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S P E C I A L The Terry Nichols Trial

Prosecution opens penalty phase in Nichols trial

Nichols Trial Graphic 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
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 Ryan's presentation.

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.

McDonald and Wilt
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 murder.

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