Experts differ in Oklahoma City bombing pre-trial hearing
Would separate trials influence outcome?
October 3, 1996
DENVER (CNN) -- A pre-trial hearing in the Oklahoma City bombing case was to continue Thursday as the defense tries to get separate trials for defendants Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.
The prosecution wants the death sentence for the two Army buddies in the April 19, 1995, bombing that killed 168 people. The defense contends separate trials are the only way to ensure that the life-or-death decision for Nichols and McVeigh is made individually and fairly. Each man has his own defense team.
McVeigh is afraid he'll be implicated by testimony against Nichols, while Nichols believes evidence against him is weaker because nothing places him at the bombing scene.
Testifying for the defense on Wednesday, professor Edward Bronson from Chico State University in California said his studies show the death penalty is at least 25 percent more likely to be imposed when accused killers are tried together rather than separately. Bronson's findings used students as jurors in hypothetical cases.
The prosecution countered with a jury specialist from the University of Colorado, professor Reid Hastie, who testified that Bronson's studies were flawed by loose research techniques that made the results unreliable. Hastie suggested Bronson had exaggerated his findings because of his personal feelings. Bronson opposes the death penalty.
Prosecutors said case studies such as Bronson's don't reflect real-life. "Individuals tried alone, statistics show, are more likely to be sentenced to death," Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Connelly told reporters outside the Denver federal courthouse where the trial will be held.
Other defense witnesses testified that joint trials force defendants to compete against each other, something that McVeigh's attorney, Stephen Jones, says he is trying to avoid. (12 sec./250K AIFF or WAV sound) Nichols is represented by Michael Tigar.
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.
Judge Richard Matsch's ruling is not expected until sometime later in the fall. No date has been set for the trial, but it is almost certain not to start until after the first of next year.
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