Terry Nichols to get life a second time for bombing

Saturday, August 7th 2004, 3:36 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Before he is sentenced to life in prison on 160 counts of murder, Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols may speak publicly for the first time since he went on trial in Oklahoma, according to his attorneys.

Nichols, already serving life in prison without parole on federal charges for the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, never testified during his state and federal bombing trials and said nothing after he was convicted in federal court.

But Nichols, who was spared the death penalty when his state jury deadlocked on a sentence, is seriously considering addressing state District Judge Steven Taylor before Taylor sentences him Monday to more life terms on state first-degree murder convictions.

"It's one of the things that could happen," lead defense attorney Brian Hermanson said.

Nichols, 49, has a legal right to make a statement to plead for mercy, express remorse or apologize to victims prior to sentencing. But defense attorney Creekmore Wallace said he does not know what Nichols will say.

"I hope he lets us see it first," Wallace said.

The possibility Nichols will make a statement gave new hope to victims families who question whether the bombing conspiracy was limited to Nichols and bomber Timothy McVeigh. The Oklahoma City bombing remains the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.

"Some day I hope that Terry will come forward and tell the truth, that God will lead him to tell the truth," said Tina Tomlin, whose husband, U.S. Department of Transportation special agent Rick Tomlin, was killed in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

"I've always felt that there were others unknown involved," said Gloria Chipman, whose husband, Robert Chipman, was killed in the state Water Resources Board building across the street from the federal building.

"He is our very last chance at knowing the truth," Tomlin said. "If we put him to death, we would never know."

Paul Howell, whose daughter, federal credit union employee Karan Howell Shepherd, also died in the bombing, said he doubts Nichols will ever talk.

"Even if there are other people involved, he'll never say it," Howell said.

Nichols faces possible sentences of life in prison with or without the possibility of parole on the state murder convictions after his 12-member jury spared him the death sentence for a second time.

Nichols was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1998 on federal involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy convictions for the deaths of eight federal law enforcement officers after jurors at that trial also deadlocked on whether to sentence Nichols to death.

The state charges are for the other 160 victims and one victim's fetus.

McVeigh was convicted of federal conspiracy and murder charges and executed on June 11, 2001.

Nichols, who went on trial in Oklahoma on March 1, was convicted on 161 counts of first-degree murder on May 26. Jurors could not consider a death sentence on the count involving the fetus and sentenced Nichols to life without the possibility of parole.

But jurors deadlocked on the third anniversary of McVeigh's execution after three days of deliberations on whether he should be sentenced to death by lethal injection on the remaining counts. That meant Nichols automatically would receive a life sentence.

Nichols was tried in the southeastern Oklahoma city of McAlester after Taylor moved the trial because of pretrial publicity in Oklahoma City.

Howell and other victims family members said they were disappointed Nichols was not sentenced to death.

"I thought if anywhere that we could get a just sentence, it would be here in Oklahoma with our own people. Evidently, something went wrong," Howell said.

"I think Nichols considers himself pretty damn lucky."

But Tomlin said she was more interested in holding Nichols accountable for her husband's death than the penalty he received.

"I just never was really gung-ho on death," Tomlin said. "It's not going to bring my husband back."

"It really wasn't about the death penalty. It was about truth and justice," Chipman said.

The chief prosecutor, Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane, said he pursued charges for victims who were not part of the government's case against Nichols.

"I'm completely satisfied with the fact that there has finally been resolution in this case," Lane said. "We have kept our word. We have held him accountable."

Nichols will have 10 days after he is sentenced to appeal his conviction and sentence. But Wallace said his attorneys are urging Nichols not to appeal.

Hermanson said a successful appeal that invalidated the conviction and sentence could result in a second state trial and another attempt to secure a death penalty.

Lane said he expects Nichols to be returned to federal custody once he is sentenced and the deadline for filing an appeal expires. No date for his return to federal prison has been set.