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Oklahoma bombing defense lawyers say separate trials fairer

okc October 3, 1996
Web posted at: 7:00 p.m. EDT

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DENVER (CNN) -- Defense lawyers ended their pretrial arguments Thursday in the Oklahoma City bombing case by again pushing for separate trials for defendants Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.

Defense lawyers argued that the evidence in the case would be too contradictory and confusing for a single jury to sort out. Also, if the defendants were convicted in a single trial, the odds were high that the convictions would be reversed on appeal, the attorneys said.

McVeigh and Nichols face federal murder, conspiracy and explosives charges in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building. The explosion killed 168 people and injured more than 500 others. Each man has his own defense team.


It would be cheaper and safer "to do two trials right rather than do one trial wrong," McVeigh's lawyer, Robert Nigh Jr., told the court. Nigh said McVeigh's constitutional right to cross-examination will be violated if he is tried together with Terry Nichols.

And, defense attorneys contend that separate trials are the only way to ensure that any sentencing decision is made individually and fairly. If the two Army buddies are convicted, they are eligible for the death sentence, a court ruling won by the prosecution.

McVeigh wary of buddy's testimony

McVeigh is afraid he'll be implicated by testimony against Nichols. Nichols believes evidence against him is weaker, because he contends nothing places him at the bombing scene.


After Nichols surrendered, he told FBI agents he and McVeigh were in Oklahoma City near the federal building three days before the bombing. He also told them he loaned McVeigh his pickup the day before the bombing and cleaned out a storage locker at McVeigh's request the day after the bombing.

U.S. District Judge Richard Match has ruled that when the case comes to trial, the prosecution can use Nichols' statement, but only as evidence against Nichols. A jury cannot consider his statements in deciding McVeigh's fate, Matsch said.

Prosecutors support having a single trial, alleging that the two men plotted the bombing together. Defendants usually are tried jointly in conspiracy cases.

In addition, Justice Department lawyer Sean Connelly said, much of the evidence against the two men is the same. He argued witnesses and bomb survivors should only have to go the ordeal of a trial once. The case was moved to Denver on a change of venue because of the publicity in Oklahoma.


Defendants ignore each other

In court, the defendants sit five feet apart but never speak or look at each other. Although they've been close friends, their freedom, and perhaps even their lives, may depend on severing that link through separate trials.

Matsch's ruling on whether to have separate trials is not expected until later this fall. There is no trial date, but it isn't expected to begin until 1997.

Correspondent Tony Clark and Reuters contributed to this report.


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