Attorneys for bombing conspiractor Terry Nichols ask for more than 1 1/2 years to prepare defense

Wednesday, May 21st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Attorneys for Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols have asked for more than 1 1/2 years to prepare their defense against state murder charges that could get him the death penalty.

A judge entered an innocent plea Tuesday on Nichols' behalf, but did not set a trial date. The defense asked that proceedings not begin until January 2005.

``Everyone is wanting to move this thing along quickly,'' defense attorney Brian Hermanson said. ``It is going to take a significant amount of time. We have to be careful that his rights be protected.''

Prosecutors said they will be ready for trial by November or December and they plan to call 217 witnesses, more than half of them from outside Oklahoma.

District Judge Steven Taylor scheduled the next hearing for May 30.

Because the defense has a motion pending to dismiss the charges for lack of evidence, Nichols stood mute rather than enter a plea, so Taylor entered it for him.

Nichols, 48, is already serving life in a federal prison for the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building that killed 168 people and injured hundreds of others. He was convicted on federal conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter charges for the deaths of eight federal law enforcement officers.

He now faces 162 counts in state court for all the other victims. Prosecutors recently added two murder counts for two fetuses whose mothers died in the blast.

Defense attorneys have asked for a jury trial, but say it will be difficult if not impossible to find an impartial jury in Oklahoma.

Prosecutors say the bombing was revenge against the government for the deadly siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, exactly two years earlier. They said Nichols and his Army buddy, Timothy McVeigh, prepared the 4,000-pound fuel oil-and-fertilizer bomb together and that Nichols participated in robberies and burglaries to raise money and obtain equipment for the plot.

Nichols was home in Herington, Kan., the day of the explosion, but prosecutors say he helped McVeigh pack the bomb inside a Ryder truck a day earlier and helped stash his friend's getaway car.

McVeigh was executed two years ago after he was convicted of federal murder charges.