Nichols judge expresses frustration at slow pace of case

Tuesday, October 14th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Prosecutors in the state's murder case against Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols say lack of cooperation from the federal government could impede their case.

A hearing Tuesday will likely focus on what has happened since District Judge Steven Taylor last week chided federal prosecutors for not making witnesses available for Nichols' defense attorneys. He said the federal government had repeatedly promised cooperation ``and repeatedly those promises have meant nothing.''

``This situation is unacceptable and a remedy should come quickly or the court will impose a remedy,'' Taylor wrote.

Also last week, Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane sent a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft, warning that the lack of cooperation from federal officials could scuttle his case against Nichols.

Lane told Ashcroft that Taylor had become ``visibly frustrated'' and could decide to throw out the case or prohibit the use of the death penalty.

``It is the unfortunate circumstance that the state finds itself in the position of having fought for several years to bring this case to trial _ and to finally be on the very eve of the trial _ only to find that the federal government can hamstring our prosecution by its refusal to cooperate,'' Lane wrote.

U.S. Attorney Robert McCampbell responded to Lane's letter, saying the federal government has misgivings over the intentions of Nichols' attorneys, The Daily Oklahoman reported Tuesday in a copyright story.

``Some of the effort by the defense in the current case seems designed to try to undermine confidence in the federal conviction rather than to prepare for trial in state court,'' wrote McCampbell, who is from Oklahoma City.

McCampbell noted that only 50 formal defense requests have been made, most in the last 30 days. At least 19 of the witnesses no longer work for the federal government, he said.

``Most of these witnesses have not worked on this case for years and are now engaged on other things both professionally and in their personal lives,'' he wrote. ``They cannot be expected to drop those things at a moment's notice.''

The U.S. attorney also suggested many of the interviews are unnecessary, saying 16 of the 50 witnesses requested so far ``have already been questioned under oath by a lawyer for Mr. Nichols in the federal case.''

Taylor previously had said he wanted the defense and federal prosecutors to work out an arrangement on interviewing witnesses so the trial could go on as scheduled March 1.

Defense attorneys have indicated they want to question about 60 witnesses, including three former U.S. attorneys.

Taylor ruled last month to move the trial to McAlester, a city of about 16,000 people about 130 miles southeast of Oklahoma City, because of extensive pretrial publicity.

Nichols' attorneys had asked that the trial be moved out of state, and state prosecutors wanted it held closer to Oklahoma City.

Nichols, 48, was convicted of federal charges in the April 19, 1995, bombing and sentenced to life in prison for the death of eight federal agents.

He now faces 161 state counts of first-degree murder for the other victims in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. One of the victims included in the charges was a fetus whose mother was killed in the blast.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.


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