Judge moves Terry Nichols' state bombing trial to McAlester

Monday, September 8th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The murder trial for Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols will be held in the southeast Oklahoma city of McAlester, a state judge decided Monday.

Nichols trial is to start on March 1.

District Judge Steven Taylor decided to move the trial out of Oklahoma County because of extensive pretrial publicity. Nichols' defense attorneys had asked that it be moved out of state, and state prosecutors wanted it held in a county closer to Oklahoma City.

McAlester, a city of about 16,000 people, is about 130 miles southeast of Oklahoma City. It is the location of Taylor's home court.

In a statement, Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane said he agreed with Nichols' defense attorneys that Nichols' jury should not be picked in Oklahoma County.

"We are confident as is the trial judge that a fair and impartial jury can be found with the good folks around the McAlester area," Lane said.

Nichols' lead defense attorney, Brian Hermanson, declined comment, citing a gag order.

Nichols was convicted of federal bombing charges and sentenced to life in prison following a trial that was moved from Oklahoma City to Denver in 1996 by U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch. His federal conviction was for the death of eight federal agents.

Nichols, 48, faces 161 state counts of first-degree murder for the other victims of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. One of the victims included in the state charges was a fetus whose mother was killed in the blast.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Taylor has denied Nichols' request to dismiss the charges. Defense attorneys alleged that pretrial publicity about the bombing and Nichols' federal conviction made it impossible to find a fair and impartial jury anywhere in the state.

Taylor has said that extensive pretrial publicity about Nichols and the state murder charges will make it more difficult to pick a jury. He said Nichols will not be tried if he is unable to find 12 jurors and six alternate jurors who can be fair and impartial in the case.

Nichols was at home in Kansas the day the bomb exploded. But authorities allege he helped co-defendant Timothy McVeigh pack the bomb inside a Ryder truck the day before the bombing.

McVeigh was convicted on federal murder charges and was executed in June 2001.

Taylor was appointed by the Oklahoma Supreme Court to hear the case.