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Nichols' sentence still being deliberated

Jury may choose between death penalty, life in prison

Defense attorney Creekmore Wallace stands behind Terry Nichols during Wednesday's closing arguments.
• Amended information:  Oklahoma v. Terry Nichols  (FindLaw)external link
• Court TV:  Two tragediesexternal link
Terry Nichols
Crime, Law and Justice

McALESTER, Oklahoma (CNN) -- Jurors Thursday ended a second day of deliberations without deciding whether Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols should be sentenced to death or life in prison for his role in the 1995 attack that killed 168 people.

The six-man, six-woman jury sent Pittsburg County District Judge Steven Taylor a note at 5 p.m. (6 p.m. ET) Thursday asking to recess, about an hour earlier than their quitting time Wednesday.

Before they began their second day of deliberations, Taylor told them, "The length of your deliberations and your schedule is up to you."

Jurors have deliberated a total of 12 hours over the past two days.

In Denver in 1998, a federal jury deliberated 13 hours over two days on the verdict after convicting Nichols on federal charges in the deaths of federal agents killed in the blast, but could not break a deadlock on its sentencing verdict.

The judge in that case was left with no choice but to sentence Nichols to life without parole.

The state of Oklahoma put Nichols on trial this year to try to seek a death sentence for him.

The state jury last month convicted Nichols, 49, of 161 counts of first-degree murder in connection with the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995.

Jurors must reach a unanimous verdict on whether Nichols should be sentenced to death, to life without parole or to life with a chance of parole on 160 of the 161 counts. The remaining charge involved the death of a fetus, for which Nichols has already been sentenced to life in prison without parole -- the maximum sentence on that count.

If the jury cannot reach a verdict, Taylor can only sentence Nichols to life -- with or without parole.

The jury will resume deliberations Friday at 9 a.m. (10 a.m. ET).

With jurors pondering Nichols' fate, Oklahoma officials and the Justice Department are holding talks about what will happen once the jury comes back. If he is sentenced to death, state officials want to keep him in their custody during the appeals process, authorities told CNN. If jurors decide he should serve a life term in prison, Nichols would remain in federal custody.

During his trial, Nichols has been held at a nearby state prison that houses Oklahoma's death row.

Nichols was accused of helping bombing mastermind Timothy McVeigh assemble the bomb and obtain the ammonium nitrate fertilizer used to build it. The bombing took place on the second anniversary of the deadly FBI raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas -- the focus of McVeigh's anger at the federal government.

"Each and every one of these people died so they [Nichols and McVeigh] could make a political statement," prosecutor Sandra Elliott told the jury in her closing arguments Wednesday.

Defense lawyers described Nichols as the pawn of a "dominant, manipulative and controlling" McVeigh, who was executed for his role in the attack in 2001.

The prosecution and defense called 87 witnesses over five days of testimony in the penalty phase, many of them relatives still grieving over their losses nine years ago.

Nichols' attorney, Creekmore Wallace, urged jurors not to be swayed by "that flood of tears, that flood of pain" related by victims who testified during the penalty phase of his trial.

CNN correspondent Susan Candiotti and producer Jim Polk contributed to this report.

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