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Profile: Brian Hermanson

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Oklahoma City District Attorney Wes Lane announces that Oklahoma will continue prosecuting convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see March 29, 1999) on 160 state charges of murder, in part because the state fears Nichols may win his federal appeals (see June 4, 1998). “I will not roll the dice on this issue. There is simply too much at stake,” Lane says. He says that the state will seek the death penalty against Nichols. Lane took over the case after District Attorney Robert Macy retired in June 2001; some have speculated that Oklahoma might drop the case due to the expenditure, the difficulty of finding an impartial jury, and the emotional toll on the victims of another trial. Nichols’s lead lawyer for the state case, Brian Hermanson, writes in a letter quoted by local newspapers that Nichols was willing to drop his appeals and accept a federal life sentence to avoid a state trial. The letter states: “Taking such a step ensures that he will spend the rest of his life in prison. It would enable Mr. Lane to drop the state prosecution, thereby sparing Oklahoma the trauma and expense of another trial.” Lane responds that “the interests of the people of the State of Oklahoma cannot be vindicated by the blind reliance on the federal government or Terry Lynn Nichols,” and says he will seek sanctions against Hermanson for what he calls a “glaring, blatant violation” of a state court order not to discuss the case. Shelly Thompson, who lost her mother in the blast (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), says: “You can’t just get away with a little bit of a crime. We’re going to go for the whole thing. I want to make sure he will stay in prison for his life. This is something I need to do for her. He was not found guilty in my mother’s death and 159 other deaths. They are more than numbers.” [New York Times, 9/6/2001; The Oklahoman, 4/2009; Mayhem (.net), 4/2009]

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

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

Lead defense lawyer Brian Hermanson.Lead defense lawyer Brian Hermanson. [Source: Corbis / TruTV]Michael E. Tigar, the former lead attorney for convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see June 4, 1998) who now faces a state trial on 161 counts of first-degree murder (see March 1, 2004), joins Nichols’s current defense team in speculating that the bombing may have been carried out by a larger group of white supremacists, of which Nichols was only a minor member and perhaps little more than a scapegoat. While prosecutors say they have “an avalanche of evidence” showing Nichols’s heavy involvement, defense lawyers led by Brian T. Hermanson say that Nichols and his cohort, convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997), were part of the purported larger conspiracy. McVeigh, Hermanson argues, “conspired with others whose identities are still unknown” and “orchestrated various events and evidence so as to make it appear that Mr. Nichols was involved and, thereby, direct attention away from others.” Some evidence exists of McVeigh’s involvement with the violent white supremacist group Aryan Republican Army (ARA—see 1992 - 1995 and November 1994) and it is possible that McVeigh took part in bank robberies the group carried out. Tigar says, “Is it too bad they killed Tim?” referring to McVeigh’s execution (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001). “If they really wanted to find out what happened, maybe some of the revelations, now that the cover is blown, maybe he would have talked. Who knows?” Tigar seems to be implying that the government executed McVeigh to ensure his silence, a conclusion prosecutors dispute. Prosecutors say they have given the defense all exculpatory evidence, and that they can indisputably prove Nichols’s guilt. Assistant Oklahoma County District Attorney Sandra H. Elliott says, “Whether or not anybody else is involved, we can prove Mr. Nichols is.” Mark S. Hamm, a criminology professor who has written about the ARA, says: “The preponderance of evidence points to the fact that McVeigh had some sort of ongoing relationship with members of the ARA. [But t]here’s no smoking gun here.” Stephen Jones, who represented McVeigh during his trial (see May 8, 1995), says: “Where the Nichols defense clearly wants to go is to try for an acquittal or hung jury using material the government withheld.” If successful, the Nichols lawyers will try to get Nichols’s federal conviction (see December 23, 1997) reversed. However, “it has to succeed in [these proceedings] first.” [New York Times, 3/16/2004]

Entity Tags: Sandra H. Elliott, Aryan Republican Army, Brian Hermanson, Michael E. Tigar, Stephen Jones, Timothy James McVeigh, Mark S. Hamm, Terry Lynn Nichols

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

The FBI searches the home that once belonged to convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and May 26, 2004) and finds explosive materials related to the 1995 bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). The bureau acts on a tip that it missed evidence in its search a decade earlier (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995). Blasting caps and other explosive materials were concealed in a crawl space of the Herington, Kansas, home, buried under about a foot of rock, dirt, and gravel, an area not searched in the 1995 investigation. FBI agent Gary Johnson says, “[T]he information so far indicates the items have been there since prior to the Oklahoma City bombing.” Nichols’s lawyer, Brian Hermanson, says the discovery is either a hoax or evidence of a major failure by the FBI: “They were there often. It’s surprising. I would think they would have done their job and found everything that was there. But I’m still suspicious that it could be something planted there. The house was empty for several years.” [Associated Press, 4/2/2005] Reportedly, Nichols has admitted conspiring to build the bomb that destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City (see November 30, 2004).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Brian Hermanson, Terry Lynn Nichols, Gary Johnson

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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