December 29, 1997
After convicting Terry Nichols of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter, the jury must decide whether he should receive the death penalty.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, the Oklahoma City bombing trial. The same jury that last week convicted Terry Nichols of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter must now decide if he should receive the death penalty. Joining us with an update is Tim Sullivan, senior correspondent for Court TV. Tim, let's begin at the beginning today. Describe the opening statements for us.
TIM SULLIVAN, Court TV: Well, Elizabeth, the opening statement for the prosecution was delivered by Patrick Ryan, the U.S. attorney from Oklahoma City. He told the jury to be prepared to hear some very emotional, very difficult testimony, very upsetting testimony. He said, "It will be difficult for us to present, and it will be painful for you to hear."
He said to the jury, "We're not presenting this evidence for your sympathy." He said, "The people of Oklahoma have had more sympathy than they can handle in the past two and a half years. We're presenting this testimony so you will be fully informed, and we think that it will help you to make the right decision," he said. "The decision we think you will return is death for Terry Nichols."
Mr. Ryan said, "That is the punishment that fits this crime." He also said to the jury, "It would be tempting for you to think of this as one mass murder, but it's not. Don't think of it that way." He said, "There were 168 people killed, each of them a unique individual."
He was followed by Michael Tigar, the lead defense attorney, who gave an opening on behalf of Terry Nichols. Mr. Tigar said that--he talked about the mitigating factors, the mitigating evidence that the defense will put on, witnesses who will be called to try to convince this jury to spare Terry Nichols' life. Among the mitigating factors, he said they will ask the defense to consider, are the relative role of Terry Nichols in the crime.
He said, "We will show you that Terry Nichols' participation in this crime was minor, relative to the participation of other people." He also said, "We will point out that other people who are equally as culpable as Terry Nichols will not be punished by death." He mentioned Michael Fortier, the army buddy of Tim McVeigh who made a plea bargain with the government after pleading guilty to having prior knowledge of the bombing and testified against both defendants in these trials.
And he said, "There may be others, other people like Michael Fortier, who the government didn't even bother to look for." He went on to talk about Terry Nichols' life, his dedication to his own children. And he said, "We think you will find at the end of this phase of the trial that death is inappropriate for Terry Nichols; that the pattern of his life will show you that he never intended for people to be killed."
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And then Tim, what happened next? Describe some of the testimony.
TIM SULLIVAN: Well, the prosecutor began calling witnesses who, many of them people who lost loved ones, family members, in the bombing and also rescue workers. They began with a woman named Laura Kennedy, whose 18-month-old baby was killed, a young boy who was killed in the day care center in the Murrah Building. She talked about the fact that her life and the life of her husband has been changed forever, how they were crushed by the death of their only child.
They also called Roy Sells. Roy Sells is a retired gentleman who lost his wife in the Oklahoma City bombing. He said he and his wife had been married for 37 years. They had no children. He said, "She was the only person in my life." He said, "My life ended the day they told me that my wife had been killed." And they called--they began to call the rescue workers who this jury will hear from.
The first was Jerry Flowers, a police department member in Oklahoma City. He was one of the rescuers. He talked about the trauma of crawling through the rubble of that building with blood dripping down on the rescue workers as they crawled among the rubble, blood coming down from the floors above, like raining on them. He talked about following a voice. He said, "We heard a female voice crying, ‘help, help, get me out of here; please don't leave me here.'" He said they were digging through the rubble, trying to locate the voice of that woman, and they never found her. He talked about carrying dead children out of the building. He talked about finding people who had been decapitated, people whose bodies had literally been ripped in half, very gut-wrenching testimony. Many of the jurors were in tears throughout the day.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How did Terry Nichols react?
TIM SULLIVAN: Terry Nichols was pretty much a stoic, very somber, didn't show much reaction to any of this. One time he did look like he was very upset was when Michael Tigar, his attorney, was talking in his opening statement about Terry Nichols' dedication to his children. He said after Terry Nichols was arrested, it was a year before he was permitted to touch his children, to have a contact visit, as they call it, in prison with his children. He said he wasn't allowed pens or pencils, so he wrote cards to his children and used toothpaste to print messages on the cards he sent to his children. That was when Terry Nichols was very upset; his face turned red; he looked like he was struggling to contain his emotions, but he did not actually cry.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tim, what are the options available to the jury here?
TIM SULLIVAN: The jury has three options, Elizabeth. They can impose a death sentence on Terry Nichols, or they can impose a life sentence, without any possibility of release. And then there's a third option. The third option is some sentence lesser than life without parole that would be determined by the judge.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What happens now in the days that come? There will be more testimony from survivors and from families?
TIM SULLIVAN: That's right. The prosecutors have said they're going to call 60 witnesses in this phase. That's interesting to know because in the death penalty phase against Timothy McVeigh they only called 38 witnesses.
They're going to call significantly more this time around. There could be a couple of reasons for that. Perhaps they feel that because the emotional testimony was kept in check by the judge during the guilt phase of this trial that they need for the jury to hear it now, or they may think that because this verdict, which appears to be a split verdict, was not an overwhelming victory for the prosecution, they may feel it's going to be more difficult to get a death sentence against Nichols than it was against McVeigh, so they may be bringing in more witnesses just to convince the jury to push them harder to impose death on Terry Nichols.
Sometime late this week or next week the defense will get a chance. They will call family members, friends, business associates of Terry Nichols, perhaps his wife, perhaps his eldest child, and they will come in and plead for Terry Nichols' life and try to convince this jury that his life still has value.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Tim, thank you very much.
TIM SULLIVAN: Thank you.