Supreme Court rejects appeal from Oklahoma City bombing co-defendant

Monday, October 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court rejected arguments Monday that FBI blunders should give Oklahoma City bombing co-defendant Terry Nichols the chance for a new trial.

The court, without comment, turned down Nichols' request for reconsideration of his case in light of the revelation last spring that the FBI had failed to turn over thousands of pages of bombing investigation materials to defense lawyers for Nichols and bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Nichols claimed the mishandled document incident supports his assertion that government lawyers failed to turn over material that could have helped him during his 1997 trial.

Nichols argued that lower courts did not do enough to ensure his lawyers got all the documents they were due, and he wanted a hearing or investigation that could lead to a new trial.

The Justice Department replied that nothing in the documents would have helped Nichols, and that their belated discovery was not enough reason to reopen the case.

The Supreme Court had already rejected an appeal from Nichols' when the document problem became public in May. A lawyer for Nichols quickly asked the court to reconsider.

Nichols' lawyer argued that the FBI may have deliberately withheld information from both the bombing defendants and federal prosecutors. Nichols also claimed to have found at least two instances in which federal prosecutors argued points in court that are contradicted by the new information.

The court routinely rejects such requests for a second chance, but this time took the unusual step of ordering the Justice Department to respond.

Nichols, 46, was convicted in federal court of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter and is serving a life sentence for his role in the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, which killed 168 people and injured more than 500 others.

McVeigh was convicted as the bombing's mastermind and was executed in June after dropping an appeal also based on the FBI paperwork that had not been turned over.

Nichols may face another trial and a possible death sentence in state court in Oklahoma for the 160 victims, including 19 children, who were not part of his federal trial.

Oklahoma City District Attorney Wes Lane said last month he will press ahead with those charges, in part as an insurance policy if Nichols somehow won an appeal or other challenge of his federal sentence.

Senior assistant district attorney Richard Wintory said the Supreme Court decision will not alter Lane's plans to move ahead with the case.

A state conviction is still important, Wintory said, because Nichols could still seek to appeal his federal conviction on other grounds.

``Nothing bars Terry Nichols from exploiting any other new development to again attack his federal conviction,'' Wintory said.

The deaths of eight federal law enforcement officers were the focus of the federal trial.