Oklahoma plotter fails to stop new charges

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The Independent US

Timothy McVeigh's fellow conspirator, Terry Nichols, failed yesterday in his latest attempt to avoid being tried again for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

He now looks almost certain to face prosecution in Oklahoma state court, where prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for him.

Nichols, who is already serving a life sentence after his trial in a federal court in 1997, had sought to argue that a second trial at state level would amount to double jeopardy – being held to account twice for the same set of crimes. But yesterday, the US Supreme Court rejected that argument by refusing to take on the appeal lodged by his lawyers.

Having been convicted in 1997 on charges of conspiracy to blow up the Alfred P Murrah government building and kill eight federal employees, he is now likely to return to court to answer murder charges relating to the remaining 160 people who died in the bombing. At the time, Oklahoma City was the worst act of terrorism perpetrated on American soil, and memories of it remain vivid in the national consciousness.

McVeigh, who admitted detonating a 6000lb truck bomb and sought to portray himself as the project's mastermind, was executed in June last year.

Nichols, a friend from McVeigh's army days and a fellow Gulf War veteran, did not initially seem a likely candidate for the death penalty since he was not in Oklahoma City for the bombing, accused only of helping to build the device.

Many legal experts believe it will be difficult for Oklahoma prosecutors to secure a capital conviction. There is also a question over the fairness of holding a trial in Oklahoma, where emotions remain high. The federal case was moved to Denver, an option not open to state judges.

Nevertheless, the lust for vengeance harboured by some – but not all – of the relatives of the bombing victims could easily sway the case the prosecution's way. That, in turn, raises questions of how much of the remaining mystery surrounding the bombing will ever come to light in court.

For three years, Nichols' lawyers have sought a forum to show that there were many co-conspirators besides their client, and that his role was much smaller than argued. The lawyers had hoped to present their evidence via the federal appeals process. However, now that the death penalty is looming in state court, that strategy has been put on hold.