December 3, 1997 in Nation/World

Nichols’ Defense Opens Its Case Strategy Is To Distance Oklahoma City Bombing Suspect From Mcveigh

Richard A. Serrano Los Angeles Times

Lawyers for accused Oklahoma City bomber Terry Lynn Nichols began laying the foundation of their defense on Tuesday - that their client was not the righthand man for Timothy McVeigh in carrying out America’s worst terrorist attack.

Nichols’ defense, which began shortly after prosecutors wrapped up their case earlier in the day, sought not only to distance him from McVeigh but also to raise new doubts about whether others were involved in helping mix, pack and deliver an ammonium nitrate and fuel oil bomb to the front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City two-and-a-half years ago.

The defense’s initial witnesses included several people who remembered seeing a Ryder truck at the Dreamland Motel in Junction City, Kan., a day before one was rented by McVeigh - an implication that more than one such truck was used in the April 19, 1995, blast and that the motel was a meeting place for McVeigh and other conspirators.

The motel owner, Lea McGown, testified that while McVeigh was a guest, he often was darting in and out of her motel in the days before the bombing. But she said she never saw Nichols in his company. Rather, she said, she once overheard a group of men talking in McVeigh’s room - and none of them was Nichols.

Another defense witness, David Ferris, a taxi driver in Junction City, recalled driving McVeigh - alone - to a McDonald’s restaurant, from where McVeigh walked to the Ryder rental agency. Ferris testified that he did not see anyone meet McVeigh at the restaurant.

Defense lawyers next showed the jury photos taken with a surveillance camera at the McDonald’s restaurant; they pictured McVeigh alone.

McVeigh was found guilty earlier this year and was sentenced to death in the bombing that killed 168 people and injured more than 500.

Nichols’ defense strategy appears clear: Convince the jury of seven men and five women that, at worst, Nichols unknowingly was used by McVeigh to further his bomb plans. Better yet, the defense hopes to show that someone other than Nichols was the key co-conspirator.

Jurors have heard four weeks of testimony from government witnesses about circumstantial evidence placing Nichols and McVeigh alongside each other in the months - and final days - before the blast.

When the government rested its case, defense lawyers asked Judge Richard P. Matsch to grant an acquittal, arguing that the government had not proved Nichols was a conspirator and had not shown any intent on his part to destroy the building.

But Matsch denied their request without even asking to hear the government’s response.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email