In the two years since his transfer, Nichols trial not even at prelim hearing stage

Thursday, January 31st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Thursday marked the second anniversary of the return of federal building bombing co-conspirator Terry Nichols to Oklahoma to face state charges.

Oklahoma County prosecutors charged Nichols in March 1999 with 160 counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of civilians in the April 19, 1995, explosion. Nichols arrived about nine months later, but movement in his case has been slower.

The original pretrial judge, Robert Murphy Jr. of Payne County, was removed at the prosecution's request. The original prosecutor, Bob Macy, was removed at the request of Nichols' lead defense attorney, Brian Hermanson, and Macy later retired.

Macy's successor decided to proceed with the case, but a preliminary hearing set for November was postponed.

Defense lawyers have said they are out of money and will withdraw from the case if they don't get funding in addition to the $1.8 million already allotted. The Oklahoma Supreme Court is considering the matter.

Until the money issue is resolved, District Judge Ray Dean Linder, who was appointed to the case after Murphy's dismissal, won't reset a preliminary hearing to determine if Nichols should go to trial.

A federal jury in Denver convicted Nichols in 1997 of conspiracy and the involuntary manslaughter of eight federal agents. The jury deadlocked on punishment and U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch sentenced him in June 1998 to life in prison.

His co-conspirator, Timothy McVeigh, was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to die. McVeigh was executed last year.

The pretrial issues in Nichols' case have included who should cut his hair; what he should eat; whether a state trial constitutes double jeopardy; where pretrial hearings will take place and who will represent Nichols.

Bombing victims are disappointed with the delays.

``It doesn't bother me that they are giving him a fair trial, but the process seems awfully slow considering the abundance of evidence that came out in the federal trial,'' bombing survivor Paul Heath said.

Paul Howell, whose daughter, Karan Shephard, died in the bombing, witnessed McVeigh's June 11 execution in Terre Haute, Ind.

When survivors and victims' relatives met with Wes Lane, the new Oklahoma County DA, they were told that there could be complications as the prosecution proceeded.

``We were prepared to a certain degree to wait,'' Howell said. ``But it is still pretty doggone tough waiting on it.''