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JURY SELECTION NEXT SPRING IN BOMBING TRIAL

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Jury selection is set to begin next spring in the first trial in the Oklahoma City bombing, nearly two years after the Alfred P. Murrah Building was destroyed, a federal judge ruled.

Prosecutors had wanted the trial to start in early February, and defense lawyer Stephen Jones asked for April or May.But during a private meeting with attorneys Friday, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch settled on March 31 as the start date for Timothy McVeigh's trial.

Jones estimated jury selection will take two to three weeks, and the trial will last six weeks to three months.

McVeigh's co-defendant, Terry Nichols, will be tried afterward.

Both face a possible death sentence if convicted of murder, conspiracy and weapons charges in the April 19, 1995, bombing, which killed 168 people and injured more than 500 others.

Prosecutors were pleased with the date.

"We thought it was important to start the trial before the second anniversary," said Patrick Ryan of the U.S. attorney's office in Oklahoma City.

Some victims were pleased; others said it didn't matter.

In a telephone interview from his Oklahoma City home, Dr. Paul Heath, a bombing survivor, said other victims and family members are going to say "with a sigh of relief, `Whew, it's about time.' They're going to say we're glad."