Nichols an unknown to potential jurors
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September 30, 1997
Web posted at: 9:52 p.m. EDT (0152 GMT)
DENVER (CNN) -- Potential jurors claimed to know little about Terry Nichols -- the second man to stand trial in the Oklahoma City bombing -- or the case against him.
Eleven prospective jurors have been interviewed in the first two days of the trial, and as one woman put it, "I haven't heard hardly anything about Mr. Nichols."
Another woman, a computer specialist, concluded in a jury questionnaire earlier this month that Nichols "must be guilty since (Timothy) McVeigh has been found guilty."
But under questioning from Judge Richard Matsch, prosecutors and defense attorneys, the woman said "I'm modifying that now because I haven't heard the proof."
Prosecutors say Nichols, 42, was a supporting player in the
deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil. They say he acquired fertilizer and other components of the bomb, robbed a firearms dealer to finance the attack and helped McVeigh build the bomb that killed 168 people and wounded hundreds of others on April 19, 1995.
Nichols could get the death penalty if convicted of murder and conspiracy. McVeigh was sentenced to death earlier this year.
Questioning personal and painful
Some of the questioning was personal Tuesday, and some of it was painful. One woman was asked about her alcoholic son and another who was shot and killed by a policeman.
A police report said officers fired after the son pulled out a gun, a finding the woman said was false.
"Does this incident cause you to have such a distrust of police it would affect your ability to serve as a juror?" Matsch said.
"Absolutely not," she responded.
Another woman said she would have to turn to her parents
for financial help if she is picked for the jury. A third talked about holding down four jobs at once to support her family.
In another instance, defense attorney Michael Tigar told Matsch he thought the judge had been hard on a man who said he had already formed an opinion on the case.
Matsch admitted that he was annoyed when the man said computers could do a better job than humans as jurors, and said he would discuss the matter with the attorneys in private.
One of the most important questions is whether prospective jurors are willing to give Nichols the death penalty if he is convicted of the bombing.
'It's like playing human chess'
An appeals court Tuesday turned down a defense request to throw out the death penalty against Nichols. Defense attorney Ron Woods says posing the question to prospective jurors puts the defense team at a disadvantage.
"Well, what's a juror to think?" he says. "They're going to sit there and feel 'I guess this issue of guilt's already been decided. We're just here to talk about punishment.' So it takes a lot to get that out of the jurors' mind and focus back on guilt or innocence."
The defense and the prosecution have jury consultants helping them decide which jurors to select.
Referring to the examination process in which a jury is selected, Woods said, "Capital voir dire is one of the most interesting challenges that a lawyer ever faces. It's like playing human chess."
In this chess game, however, Terry Nichols' life is at stake.
Correspondent Tony Clark contributed to this report.
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