Sun, Jun 13, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Oklohoma bomber Nichols escapes the death penalty

AP , McAlester, Oklahoma

Terry Nichols enters the Pittsburg County Courthouse on the third day of jury deliberations, Friday, in McAlester, Oklahoma. Nichols was found guilty of all 161 counts of first degree murder in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building 19 April 1995 in Oklahoma City, but a hung jury meant that he escaped the death penalty prosecutors had sought.

PHOTO: AFP

Convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols was spared the death penalty Friday by jurors who convicted him of 161 counts of murder but deadlocked over his sentence.

The impasse in the state trial is the second time prosecutors have been denied the death penalty against Nichols, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1998 after federal jurors also could not agree on his punishment.

Jurors announced they were at an impasse after deliberating for about 19 1/2 hours over three days. Nichols will be sentenced by Judge Steven Taylor, who is required by law to sentence Nichols to life in prison.

The deadlock was a blow to state prosecutors and victims' family members who said death was the appropriate punishment for the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.

The jurors deliberated over Nichols' sentence after a week of emotional testimony in the trial's sentencing phase. Nichols faced sentences of life in prison or death by lethal injection on state murder convictions.

The jury convicted Nichols of 161 state murder counts May 26. Taylor set the sentencing for Aug. 9.

Nichols, 49, escaped the death chamber after a federal trial in the late 1990s in which he was acquitted of murder but convicted of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of eight government agents. Oklahoma prosecutors then brought him to trial for the deaths of the other victims, including one fetus, with hopes of winning a death sentence.

The April 19, 1995, bombing killed 168 people and wounded 500. Timothy McVeigh, Nichols' former Army buddy and the mastermind of the bombing, was convicted of federal charges and executed in 2001 for what was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil at the time.

Prosecutors said the blast was a twisted attempt to avenge the deaths of about 80 people who died in the government siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, exactly two years earlier.

They said Nichols helped build the two-ton bomb -- made from farm fertilizer and fuel oil -- that was packed into a truck and detonated outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Nichols was home in Herington, Kansas, the day of the bombing. But prosecutors presented a mountain of circumstantial evidence that Nichols and McVeigh worked side-by-side to carry out the attack. They said Nichols bought the fertilizer, stole detonation cord, blasting caps and other materials, and helped finance the plot by robbing a gun dealer.

Defense attorneys maintained that Nichols was the fall guy for a shadowy conspiracy far wider than the government has acknowledged.

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