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Jury deadlocks, sparing Nichols from death penalty

Oklahoma City bomber faces life either with or without parole

Terry Nichols is escorted out of the courthouse Friday.
• Amended information:  Oklahoma v. Terry Nichols  (FindLaw)external link
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Terry Nichols
Crime, Law and Justice

McALESTER, Oklahoma (CNN) -- Convicted of 161 counts of murder in the Oklahoma City bombing, Terry Nichols was spared the death penalty for a second time Friday.

The jury in his state trial said it was deadlocked over whether to execute Timothy McVeigh's accomplice.

Pittsburg County District Judge Steven Taylor will determine Nichols' sentence August 9. His options are limited to life in prison either with or without the chance for parole.

It was the second time jurors were unable to reach a unanimous sentencing decision for Nichols, who was convicted for his role in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. The bombing killed 168 people.

In Denver in 1998, a federal jury deliberated 13 hours over two days on the sentencing verdict after convicting Nichols in the deaths of eight federal officers, but could not break a deadlock. The judge in that case sentenced Nichols to life without parole.

Nichols sat straight in his chair Friday as the jury foreman handed a note to Taylor that said, "We will not be able to reach a unanimous verdict."

"Sometimes this is how trials end up," Taylor said.

Nichols' mother, sister and ex-wife sat in the front row on one side of the courtroom, while bombing victims and their families sat on the other side of the aisle.

"This is unbelievable to me," said the relative of one of the bombing victims, pointing to all the evidence presented by prosecutors.

The jury returned to the courtroom twice Friday so its foreman could tell the judge the panel appeared hopelessly divided.

The second time, Taylor told the jurors they could resume their talks or give up. After deliberating another hour, jurors returned to the courtroom with their final decision.

Two weeks ago, the same jury convicted Nichols, 49, on 161 counts of first-degree murder for his role in the bombing. Of the 161 counts, 160 were eligible for the death penalty.

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.

Friday is the third anniversary of the execution of Nichol's bombing partner, McVeigh. He was convicted by a federal jury and put to death by lethal injection at a prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, on June 11, 2001.

The state of Oklahoma put Nichols on trial to try to seek a death sentence for him. 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 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 near Waco, Texas -- the focus of McVeigh's anger at the federal government.

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

Defense lawyers described Nichols as the pawn of a "dominant, manipulative and controlling" McVeigh.

The prosecution and defense called 87 witnesses over five days of testimony in the penalty phase of the trial, 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.

CNN's Susan Candiotti and Jim Polk contributed to this report.

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