Judge schedules hearings in Nichols case

Tuesday, February 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- After more than a year of false starts, a judge Tuesday scheduled hearings to finally resolve pre-trial motions in the murder case against convicted bombing conspirator Terry Nichols.

District Judge Ray Dean Linder stopped short of also setting a new date for Nichols' preliminary hearing but said it will begin no sooner than May 17. The preliminary hearing will decide whether there is enough evidence to try Nichols on 160 counts of first-degree murder.

"This case has been languishing in the district court for a year now," Assistant District Attorney Sandra Howell-Elliott said.

Nichols was brought to Oklahoma City on Jan. 31, 2000, from Colorado, where he was serving a life prison sentence for his federal conviction on eight first-degree manslaughter counts and conspiracy.

Nichols is charged with a total of 163 charges including the murder counts. The April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building killed 168 people and injured hundreds more.

State prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Nichols.

Linder met with prosecutors and Nichols' defense attorneys in a courtroom in the basement of the Oklahoma County Jail for the first time since the state Supreme Court dismissed Nichols' request to kick Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy's office off the case.

In October, Linder removed Macy and all of his assistants from Nichols' prosecution. Linder ruled that Macy had violated the rules of professional conduct as well as a gag order that prohibits anyone directly involved with the case from discussing it.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in December upheld Macy's disqualification but declined to disqualify his staff.

Linder scheduled a hearing on Monday to review Macy's disqualification and how the district attorney is being screened from Nichols' prosecution.

Howell-Elliott said steps have been taken to prevent Macy from having access to Nichols' prosecution team and evidence in the case and to prevent prosecutors from discussing the case with Macy.

Other issues scheduled to be heard on Monday are: --Allegations that prosecutors have not turned over all of the FBI reports and "lead sheets" about the bombing that Nichols'

defense attorneys are entitled to.

--Allegations by Nichols that Macy's office lacks jurisdiction to prosecute Nichols on some charges.

Linder scheduled an additional hearing on March 12 to decide whether pre-trial publicity will prevent Nichols from getting a fair trial and whether trying Nichols will violate his constitutional right against double jeopardy.

Defense attorney Brian Hermanson has argued that the charges against Nichols, 45, violate his constitutional guarantee against being tried twice for the same offense.

Nichols' co-defendant, Timothy McVeigh, was convicted on federal murder and conspiracy charges and is scheduled to die by lethal injection on May 16 at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.