Terry Nichols Convicted on All Counts

Bump and Update: Terry Nichols has been convicted of 161 counts of first degree murder, conspiracy and arson. The jury deliberated only four hours. He will now face a death penalty proceeding before the same jury. We'll be talking about it on MSNBC's Abrams Report today (6 pm ET) . (Correction: Big news in Kobe Bryant case, our Nichols segment is cancelled and we'll be talking about Kobe instead. )

Original Post

Bump and Update: The defense closed today in the Terry Nichols trial. Defense Attorney Barbara Bergman attacked the Government's case:

"This is a case about manipulation, betrayal and overreaching," Bergman said. "People who are still unknown assisted Timothy McVeigh."....Bergman reminded jurors of dozens of witnesses who testified they saw McVeigh with others, including a stocky, dark-haired man depicted in an FBI sketch and known only as John Doe No. 2, in the weeks before the bombing. Witnesses said the others did not resemble Nichols.

"The state has jumped over a lot of holes in the case. The state has to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt and they haven't." Bergman attacked scientific evidence presented by prosecutors during 29 days of testimony. The evidence included the discovery of ammonium nitrate crystals on a piece of plywood that was part of the Ryder truck that delivered the bomb.

Steven Burmeister, an FBI scientist, testified for the prosecution that the crystals were embedded in the plywood under pressure, possibly from an explosion, but a former FBI chemist, Frederic Whitehurst, testified that the crystals were only adhering to the surface and that their origin was unknown.

Bergman also criticized the testimony of an FBI fingerprint examiner, Louis Hupp, who testified that Nichols' palm prints were on a handwritten map of downtown Oklahoma City that was discovered in a trash can at Nichols' Kansas home. On cross-examination by defense attorneys, Hupp said he had made an error and Nichols' palm prints were not on the map. "He was just plain wrong," Bergman said. "He testified under oath in a capital case about palm prints that don't exist." "Because the FBI investigation is flawed, you've got to ask yourself, how confident can I be?"

Original Post 5/25 7:27 am

Timothy McVeigh was executed in 2001 following a 1997 federal trial in which the Government claimed he was the mastermind behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The Government argued at trial that there was no "John Doe 2", that McVeigh and Nichols acted alone, and that McVeigh was the ringleader. Terry Nichols, who was tried in federal court after McVeigh, was alleged to be the co-conspirator--McVeigh's helper who supposedly helped build the bomb but was home with his wife in Kansas at the time of the bombing. The jury believed the federal prosecutors. McVeigh was found guilty of murdering 8 federal officers and using a weapon of mass destruction and sentenced to death. Nichols was found not guilty of first degree murder but guilty of involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy to commit murder, and sentenced to life in prison.

Fast forward to 2004, yesterday morning to be exact, during closing arguments in Terry Nichols' state trial in which Oklahoma is seeking the death penalty against Nichols for murdering the 160 non-federal officers killed in the bombing. Oklahoma prosecutors sang a very different tune:

Terry Nichols contributed more to plans to bomb the Oklahoma City federal building than executed bomber Timothy McVeigh did, a prosecutor said Monday during closing arguments in Nichols' state murder trial.....prosecutor Lou Keel said Nichols was heavily involved in the plans from the beginning. "Nichols was the biggest contributor," Keel said.

A prosecutor's job is not to convict, but to see that justice is done. Both sets of prosecutors can't be right. Terry Nichols can't have been both the biggest contributor to the crime and a co-conspirator who merely helped McVeigh. For the sake of argument, we'll give one set of prosecutors the benefit of the doubt and assume they were seeking justice. If so, the other set of prosecutors is perpetrating a hoax. How can you know which is which? You can't. The moral: If you can't trust in the integrity of the trial, you can't trust in the integrity of the verdict.

We have our theories, but neither we nor anyone else can know for sure whether McVeigh or Nichols, alone or together, were responsible for the OKC bombings, or whether either or both were dupes, or whether either acted in concert with as yet unidentified persons. We do think there was a John Doe 2 that the Government to this date refuses to acknowledge. We all know there is an unidentified leg that belonged to none of the victims, nor to McVeigh or Nichols. There were real, if slight, connections to right-wing separatist groups and middle-eastern terrorists the Government sought to minimize. There were no eyewitnesses who testified at McVeigh's trial to seeing Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma before 9 am on the day of the bombing. It is undisputed that Terry Nichols was at home in Kansas on the day of the bombing and that Michael Fortier sang for the Government to avoid the possibility of a lifetime sentence for himself and any jail at all for his wife. How much trust can you put in testimony that is purchased with promises of leniency, when feedom is such a far more precious commodity than money?

Terry Nichols should not have been subjected to a second trial in Oklahoma. No jury in that state could be expected to give him a fair trial. The federal jury in Colorado, where the trial was moved after a change of venue was granted on fairness grounds, found Nichols liable as a co-conspirator, but not guilty of being a principal in the murders. If the Nichols' jury in McAllester, Oklahoma, a town where the biggest industries and employers are the state prison system and a munitions factory, returns a death verdict against Nichols, justice will not have been served.

Even if Terry Nichols were acquitted in Oklahoma, he would never live a day as a free man. A federal life sentence is, in reality, a death sentence -- there is no parole or good time-- you come out in a box. It's just a matter of when.

We hope the Oklahoma jury recognizes the waste of precious tax dollars spent on this trial, and that if it convicts Terry Nichols, again sentences him to life. Defense closing arguments are today.

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