Oklahoma Bomb Conspirator's Ex-Wife Testifies

Associated Press/May 6, 2003
By Tim Talley

Oklahoma City -- In tearful testimony, the ex-wife of bombing conspirator Terry Nichols recalled a conversation in which he spoke bitterly about the government's raid on the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, and complained there were "innocent people killed."

The statements Monday came as the government tried, in a preliminary hearing, to build a case for trying Nichols on 160 state murder charges that could bring the death penalty.

"There were innocent people killed and the government was wrong in doing it," Lana Padilla quoted Nichols as saying in a telephone conversation about the FBI's botched assault, in which 80 Branch Davidians were killed.

Authorities allege the April 19, 1995, attack on the Oklahoma City federal building, which was carried out on the second anniversary of the raid, was a twisted plot to avenge the cult disaster.

Earlier in the day, an aide to then-Sen. Nancy Kassembaum Baker testified that Nichols called the lawmaker's office to complain about the fiery end to the Waco standoff.

"He was very stern and told us about his thinking on the matter," said Lee Ellen Alexander. She said she was "literally surprised and shocked" when she learned days later that Nichols was a suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Padilla denied making statements to the FBI that described Nichols as a secretive, anti-government survivalist. District Judge Allen McCall admonished Padilla over the denial and accused her of being "evasive."

Nichols, 48, was previously convicted on federal conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter charges for the deaths of eight law enforcement officers in the bombing, which killed 168 people. The state charges involve victims who were not part of Nichols' federal trial.

Prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty. They say a state conviction is needed to eliminate any possibility that Nichols could get the federal conviction overturned on appeal and gain his freedom.

During a lunch break, Padilla fell into Nichols arms and wept. In later testimony, she was led from the courtroom after breaking down in tears.

"I don't want to do this," Padilla said. She is scheduled to return to the witness stand Tuesday.

Padilla, who was married to Nichols for eight years in the 1980s, said she was surprised to discover several months before the bombing that Nichols had amassed thousands of dollars in cash and supplies.

She testified that when he went on a trip to the Philippines in late 1994, she discovered he had left $20,000 in $100 bills in a bag behind a drawer in her house. He also left a key to a storage facility where she found gold bullion, camping gear, a ski mask, makeup and a wig, among other things.

"I thought he was broke," she said.

Prosecutors allege Nichols participated in a series of robberies and thefts to raise money to carry out the bombing. They also allege Nichols and Timothy McVeigh worked together to prepare a 4,000-pound fuel-and-fertilizer bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Nichols was at home in Herington, Kan., the day the bomb exploded. But prosecutors said he helped McVeigh deliver a getaway car to Oklahoma City and worked with McVeigh to pack the bomb inside a Ryder truck the day before the bombing.

McVeigh was convicted on federal murder charges. He was executed in June 2001.

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