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NEW DA Sworn In, Addresses Nichols, Gilchrist Issues

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Wes Lane, who was sworn in Monday as Oklahoma County district attorney, said he still has not decided whether to continue to pursue state murder charges against Terry Nichols in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Lane's predecessor, Bob Macy, wanted Nichols tried in state court, where he could face the death penalty if convicted. Nichols was convicted of federal charges of involuntary manslaughter and was given a life sentence.

``I've not decided one way or another on that, but I will,'' said Lane, 45, a longtime assistant to Macy.

A preliminary hearing starting July 18 is to determine if there is sufficient evidence to try Nichols in state court.

A recent poll by The University of Oklahoma and The Daily Oklahoman found that 49 percent of the 401 Oklahomans surveyed opposed a state trial for Nichols. When told the trial cost could reach $5 million, the opposition rose to 62 percent. The error rate was plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Lane said he had begun ``a listening tour'' with a goal of making sure his office runs smoothly and that the public perceives it as administering justice fairly.

He said he had already talked to the county's criminal judges and would begin interviewing staff members Monday afternoon. He said he also would be talking with defense attorneys.

``I really think the perception of justice is the No. 1 issue,'' Lane said.

He said several factors have adversely affected the public's view of the justice system, including the controversy surrounding Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist and the failure of the FBI to turn over all documents to the defense in the Oklahoma City bombing.

``I want to be seen as running to make sure that the innocent are protected,'' Lane said.

Lane, standing by wife Lori Hansen, a plastic surgeon, said his appointment by Gov. Frank Keating was ``a dream of a lifetime.''

District Judge Nancy Coats presided over the ceremony and Juvenile Judge Roger Stuart administered the oath of office.

Lane joined Macy's office in 1981 and was named director of its juvenile division in 1995.

Macy, 70, did not attend. In a letter of congratulations, he cited a conflict in schedule and said Lane did not need ``any old has-been sharing the limelight.''

A judge removed Macy from prosecuting Nichols on 160 state murder charges, finding that the district attorney violated a gag order and showed a conflict of interest.

Nichols was given a life sentence after his conviction on eight federal counts of involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of federal law enforcement officers in the April 19, 1995, attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Building.

Nichols' preliminary hearing on the Oklahoma charges had been set for May 21 but was postponed after the FBI disclosed it had failed to turn over more than 4,000 bombing-related documents at the federal trials of Nichols and Timothy McVeigh, who was executed last month.

Before leaving office, Macy asked Attorney General Drew Edmondson to disqualify the district attorney's office from the investigation of Gilchrist, whose work is under investigation by state and federal authorities.

An FBI report said Gilchrist misidentified hair and fiber evidence in at least five cases, and thousands more are being investigated. In one case, a man was freed after serving 15 years for a rape he did not commit.

Gilchrist is on administrative leave and had not been charged with any wrongdoing.

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