- The Washington Times - Monday, May 10, 2004

McALESTER, Okla. (AP) — At Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols’ 1997 federal trial, jurors were introduced to John Doe No. 2 — an unidentified man some believed accompanied mastermind Timothy McVeigh in the days leading up to the bombing.

Seven years later, defense attorneys in Nichols’ state murder trial have resurrected John Doe No. 2 and a strategy suggesting others were involved in a conspiracy to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Susan Winchester, a state representative whose sister, Margaret Clark, was crushed to death in the April 19, 1995, explosion that killed 168 persons, was skeptical of Nichols’ defense.

“Same thing — no new information,” she said. “It kills me to have to read this all over again.”

The prosecution has rested its case, and defense attorneys, who so far have been paid more than $3.6 million in salary and expenses, began their arguments Thursday. They plan to question about 200 witnesses — including many who testified in Nichols’ federal trial.

Defense attorneys have declined to discuss the case, citing a gag order.

Nichols, 49, was convicted at his federal trial of involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy counts in the deaths of eight federal law-enforcement officers. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In Oklahoma, he faces the death penalty if convicted on 161 counts of first-degree murder.

Nichols’ attorneys say others helped McVeigh plan and execute the bombing and that Nichols was set up to take the blame.

Judge Steven W. Taylor said in his ruling there was no substance to defense arguments that McVeigh had links to a gang of white supremacist bank robbers and residents of Elohim City, a separatist enclave in eastern Oklahoma.

The ruling forced defense attorneys to present their argument by relying more heavily on evidence first presented at Nichols’ federal trial.

John Doe No. 2 spawned a host of conspiracy theories about the bombing, ideas that have been rejected by prosecutors.

The dark-haired suspect was depicted in a sketch drawn from descriptions provided by employees at a Junction City, Kan., body shop where the Ryder truck used to deliver the bomb was rented. They said the man, who doesn’t resemble Nichols, was with McVeigh when he rented the truck.

As they did in the federal trial, defense witnesses have described other encounters with John Doe No. 2.

“Same kind of stuff — it’s just a mind-boggling game,” said Oklahoma City resident Paul Howell, whose daughter Karan Howell Shepherd was killed in the bombing. Mrs. Shepherd worked in the federal credit union in the building.

“All the time those lawyers have been there with Nichols, they have prolonged and prolonged and prolonged,” he said. “They know they don’t have anything.”

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