December 17, 1997 in Nation/World

The Vengeful Kind The Terry Nichols Trial Goes To The Jury, With The Defense Calling For Compassion, The Prosecution Saying A Family Man Can Kill.

Jo Thomas New York Times

Thirty-two months after a truck bomb destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City, the case of Terry Nichols went to a federal jury here on Tuesday shortly after 2 p.m.

“It’s finally time - it’s time for justice,” Larry Mackey, the lead prosecutor, told the jury of seven women and five men as he asked them to convict Nichols in “America’s most horrific crime.”

Michael Tigar, the lead lawyer for Nichols, seemed close to tears as he spoke to the jurors.

“One hundred sixty-eight people died in Oklahoma City,” Tigar said. “We have never denied the reality of that.”

But this is a nation that promises equal justice under law, he said, “rich or poor, neighbor or stranger, tax protester or not, someone who’s different from us or not.”

“Members of the jury, I don’t envy you the job that you have,” Tigar continued as he turned and walked to Nichols’ chair, stood behind him and put his hands on his shoulders.

“But I tell you,” Tigar said as Nichols looked down, his face flushed and his chin trembling, “this is my brother. He’s in your hands.”

Nichols, 42, is charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, a 2-ton truck bomb. He is also charged with using a weapon of mass destruction and with the destruction of federal property by explosive in the bombing, which also wounded more than 800 people on April 19, 1995. He is also charged with first-degree murder in the death of eight federal law enforcement agents who died in the building that day.

Nichols’ co-defendant, Timothy McVeigh, 29, was convicted on identical charges on June 2 and later sentenced to death.

The motive for the bombing, Mackey asserted, was revenge against the government for the deadly raid by federal agents against the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas, exactly two years before the Oklahoma City bombing.

As Tigar and his co-counsel, Ronald Woods, finished their closing arguments, Woods compared the government’s case to the Salem witch trials and repeated his contention that the government’s case included flawed evidence and that witnesses’ statements were altered to fit the prosecution’s theory of the case.

An important piece of evidence against Nichols was a receipt for a ton of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which prosecutors say was used to build the bomb. The receipt was found in a kitchen drawer in Nichols’ home in Herington, Kan., was dated Sept. 30, 1994, and was made out to a fictitious “Mike Havens,” who prosecutors say was actually Nichols.

On Tuesday, Woods argued that the two salesmen who saw “Mr. Havens” were able to remember more about him as time went by. One reduced his original estimate of the man’s height, which was taller than that of Nichols, and did not tell the jury on direct examination that he had originally remembered that the truck had a Kansas license plate. At the time, Nichols had a Michigan plate.

“You notice also he didn’t in court say Terry Nichols is Mike Havens because some witnesses just won’t be pushed that far in a capital murder case,” Woods said. “They’re not going to say, ‘Yes, that’s the man.’ But they’ll give the FBI what they want and come up with a good enough description. Now, you may think, well, is this the FBI that I’ve seen on TV shows? I think you’ve seen and understand that the gap between the reality of the FBI and the myth of the FBI is as big as the Grand Canyon and is growing daily.”

Woods continued: “They’ve got to get the conviction that goes with the early arrest, and they made the decision to make the arrest with no evidence. They’ve then got to start putting these square pegs in round holes, and that’s what you’ve seen here. And you’ve seen a lot of speculation in the summary, just jumping over these gaping holes, telling you this, this proves his guilt, this proves the guilt.”

In his rebuttal, Mackey told the jury: “There has been no rush to judgment in the investigation and prosecution of the Oklahoma City bombing. The survivors inside that building wouldn’t stand for it. The victims wouldn’t stand for it. The people of Oklahoma wouldn’t stand for it. America would not stand for a rush to judgment in that case of all cases. There has been no rush to judgment.

“There have been 30,000 interviews,” Mackey continued. “There have been thousands upon thousands upon thousands of documents gathered, only a small portion of which became evidence in this case. What has emerged is a complete and compelling picture that it was Terry Nichols and Tim McVeigh together, side by side, who are responsible for the bombing in Oklahoma City and the deaths of those innocent people.”

As Nichols’ parents, wife and brother looked on in the courtroom, Mackey told the jury: “We have heard in great length and heartfelt delivery about Terry Nichols, the family man, as if a family man can’t be the terrorist. In November of 1994, Tim McVeigh was in New York helping his father clean out his grandfather’s home, working on the estate. And several months later, he put a truck bomb in front of a day-care center. Terrorists have families. The question is how they treat them, how they allow the dedication to a political principle to corrupt what should be important to them.”

In his instructions to the jurors, Federal Judge Richard Matsch reminded them that “individuals, including Mr. Nichols, have the right under the First Amendment to assemble and discuss even the most unpopular ideas, including unlawful acts, and such a discussion does not constitute an unlawful agreement.”

The jurors should weigh the case solely on the evidence, Matsch reminded them. They will not be sequestered during deliberations.

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