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Context of 'January 9, 1998: Oklahoma City Bombers to Be Tried on State Charges, Prosecutors Want Joint Trial'

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Accused Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh, left, and Terry Nichols look on as Judge Richard Matsch orders their trials to be severed.Accused Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh, left, and Terry Nichols look on as Judge Richard Matsch orders their trials to be severed. [Source: The Oklahoman]Judge Richard Matsch orders separate trials for accused Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995), in a ruling considered a victory for the defense. McVeigh will be tried first. Both defendants’ lawyers argued that to try the two men together would irreparably harm their right to receive fair trials. McVeigh’s lawyers, Stephen Jones and Robert Nigh Jr., wrote in a filing, “The government envisions a trial in which the actions and statements of Terry Nichols become indistinguishable from the actions of Timothy McVeigh.” And Nichols’s lead lawyer Michael Tigar argued that Nichols “stands in serious risk of being found guilty by ‘mass application’ if he was tried jointly with Mr. McVeigh.” Matsch rules that McVeigh could be harmed by introduction of statements made by Nichols implicating him in the bombing, and the defense’s inability to cross-examine Nichols if Nichols were to exercise his right to avoid self-incrimination. “The court cannot save a joint trial by sacrificing the interests of one defendant to protect the other,” Matsch rules. “Timothy McVeigh will be profoundly prejudiced by a joint trial in this case. His lawyers cannot question Terry Nichols or cross-examine the FBI agents on what they say Terry Nichols said. In short, Timothy McVeigh may be caught in cross-fire.” Tigar says after the ruling, “A separate trial will force the government to prove its case against Mr. Nichols, rather than merely rely on guilt by association and spillover prejudice from the case against Mr. McVeigh.” [New York Times, 9/8/1996; New York Times, 10/26/1996; Douglas O. Linder, 2001] Prosecutor Sean Connelly, presenting the government’s desire for a single joint trial, has told Matsch: “The proof will be unified: McVeigh and Nichols, Nichols and McVeigh, every step of the way.” [New York Times, 10/4/1996] Joseph Hartzler leads the team of attorneys prosecuting McVeigh (see May 22, 1995). [TruTV, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Robert Nigh, Jr, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joseph H. Hartzler, Richard P. Matsch, Timothy James McVeigh, Stephen Jones, Sean Connelly, Michael E. Tigar, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Prosecutors in Oklahoma City say they want a joint trial for convicted Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) and Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998) on 160 charges of first-degree murder. Oklahoma County District Attorney Robert Macy says he intends to bypass the customary grand jury and file charges against the two on his own for the 160 civilians who died in the blast (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). According to Assistant District Attorney Richard Wintory, Macy wants a joint trial with two separate juries. Trying the two again is not a violation of the constitutional ban on double jeopardy, because they were convicted on federal charges that involved the deaths of eight federal agents (see August 10, 1995). They have not been tried for the deaths of the 160 civilians. Wintory says the use of a double jury would save a great deal of time because “there is such a large overlap of the evidence” against both men. When evidence that has been ruled inadmissible against one defendant is to be introduced against the other, Wintory says, the jury that may not hear that evidence will be asked to leave the room. Double juries have been used successfully in other trials, and would spare the survivors and victims’ families of the bombing the stress and trauma of two more trials, a point agreed to by Jeffrey Abramson, a professor of government at Harvard. He says “the idea of two consecutive trials on top of two consecutive trials is too much for the public, the defendants, and the families to bear.” The use of two juries is “a way of balancing defendants’ rights and victims’ rights in a speedy trial.” However, “[i]t changes the psychodynamics of what it means to be on a jury. Two juries sitting in the same room will eyeball the defendant they’re not being asked to try. Certainly, this is not in Terry Nichols’s best interest. If I were his defense lawyer, I would resist.” Having McVeigh and Nichols in the same courtroom “carries a certain suggestion they were in cahoots.” [New York Times, 1/9/1998]

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Jeffrey Abramson, Richard Wintory, Terry Lynn Nichols, Robert (“Bob”) Macy

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, December 23, 1997, and June 4, 1998) is charged with 160 counts of murder at the state level in Oklahoma. Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty. Nichols is serving a life sentence as a conspirator in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, which killed 168 people. The 160 counts of murder represent the civilians, as opposed to federal agents, killed in the blast. Oklahoma District Attorney Robert Macy says of Nichols’s previous convictions: “I’m not satisfied with the outcome of the Nichols trial. I feel like he needs to be tried before an Oklahoma jury.” Nichols escaped murder convictions in the previous trial. Along with the 160 counts of murder, Nichols faces one count of first-degree manslaughter for the death of a fetus, one count of conspiracy to commit murder, and one count of aiding and counseling in the placing of a substance or bomb near a public building. Macy says he intends to try Nichols’s convicted co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) at a later date. [New York Times, 5/30/1999; The Oklahoman, 4/2009]

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols, Robert (“Bob”) Macy

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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