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

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.” (Thomas 1/9/1998)


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