Terry Nichols was portrayed by prosecutors Monday as both a mastermind and builder in the Oklahoma City bombing plot, but his attorneys said he was at home with his family “building a life, not a bomb.”
The fact Nichols arranged to be “at a very safe distance” in Kansas when the deadly explosion went off makes him no less culpable than co-efendant Timothy McVeigh, prosecutor Larry Mackey said in opening statements.
“This is a case about two men who conspired to murder innocent people,” Mackey said. “Their plan succeeded. The bomb went off and people died.”
The prosecutor described McVeigh and Nichols as two Army buddies who shared a hatred of the government and planned the April 19, 1995, bombing to avenge the FBI raid on the Branch Davidians compound near Waco, Texas, two years earlier.
In detail, Mackey went through a trail of evidence from Arizona to Oklahoma that allegedly ties both men to the crime. He said Nichols robbed an Arkansas gun dealer to finance the bombing and helped McVeigh acquire bomb-making components, such as ammonium nitrate and explosives stolen from a Kansas quarry.
On a cold, rainy morning the day before the bombing, Nichols and McVeigh constructed the device in a Ryder rental truck at Geary Lake State Park near Herington, Kan., Mackey said.
“Terry Nichols had been side-by-side with Timothy McVeigh,” Mackey said, adding that Nichols “was there at the beginning and there at the end.”
According to the plan, Nichols remained in Kansas and McVeigh delivered the truck to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and set off the explosion, the prosecutor said.
“It consumed the truck; it destroyed the building and it changed the face of American history forever,” Mackey said. “It killed 168 people, men, women and children, a cross-section of the country, people of all ages, races and backgrounds.”
Mackey said Nichols was at his Kansas home, “at a very safe distance from a truck bomb that exploded in downtown Oklahoma City in front of the federal building. And Terry Nichols had planned it just that way.”
Nichols, 42, sat with his jaw taut, his glance bouncing between the prosecutor and jurors, who sat in rapt attention. Nichols’ mother, Joyce Nichols Wilt, sat quietly in the front row.
Nichols’ attorney, flamboyant University of Texas law professor Michael Tigar, introduced himself to the jury as a “Texas schoolteacher.” Tigar sought to pin blame for the nation’s deadliest domestic bombing on McVeigh and unnamed co-conspirators. He said McVeigh thought up the plan and used his friends, including Nichols, to further his anti-government cause.
More than a dozen times Tigar declared: “Nichols wasn’t there.”
“Yes, Terry Nichols was not there and did not know about the bombing until the next day,” Tigar said. “He was at home … with his pregnant wife and daughter, Nicole.
“Terry Nichols was building a life, not a bomb. Terry Nichols is presumed innocent,” Tigar said.
Tigar said that in the months prior to the bombing, McVeigh traveled in Arizona, Kansas and Oklahoma, recruiting helpers and collecting bomb components.
Nichols, in the meantime, was searching for a suitable lifestyle for his family.