Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols pleaded innocent Tuesday to committing the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, and their lawyers complained again that they cannot get a fair trial across the street from the bombing site.
“Sir, I plead not guilty,” said McVeigh, standing solemnly before U.S. Magistrate Ronald Howland in prison khakis and blue slip-on sneakers during an arraignment that took about 10 minutes.
Next came Nichols, who was dressed in a blue blazer, light blue oxford shirt, khaki trousers and polished brown shoes.
“Your honor, I am innocent,” he said as his mother, looking distraught, sat in the courtroom.
Both men could face the death penalty if convicted in the April 19 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which killed 168 people and injured more than 500.
They arrived at the courthouse in separate vehicles in a caravan of police and U.S. marshals’ cars. But at the courthouse, security did not appear unusually stringent.
The building is across the street from the blast site, and defense lawyers said that is too close to ensure a fair trial because so many judges, court employees and potential jurors knew victims.
“These people are in a sense the victims of the case that is going to be tried,” said Michael Tigar, Nichols’ lawyer. “It is inappropriate to ask these people, possessing the feelings that they evidently do, to sit in dispassionate judgment upon these events.”
One of those who attended the arraignments was Sharon Coyne, a deputy court clerk whose 14-month-old daughter was killed in the explosion.
“We believe in the law and that they are innocent until proven guilty,” she said.
Most of the front third of the courtroom was packed with court employees, who were let in through a back door before the front doors were unlocked. That left only seats in the back for defendants’ family members.
“Didn’t anybody have enough respect for the family to let us sit up front?” asked Nichols’ brother James.
James Nichols, who saw unrelated explosives charges against himself dropped Thursday, said his brother is innocent.
“My brother and I have the same character. We don’t run around destroying people, destroying buildings,” he said.