoothly as the prosecution would have liked. One particularly trying moment was when a man who leased the Ryder truck to McVeigh, which was used to carry the bomb, provided testimony that eventually backfired on the prosecution team. An April 6, 2004 UPI article stated that rental agent Eldon Elliott saw McVeigh was with a man that didn't fit the description of Nichols but that of an artist's sketch made of John Doe No. 2, witnessed earlier by a body shop mechanic. The testimony supported the defense's claim that other conspirators were involved in the crime.

Despite the damaging testimony, the prosecution appeared confident. They brought forth another key witness, Nichols' second wife Marife Torres to testify about her husband's friendship with McVeigh. Torres claimed that her husband spent a great deal of time with McVeigh and that after the bombing her husband appeared "visibly shaken" when the authorities linked him to the investigation, AP Online reported. Nichols was purportedly so shaken that he surrendered to the authorities the day after the explosion. Torres' testimony was significant because it established Nichols' close ties to McVeigh immediately prior to the bombing.

 

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