Nichols Gets Life For Bombing Role

Chicago Tribune/June 5, 1998
By V. Dion Haynes

DENVER -- Terry Nichols, spared the death penalty when a jury reached a deadlock during the penalty phase of his trial, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without parole for his role in the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.

Nichols, convicted last December of conspiring to blow up a federal building and of eight counts of involuntary manslaughter in the nation's worst act of domestic terrorism, also was sentenced to serve eight concurrent 6-year terms for the deaths of eight federal agents.

Characterizing the bombing as an attack against the Constitution, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch ordered Nichols to pay $14.5 million in restitution to the General Services Administration for the destruction of the Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995.

Though Nichols said in court papers that he has only $40,000 in assets, Matsch indicated that any future proceeds he might get from selling his story should be forwarded to the government.

Matsch's sentence, the maximum he could impose, rejected the defense contention that Nichols was a dupe of Timothy McVeigh, who in an earlier trial was sentenced to death for his role in the bombing, and should be given a lighter sentence. The jury's impasse in January during the penalty phase sent the case to Matsch.

Nichols rebuffed Matsch's offer of leniency in exchange for providing crucial details of the plot. Nichols had been advised by one of his lawyers that doing so would harm him in his state trial in Oklahoma. Instead, Nichols gave Matsch a written apology.

"If I in any way contributed to the Oklahoma City bombing, I am truly sorry," Nichols wrote in a rambling 16-page letter. "I've tried and tried, but there are no words that I can express to the victims and survivors for the loss, pain, sorrow and heartache that they have gone through and will continue to go through for the rest of their lives."

In court Thursday, Nichols, 43, declined to make a statement on his behalf. While his teenage son, Josh, sobbed loudly, Nichols stood stoically as Matsch pronounced the sentence.

In a 10-minute admonishment, Matsch said Nichols committed a horrible act of treason that deserved the most severe punishment.

"The only inference that can be drawn from the evidence is that the purpose of the plan was to change the course of government through fear and intimidation," Matsch said.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Nichols played a major role in the plot by buying the ingredients for the 4,000-pound fertilizer bomb, stealing explosives and robbing a gun dealer to finance the operation.

They argued that McVeigh, who parked the truck containing the bomb in front of the building, and Nichols plotted the bombing to express their rage over the deadly federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, on April 19, 1993.

Prosecutors said outside the courtroom that they were pleased with the sentence.

Defense lawyers asserted that Nichols should be given less than life in prison because the jury's verdict acquitting him of first-degree murder charges indicated that he didn't intend to kill anyone.

Michael Tigar, the lead defense attorney, filed papers calling for a new trial. He cited a recent article in a newspaper that quoted some jurors as having discussed the case in small groups outside the deliberation process, apparently a violation of court rules. Matsch said he would schedule a hearing on the motion.

Legal analysts said it is unlikely such juror behavior would warrant a new trial.

In a presentencing hearing, 12 victims and relatives of victims offered testimony to persuade Matsch to impose the maximum penalty.

One man who was working in the building when the bomb exploded testified about the pain he endured when surgeons, without using anesthesia, removed hundreds of pieces of shrapnel.

He said he will have to go through three days of physical therapy a week for the rest of his life. Another man talked about the severe anxiety attacks he began suffering after the death of his brother.

"I'm proud of what happened in the judicial system. I felt like singing `God Bless America,' " said Marsha Kight, whose daughter, Frankie Merrell, was killed in the blast. "He got what he deserved."


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