A federal agent testified on Thursday that the government had indications Terry L. Nichols might not have been in Oklahoma City on the day of the bombing of the Federal Building, but prosecutors presented enough evidence to satisfy a judge that there was probable cause to hold Nichols on charges that he was involved.
At a preliminary hearing on Thursday at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution, Errol Myers, a supervisory special agent of the FBI, testified that telephone calls made from Nichols’ home number in Herington, Kan., on the morning of the bombing suggested that Nichols might not have been in Oklahoma City.
Myers said that by tracing telephone records, the FBI believed that the phone calls were made by a man. He did not elaborate and gave no more information about the calls.
The two-hour hearing disclosed only a few new pieces of government evidence.
Myers testified about an FBI affidavit that mentioned bomb-making materials in Nichols’ house, storage lockers and a letter that appeared to link Nichols with the bombing plot.
Nichols’ defense lawyer, Michael E. Tigar, questioned Myers closely on whether the government evidence was sufficient to implicate his client in the crime.
“I kind of believe what Sherlock Holmes said to Watson,” Tigar said after the hearing. “It’s like a stick on the ground. It does point in one direction till you turn it around and look at it from the other side and it points just as equally in the other direction.”
Tossing out Bible quotations, poetry by John Milton and folksy farm talk, Tigar sought to show that Nichols’ actions were ordinary behavior and that the materials found in his house were common household items that were not out of place in the home of a man who works on a farm.
The federal prosecutor, Associate Deputy Attorney General Merrick Garland, later pointed out that Nichols did not live on a farm.
Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Howland listed eight pieces of government evidence that established probable cause to hold Nichols, who is charged with the malicious destruction of the Federal Building and with aiding and abetting Timothy J. McVeigh, who is the only other person charged in the bombing.
The evidence the judge cited included a receipt for a ton of ammonium nitrate fertilizer that was found in Nichols’ home with McVeigh’s fingerprint on it, and witness accounts that Nichols’ pickup truck had been seen at a Kansas lake with a Ryder truck like the one used to hold the 4,800-pound bomb.
The lake is the suspected site of the assembly of the bomb.
Myers revealed on Thursday that a substance found there was determined to be fuel oil, which was a major ingredient of the bomb along with ammonium nitrate fertilizer.
Howland ruled that the defense would have seven days to file any motions regarding Nichols’ detention and that the government would have seven days to respond.
Dressed in a khaki prison shirt and pants with blue canvas slip-on sneakers and white socks, Nichols hardly showed any reaction at the hearing.
Most of the time, he stared in front of him or took notes on a pad. His hands and feet were not shackled.