- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2004

McALESTER, Okla. (AP) — Terry Nichols went on trial for his life yesterday in the Oklahoma City bombing and alternately was portrayed as an eager participant in the attack and a fall guy in a conspiracy wider than the government has acknowledged.

Nichols hated the U.S. government and worked hand in hand with Timothy McVeigh in assembling and detonating the “huge, monstrous bomb,” prosecutor Lou Keel said during opening statements in the state murder trial.

“These two were partners, and their business was terrorism,” Mr. Keel said.

Defense attorney Brian Hermanson countered that McVeigh and other conspirators were responsible for the bombing and that Nichols was manipulated by McVeigh to take the blame.

“Timothy McVeigh set him up so McVeigh could cover up the others who acted in this conspiracy,” Mr. Hermanson said.

Nichols, 48, already is serving a life sentence for the deaths of eight federal law-enforcement officers in the April 19, 1995, blast that killed 168 persons. The state charges are for the 160 other victims and one victim’s fetus.

Prosecutors brought the state charges with the hope of sending Nichols to the death chamber for his role in the bombing — the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil at the time. McVeigh was executed in 2001.

Prosecutors say Nichols conspired with McVeigh to build the bomb in a plot to avenge the FBI siege against the Branch Davidian sect at Waco, Texas, two years earlier.

Mr. Keel said Nichols bought 4,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer for the bomb in 1994 and stole blasting caps to set it off. Nichols, who met McVeigh in the Army, also robbed an Arkansas gun dealer of weapons and gold and silver coins to help finance the plot, Mr. Keel said.

The blasting caps were stolen from a Kansas rock quarry and drill marks on a padlock at the quarry matched a drill bit found in Nichols’ basement, he said.

The bomb was delivered in a Ryder truck that exploded outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

“This huge, monstrous bomb was detonated right in front of that building,” Mr. Keel said.

He said many of those not killed in the initial blast later succumbed because of glass that was sent “flying like bullets.”

Mr. Keel said Nichols “had long been mad at the federal government” and was outraged by siege in Waco that killed about 80 people.

Before opening arguments, two jurors and an alternate were excused because they are distant cousins of a lawyer in the prosecutor’s office. Judge Steven Taylor criticized prosecutors for “inexcusable conduct” in not revealing the links sooner.

The trial will go on with 12 jurors and three alternates.

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