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Context of 'March 22, 2004: Murder Trial of Oklahoma City Bombing Conspirator Opens; Prosecutors Lambasted by Judge for Jury Impropriety'

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The Pittsburg County Courthouse, where Terry Nichols will be tried on 161 counts of first-degree murder.The Pittsburg County Courthouse, where Terry Nichols will be tried on 161 counts of first-degree murder. [Source: Associated Press]Oklahoma State District Judge Steven Taylor rules that convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, already serving life after being convicted of federal charges for his role in the bombing conspiracy (see June 4, 1998), will be tried in McAlester, Oklahoma, instead of in or near Oklahoma City. Nichols faces 160 (later amended to 161) state charges of first-degree murder, each of which could result in the death penalty (see May 13, 2003). Defense lawyers successfully argued that Nichols would suffer from “prejudicial publicity” among jurors from the Oklahoma City area, though they had argued that the trial should be moved out of state entirely. [New York Times, 9/4/2003; New York Times, 9/7/2003; New York Times, 9/9/2003]

Entity Tags: Steven W. Taylor, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The trial of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see May 13, 2003) begins in McAlester, Oklahoma, with the trial judge, Steven Taylor, ruling that the trial will not be delayed because of allegations that the prosecution withheld documents from the defense (see February 27, 2004). Nichols faces 161 counts of first-degree murder, and could receive the death penalty if convicted. Taylor warns prosecutors that any withholding of evidence by prosecutors or the Justice Department would void the case entirely, saying: “There will not be a mistrial. There will be a dismissal, period.” Taylor says, “It would be irresponsible for this court to shut down this trial today based on speculation and guesswork what the FBI can come up with.” The defense intends to argue that Nichols was just one small cog in a much larger conspiracy involving convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001) and an undetermined number of unnamed accomplices, perhaps American white supremacists or Middle Eastern radicals; defense lawyer Barbara Bergman tries and fails for a delay, telling Taylor: “Everywhere we turn we are being stymied by the federal government, your honor. It’s outrageous. Why is the federal government so afraid?” Taylor says he will allow the defense considerable leeway in questioning government witnesses: “Some call a trial a search for truth. If the FBI thinks it important to search for truth while we’re conducting this trial, then they should cooperate with the search for truth in this courtroom.” The jury has not yet been seated, and lawyers will not give their opening arguments for at least a week. Brian T. Hermanson is Nichols’s lead lawyer; Lou Keel leads the prosecution. [New York Times, 3/2/2004; New York Times, 3/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Steven W. Taylor, Barbara Bergman, Brian Hermanson, Lou Keel, Terry Lynn Nichols, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Lawyers make their opening statements in the trial of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see March 1, 2004), charged with 161 counts of first-degree murder in the bombing. Nichols is already serving a life sentence from a conviction in federal court (see December 23, 1997). Assistant District Attorney Lou Keel calls Nichols and executed Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001) “partners in terror,” and tells of a plethora of evidence joining the two in the conspiracy to destroy the Murrah Federal Building (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Lead defense lawyer Brian T. Hermanson says that Nichols was the victim of “manipulation” and “betrayal” by his friend McVeigh. The prosecution seems to be following a similar path as that taken in Nichols’s federal trial, but Nichols’s defense is trying to raise new doubts about others possibly involved in the conspiracy (see March 16, 2004), including questioning the existence and identity of the infamous “John Doe No. 2,” a purported fellow conspirator who was never caught and whom the FBI has said never existed (see April 20, 1995, April 21, 1995, April 29, 1995, and June 14, 1995).
Judge Lashes Prosecution for 'Inexcusable Conduct' - Judge Steven Taylor excoriates the prosecution for its “inexcusable conduct” in withholding an impropriety in jury selection, saying that the impropriety might cause a mistrial later in the case. Taylor says the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office failed to inform the court until the jury was already chosen that among the 12 jurors and six alternates were three relatives of a prosecutor with local roots who had worked on jury selection. “The court cannot imagine why the prosecutors affirmatively chose not to reveal this information during the jury selection,” Taylor says, blaming prosecutor George Burnett for the lapse. Burnett, Taylor says, knew in early March that he was related to three or four people in the 357-member jury pool, but continued to participate in the process of jury selection that included three of his relatives. At that point, Burnett told his fellow prosecutors, but no one told Taylor until March 12, the day after the jury was selected and the process closed. The jurors bear no blame in the matter, Taylor says. He dismissed the three jurors in question, leaving only three alternates. If the jurors should fall below the requisite dozen, he warns, “the trial will not end in a mistrial, it will end in a dismissal with prejudice,” meaning Nichols cannot be retried on the charges. Prosecutors do not respond in court to Taylor’s admonishment, and say nothing to reporters, as Taylor has barred both sides from speaking to reporters about the case. [New York Times, 3/23/2004]

Entity Tags: Lou Keel, Brian Hermanson, George Burnett, Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, Steven W. Taylor

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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