December 24, 1997 in Nation/World

Oklahomans Unhappy With Nichols Verdicts

Todd Bensman Dallas Morning News
 

Resignation and disappointment by survivors and relatives of those who died were the reactions Tuesday to verdicts in the Oklahoma City bombing trial.

“I can live with it. I have no other choice but to live with it,” said bombing survivor Raymond Washburn of the verdicts. Terry Nichols was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy in the April 19, 1995, bombing that killed 168 people in the city’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

There was frustration as well, that the jury found Nichols less responsible for the bombing than Timothy McVeigh, already sentenced to death for his part in the blast.

“I think he’s just as guilty,” Washburn said. “But that’s the way our system works, and we’ll just live with it.”

At the site of the bombing, a hush settled over a small group of victims and family members as they heard the verdict under media tents in a cold, steady rain.

“I don’t think anything a jury comes up with would surprise anybody,” said Jim Denny, whose two young children, Brandon and Rebecca, were injured in the bombing.

Also left frustrated was Dan McKinney, whose wife, Secret Service Agent Linda McKinney, died in the bombing.

“I’m damn sure not happy about this verdict,” he said.

Added Jannie Coverdale, who lost her two grandsons in the blast: “I had more trust in the American people than I heard today.”

Said Tom Hall, a government employee who suffered severe injuries in the blast, “Even though he didn’t pull the trigger, he was just as accountable for the deaths.” Of the jury, he said: “I’m sure they were just frustrated, and the fact that he wasn’t there probably carried some weight in their eyes. But to me, with something this big, that deserves just punishment.”

Indeed, many victims and relatives of survivors already are focused on the trial’s penalty phase, in which Nichols can still be sentenced to death on the conspiracy charge.

“There are going to be some people who are going to be very bothered by anything less than the death penalty,” said Dr. Paul Heath, leader of a victims support group.

The way also is clear for a state death-penalty trial, vowed Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy, who shook his head in disbelief as the federal verdicts were read. “I am very surprised. I’m familiar with the evidence. I have a hard time understanding how the jury could reach that verdict,” Macy said.

Macy said he would seek 160 murder charges against Nichols for the others who died in the blast.

“I’ve made a lot of pledges to the people of Oklahoma City and Oklahoma County that I will prosecute these cases,” Macy said.

Added Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating: “I think that it’s a terrible disappointment to the family members. This is a person who could have stopped all of this.”

But Gerarda Welch Kelcy, whose 23-year-old niece Julie Marie Welch died in the blast, said she was not disappointed in the jury’s verdicts and she believed Nichols was less responsible for the bombing than McVeigh.

“The jury made the right decision,” Kelcy said. “I think it was fair.”

But she said Oklahoma should have its own murder trials, however difficult they will be.

“I think it’s going to be very painful.”

But Catherine Alaniz, daughter of victim Claude Medearis, had a common reaction.

“I’m completely baffled,” she said.

On whether she felt a sense of relief or closure: “It’s not over. I’m getting ready to head there to testify (in the trial’s penalty phase).”

She said she was only slightly relieved by the guilty verdict on the conspiracy charge.

“There’s always that chance he could be found innocent and acquitted absolutely. I’m grateful for that. But I don’t see the death penalty now.”


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