Supreme Court rejects appeal from Oklahoma City bombing defendant Terry Nichols

Monday, January 7th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court dealt another loss to Terry Nichols, refusing Monday to block a trial that could bring him the death penalty for the Oklahoma City bombing.

Nichols, 46, already been convicted on federal charges for his role in the 1995 bombing that killed 168 people. At issue now is the state's effort to try him on more charges.

Justices, without comment, turned back his claims that another trial would be double jeopardy.

The refusal to intervene is the latest in a string of Supreme Court losses for Nichols, who was convicted of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter in the attack on the Oklahoma City federal office building. Timothy McVeigh, the bombing's mastermind, was executed in June.

Justices refused in October to consider arguments that the FBI's belated release of investigation documents to Nichols' attorneys affected his federal trial. And last spring Nichols lost an appeal of his conviction.

Those cases pit Nichols against the federal government, which won convictions but not the death penalty. The latest case involves the state's plans to try him on 160 counts of first-degree murder and other charges.

Nichols' lawyer, Brian Hermanson, said federal and state officers and prosecutors worked together on the investigation and 1997 trial that ended with Nichols' federal sentence of life in prison.

``The power and majesty of the federal sovereign and a state sovereign were conjoined in a massive criminal law enforcement enterprise which at first worked jointly to convict Mr. Nichols, and now seeks to separate one from the other to try him again for the same offenses,'' Hermanson wrote.

He said the two ``seek to step apart from one another in order `to take a second bite at the apple.'''

Oklahoma prosecutors said they planned all along to follow the federal trial _ regardless of the outcome _ with a state trial.

``Although (Nichols) alleges that this was a `massive, well-funded and sophisticated joint federal-state law enforcement enterprise,' they have failed to prove that it was a joint enterprise in any form or fashion,'' Oklahoma prosecutor John Jacobsen wrote in the government's case.

The April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which killed 168 and injured more than 500, was at the time the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil.

Hermanson said the government charges are similar to ones of which Nichols was acquitted by a federal jury.

The federal trial had included murder charges in the deaths of eight federal officers. Nichols ``has not been tried in any court for the murders of the 160 individuals currently charged in the state of Oklahoma,'' Jacobsen told the court.

With the Supreme Court appeal out of the way, Nichols could go on trial in Oklahoma sometime this year.

Prosecutors must first prove in a preliminary hearing in state court that there is sufficient evidence to warrant a trial. That hearing is on hold until the Oklahoma Supreme Court resolves a question over how much Nichols' defense attorneys should be paid.

Oklahoma City District Attorney Wes Lane said Monday that he would have no comment on the U.S. Supreme Court action as a state judge has ordered attorneys not to discuss the case publicly.

The case is Nichols v.Oklahoma, 01-6794.