A jury began deliberating Monday whether Terry Nichols should be put to death for the Oklahoma City bombing after prosecutors argued that Nichols knew the 4,000-pound fuel-and-fertilizer bomb could kill people and he didn’t care.
Defense attorney Michael Tigar countered by warning the jury not to be swept away by “a tide of anger and grief and vengeance.”
After receiving instructions from U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, the seven women and five men began trying to decide a sentence for Nichols for what prosecutor Beth Wilkinson said “is a crime so great … that we could not bring you every victim, every survivor or every family member.”
Nichols was home with his family in Herington, Kan., 200 miles away, when the bomb went off on April 15, 1995. He was convicted Dec. 23 of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter but acquitted of first-degree murder and use of a truck bomb. Conspiracy can bring the death penalty.
The jury could order death or life in prison without parole, and the decision would be binding. Or the jury could leave it up to Matsch to impose a lesser sentence.
The jury deliberated five hours Monday without reaching a verdict. At one point, jurors looked confused after asking Matsch to clarify his instructions on the conspiracy charge; he referred them back to his original instructions. Deliberations were to resume today.
Legal experts said they would be surprised if the jurors sentenced Nichols to die, since they concluded he played a lesser role in the crime and did not set out to kill anyone. His partner in crime, Timothy McVeigh, was convicted last year of murder and conspiracy and sentenced to die.
Nichols, 42, sat stoically as prosecutors pressed for the death penalty, while his wife, Marife, and his ex-wife, Lana Padilla, cried softly.