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Oklahoma to try Nichols for bombing

Wes Lane
District Attorney Wes Lane  


OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma (CNN) -- Terry Nichols will face a state murder trial -- and the threat of a death sentence -- for his role in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building here that killed 168 people, District Attorney Wes Lane said Wednesday.

Lane said he would seek the death penalty against Nichols, 46, who is already serving a life sentence on federal convictions for conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter in the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history.

The federal charges related to eight federal law enforcement officers killed in the blast. Nichols will now face state murder charges for the 160 other people who died and a variety of charges related to more than 500 injured.

Lane, who has been mulling a decision whether to proceed with a state trial since taking over as Oklahoma County's top prosecutor in June, said he had "no confidence" that Nichols' federal convictions and life sentence would stand up over time.

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He cited the legal wrangling surrounding the case of Nichols' co-conspirator, Timothy McVeigh, whose execution June 11 was delayed a month after the FBI discovered it had not turned over files related to the case.

"I simply do not know what might loom out there on the legal horizon which, once revealed, would place Terry Nichols' federal conviction in jeopardy," Lane said.

"For me to simply dismiss this case simply clinging to a hope that nothing further will ever spring up ... to place his conviction in jeopardy would, in my opinion, be irresponsible.

"I will not roll the dice on this issue. There's simply too much at stake," he said.

Lane made his announcement at the memorial to the victims, situated where the Murrah building once stood, after meeting with survivors and family members of victims to tell them his decision.

"Those folks weren't after blood. It was not a ride for vengeance. They just wanted accountability. I was struck by that. I was surprised by that," he said.

"Those people ... were concerned about the federal case and the fact that there's been no accountability concerning the others lost."

Lane rejected a promise by Nichols' attorney, made in a letter published Tuesday in the Tulsa World newspaper, that Nichols would end his appeals and agree to accept his life sentence if the state trial was dropped.

"The interests of the people of the state of Oklahoma cannot be vindicated by the federal government or a blind reliance on Terry Lynn Nichols," Lane said, noting the letter violated a gag order placed on attorneys by the judge in the case.

Lane said he decided to proceed now because trying to restart the case in the event the federal convictions were successfully challenged would make securing a conviction "difficult if not impossible."

"This case has a momentum to it that I think we will never ever again be able to recapture," said Lane. He said the passage of time could jeopardize witness testimony and evidence.

Because of the intense media attention surrounding the case, the federal trials of both Nichols and McVeigh were moved from Oklahoma to Denver.

Lane said that while the state constitution requires Nichols' impending trial to be held in Oklahoma, he said he is convinced an impartial jury can be found. He did say he expects the trial to be moved outside of Oklahoma City.

Lane's predecessor, Bob Macy, strongly supported proceeding with the state trial despite criticism that with Nichols in prison for life it wasn't necessary to spend the time and money required to pursue state murder charges.

Lane, taking over after Macy retired, announced he would review whether to continue.

The district attorney said Nichols' defense would be paid for out of court revenues, the bulk of which come from criminal defendants rather than from taxpayers.

He said the prosecution's costs would be paid for within the existing budget for his office, rather than require special appropriations.

Lane said he also considered "at great length" the emotional toll that people in Oklahoma City could face from another lengthy bombing trial. He said that, in balance, prosecuting Nichols was in the "best interests" of the community.

"I have left no stone unturned nor option unexplored in reaching a decision in this case," he said. "I am very aware of the emotional cost and truly believe, after much thought and much prayer, that proceeding is the only appropriate course of action available to me at this time."

Lane said even if he is not successful in securing a death sentence against Nichols, he would still consider the trial to be a success because "responsibility and accountability" were embraced, "one way or another."



Greta@LAW




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