Prosecution opens penalty phase in Nichols trial
December 29, 1997
Web posted at: 2:26 p.m. EST (1926 GMT)
DENVER (CNN) -- Terry Nichols helped plan a bombing that resulted in random "violent and frightening death" for 168 people, including babies, and he should be sentenced to death
for it, a prosecutor told jurors Monday.
Prosecutor Pat Ryan opened the penalty phase of the second
Oklahoma City bombing trial by focusing on a victim the
government has spotlighted in the trials of both Nichols and
his convicted co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh.
He described how Helena Garrett took her 16-month-old son,
Tevin, to the daycare center at the Murrah Federal Building
on the morning of April 19, 1995, just before a truck bomb
outside exploded. The last time she saw him was as he waved
to her from a second-floor window.
Her testimony about watching as other infants were brought
out bleeding or dead evoked emotional outbursts in the
courtroom during the McVeigh trial.
A sketch of Garrett during her testimony in the Timothy McVeigh case
Nineteen of those killed in the bombing were children.
Ryan said that even though the jury acquitted Nichols of
premeditated murder, it did convict him of another grievous
offense -- conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction --
an "act of terrorism" that carries a possible death penalty.
"Who could plan an attack on secretaries, on engineers, on
bank tellers, credit union tellers, and, yes, even babies?"
Ryan asked. "You now know. You have spoken. Terry Nichols
could plan such an attack."
In addition to the large number killed, Ryan said the jury
must consider as aggravating factors the hundreds of people
injured in the attack and the "great risk" the bombing posed
to "everyone on the streets in downtown Oklahoma City."
"Death was random in Oklahoma City on April 19," he said. "It
would be tempting for you to think of this as one mass
murder. Don't. These are 168 people. They are all unique.
They are all different. They all had families and friends.
They went to church. They coached Little League. They
designed highways," Ryan said.
"The evidence will be that these 168 people died a violent
and frightening death," Ryan added. "Many were amputated and
some were decapitated."
Ryan said the government planned to question 60 witnesses --
nearly double the number who testified in the penalty phase
of the McVeigh trial -- and present five videotapes over
three days of testimony.
McVeigh, who was convicted of all 11 counts in the original
indictment, was sentenced to death.
Nichols, dressed in his usual blue blazer and white
turtle-neck ensemble, had a sad look on his face during
The prosecutor, rebuked for the emotion he showed during the
victim impact testimony in the McVeigh case, at times seemed
to struggle to maintain his composure Monday, especially when
he mentioned children injured in the bombing.
Susie McDonnell (L) and Joyce Wilt arrive in court Monday
Nichols' mother, Joyce Wilt, and sister, Susie McDonnell,
were present in court. His father and brother, on hand for
closing arguments and the verdict last Tuesday, were not.
As court convened, chief defense attorney Michael Tigar asked
about one government videotape that U.S. District Judge
Richard Matsch said he planned to exclude in its entirety.
Contents of that tape were not disclosed.
Matsch, who presided over both the Nichols and McVeigh
trials, told the jury of seven women and five men it must
decide on a sentence for Nichols "free from the influence of
passion and prejudice."
Matsch urged the jurors to be "the conscience of the
community" in deciding how the worth of Nichols' life
balances against his crime.
The panel acquitted Nichols of several other capital
offenses, including premeditated murder.
This time, jurors must decide whether to sentence Nichols to
death, life without parole or a shorter prison term that
would be up to the judge.
Prosecution witnesses are expected to testify about the
brutality of the truck bomb attack and the impact that it had
on its victims and others.
The defense will have a chance later to present witnesses
such as members of his family and to argue why Nichols should
not be executed.
Nichols was convicted on one count of conspiracy to use a
weapon of mass destruction and eight counts of involuntary
manslaughter in the bombing.
The conspiracy conviction carries the death penalty option,
if all jurors agree.
The jury found Nichols not guilty on two other counts that
could have carried the death penalty. And it chose the least
serious charges on eight counts involving the deaths of eight
federal law officers killed in the blast -- involuntary
manslaughter rather than first-degree or second-degree
T H E N I C H O L S T R I A L /
T H E M c V E I G H T R I A L
T H E B O M B I N G /
C N N S T O R I E S
/ L I N K S