Prosecutors may agree to move Terry Nichols trial

Monday, July 21st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma prosecutors said Monday they might agree to bombing conspirator Terry Nichols' demands that he be tried by jurors from outside Oklahoma County on 161 counts of first-degree murder.

An agreement about the location of Nichols' state trial for the Oklahoma City bombing would avoid a contentious legal battle over whether he can receive a fair trial in Oklahoma City.

Assistant District Attorney Sandra Howell-Elliott suggested that Nichols' jury might be chosen from an adjacent county and bussed to Oklahoma City for the trial, which is expected to last several months.

The trial arrangement would have to be approved by District Judge Steven W. Taylor of McAlester, who is presiding over the case.

Prosecutors made the offer during a hearing in which Taylor denied a motion to dismiss most of the murder counts. Nichols claimed the state had no authority to prosecute him for most of the victims' deaths because they occurred in a federal building.

Defense attorneys have said they plan to file a motion to move the trial to another county, citing intense publicity about the April 19, 1995, bombing and Nichols in Oklahoma County.

Nichols' federal bombing trial was moved to Denver after U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch ruled that Nichols had been ``demonized'' by intense media coverage in Oklahoma.

Nichols, 48, was convicted of federal conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of eight federal law enforcement officers killed in the blast. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The state charges involve victims who were not part of the federal case as well as a fetus whose mother died in the bombing. State prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Nichols' co-defendant, Timothy McVeigh, was executed two years ago.

Elliott said she and District Attorney Wes Lane have discussed the possibility of agreeing to Nichols' change of venue request. Taylor said he will decide the issue at a Sept. 5 hearing if no agreement is reached.

Taylor denied Nichols' motion to dismiss the charges after defense attorney Brian Hermanson argued the state had ceded its jurisdiction over federal property such as the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Elliott said the federal government never accepted exclusive jurisdiction over the federal building and that prohibiting the state from prosecuting crimes committed there would leave them ``unpunished and unpunishable.''

``We're basically left in a no man's land,'' Elliott said.

Taylor ruled that no area of the state, ``small or large, should be left without a developed legal system.''