THE DEFENSE RESTS
December 11, 1997
After 92 witnesses and eight days of testimony, the defense rested its case in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols. Elizabeth Farnsworth talks with Tim Sullivan, correspondent for Court TV, about the Nichols bombing trial.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: After eight days of testimony from ninety-two witnesses, attorneys for Terry Nichols rested their case today. The federal government has alleged Nichols was Timothy McVeigh's co-conspirator in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. For more on the trial we're joined by Court TV correspondent Tim Sullivan.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
November 4, 1997
Testimony begins at the Terry Nichols trial.
September 29, 1997
Jury selection begins for the Terry Nichols trial.
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June 13, 1997:
A Denver jury sentenced Timothy McVeigh to death.
June 11, 1997:
The parents of Timothy McVeigh plead for his life.
June 6, 1997:
Victims' families discuss their reactions to the tragedy.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of law.
CourtTV archive of transcripts and documents from the Nichols trial.
CourtTV archive of transcripts and documents from the McVeigh trial.
Tim, today the defense wound up its case with testimony from Terry Nichols' wife, Marife. What was the--what were the main points of that testimony?
The testimony of Marife Nichols.
TIM SULLIVAN, Court TV: Well, Elizabeth, the defense called Marife Nichols because she gave Terry Nichols an alibi for the day of the bombing because she corroborated some of the statements he made to the FBI about why he drove to Oklahoma City three days before the bombing to pick up Tim McVeigh. He says he went down there because McVeigh's car broke down, McVeigh had a TV set that belonged to Nichols, he went down to do McVeigh a favor and get his TV set in the bargain. Marife Nichols confirmed all of that, but she also corroborated some important points in the government's case. So it was not an unqualified success for the defense to put Terry Nichols' wife on the stand. She could not explain where he was on the morning before the bombing, when the government claims he was at a state park with Timothy McVeigh, building the bomb that blew up the Murrah Building. She also confirmed some evidence the government put in about an oil filter, a receipt for an oil filter that Terry Nichols returned to a Wal-Mart. The government alleges that oil filter was bought by Timothy McVeigh a week before the bombing, and Terry Nichols' possession of the receipt proves that he saw McVeigh only a week before the bombing, when Terry Nichols told the FBI, when he was arrested two days after the bombing, that he hadn't seen McVeigh in four months.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Tim, last week you said that the prosecution had tried repeatedly to link Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh. Was the defense able to de-link them at all?
TIM SULLIVAN: You know, they were not very successful in that part of their case. They were successful in raising doubts about John Doe II and the second Ryder Truck and other matters. But, again, Marife Nichols, Terry Nichols' wife, hurt the Nichols defense in that part of the case because she talked about how Timothy McVeigh was Terry Nichols' best friend. She said nobody was closer to my husband than Timothy McVeigh. She said it got to the point where she became jealous of the time Terry Nichols spent with McVeigh and that she threatened to leave Terry Nichols if he didn't break off this friendship with McVeigh and go back on a deal they had McVeigh and Nichols to go into business together. So she seemed to put them back together again.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In these past eight days how has the defense of Terry Nichols differed from the defense of Tim McVeigh?
TIM SULLIVAN: Well, they've called four times the number of witnesses that the Timothy McVeigh defense called. They also were able to raise a lot of questions about John Doe 2, the suspect the government was looking for in the weeks after the bombing but who was never apprehended. For example, Terry Nichols' defense team was able to call Carol Howe, who was an informer for the ATF in a right-wing religious compound in Eastern Oklahoma. She came a couple of days ago and told the jury that she saw Timothy McVeigh at that compound with a man who the defense has identified as possibly being John Doe 2, and she said there was a lot of talk at that place about the violent overthrow of the government. And, as Michael Tigar would say, the lead defense attorney, the theme of his opening statement was that Terry Nichols was not there. So that was something that they were able to do that McVeigh's team was never able to do.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And tell us about some of the other witnesses who testified about this John Doe No. 2. There were several, weren't there?
John Doe II?
TIM SULLIVAN: There were several. There were two people, in particular, who testified that they saw Timothy McVeigh with John Doe 2 within a block of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on the morning of the bombing. One woman who was in the building when it blew up, she got out, she said that she was walking to her husband's office a few blocks from the Murrah Building when she ran into Tim McVeigh and this other man, this John Doe 2, which several witnesses for the defense described as possibly being Hispanic, having an olive complexion and dark hair and dark features, certainly not Terry Nichols. Another man said he saw McVeigh with that man in Oklahoma City. Several people saw him elsewhere. Most importantly probably was yesterday the defense called Charles Farley, a man who said that on the day the government says Nichols and McVeigh were building the bomb at a state park in Kansas he saw a Ryder truck there with three other vehicles, and he saw five men there. He said one of them had a flatbed truck that was piled to the top with bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which, of course, the government claims was the main component of the bomb. This doesn't fit the government's allegation about how the bomb was built, but it makes logical sense that it would take several people to move two tons of ammonium nitrate.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Was the prosecution able to discredit any of the John Doe witnesses in their cross-examination?
TIM SULLIVAN: They did. They pointed out that many of these witnesses did not come forward until there had been vast publicity about the case. Some of these witnesses admitted on cross-examination by prosecutors that they were interested in getting on television; they wanted to be a part of this case because they wanted some of the publicity. One woman said, everybody in Herington, Kansas, wanted to be part of this story when it broke, Herington being Terry Nichols' home town.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Tim, remind us who the government says John Doe is. They now say that John Doe--remind us who he supposedly was the person whose picture was put out so many places.
TIM SULLIVAN: Right, Elizabeth. The government says he's a perfectly innocent man. His name actually is Todd Bunting. He testified in the Timothy McVeigh trial. They considered calling him in this trial on rebuttal, but they decided not to at the last minute. But their explanation is that Todd Bunting was a soldier in Ft. Riley, Kansas; he's an innocent man; he came in to the Ryder truck place where McVeigh rented a truck. He came in a day after McVeigh. The government says the employees of the truck rental agency were confused about who came in on what day and whether this guy was with McVeigh. In the confusion they described a man was being with McVeigh when, in fact, he was not with McVeigh. But it took the government months to come to that conclusion. And during that period they were all over the country looking for John Doe 2.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Tim, looking at the differences again in the two trials between the defense of McVeigh and the defense of Terry Nichols, he was portrayed as a family man, and wasn't he portrayed very differently in this trial than the defense was able to portray Tim McVeigh?
Nichols: A family man?
TIM SULLIVAN: Yes, he was. Terry Nichols, of course, his wife testified today, as we talked about, there was a lot of testimony about his son, Joshua, a teenager, his ex-wife testified, and on the day that she testified Terry Nichols broke down in tears openly in the courtroom, so he came across as a much more human face, a much more sympathetic person, if you will, in the respect of being an upstanding family man than the defense team for Timothy McVeigh was ever able to portray for their client.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Tim Sullivan, thank you very much for being with us.
TIM SULLIVAN: You're welcome.