- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2004

McALESTER, Okla. (AP) — A federal death-row inmate who is scheduled to testify in the state murder trial of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols says Nichols wasn’t the man who helped Timothy McVeigh make the bomb.

Prosecutors contend that Nichols and McVeigh made the bomb at a lake in north-central Kansas the day before the April 19, 1995, attack, but David Paul Hammer claims McVeigh told him that other co-conspirators helped him assemble the device the night before in an Oklahoma City warehouse.

“Nichols backed out. He didn’t show up,” Hammer said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Hammer, who served on death row with McVeigh, could bolster the argument of defense attorneys that Nichols was set up by unknown co-conspirators to take the blame for bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 persons.

But prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty against Nichols, 49, will vigorously attack Hammer’s credibility if he takes the stand.

Prosecutors have described Hammer as “one of the least credible sources ever to serve time” in an Oklahoma prison. Assistant District Attorney Lou Keel said Hammer once threatened to kill him and a judge and blow up the Oklahoma County Courthouse.

Testimony is scheduled to resume today in Nichols’ case. Already serving a life sentence in federal prison for the deaths of eight federal law enforcement officers, he is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of the other 160 persons and one victim’s fetus. Oklahoma is seeking the death penalty against Nichols.

Hammer, 45, who is scheduled to be executed June 8 for killing his cellmate in 1996, claims McVeigh revealed secrets about the bombing plot during almost two years of conversations at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

McVeigh, convicted of federal murder charges, was executed in 2001.

Hammer said McVeigh claimed he planned the attack and gathered components for the ammonium-nitrate-and-fuel-oil bomb with help from a bank robbery gang made up of members of the Aryan Republican Army, a white-supremacist group.

Defense attorneys may question a member of the gang at Nichols’ trial.

Although Nichols participated in the plot, McVeigh said others were responsible for the theft of explosives from a Kansas rock quarry and the robbery of an Arkansas gun dealer, Hammer said. Prosecutors attribute those activities to Nichols.

McVeigh “said that Nichols did help him gather the stuff and helped him store it,” Hammer said. But McVeigh claimed Nichols cooperated only because he was concerned for the safety of his family.

“He told us flat out that he threatened to kill Nichols’ family,” Hammer said.

Judge Steven Taylor has authorized Hammer to testify at the state trial to rebut Michael Fortier, the prosecution’s star witness against Nichols. Fortier is serving a 12-year federal prison sentence for knowing about the bomb plot and not telling authorities.

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