Oklahoma City bombing victims and survivors have a legal right to be heard before Terry Nichols is sentenced, according to University of Utah law professor Paul G. Cassell.
Cassell and a Washington, D.C., law firm were prepared to press that point Monday in motions filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, where Nichols is awaiting sentencing for his role in the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.A jury deadlocked last month on whether Nichols deserved the death penalty, leaving it up to Judge Richard Matsch to impose a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Saying he listened to the testimony of victims during the penalty phase of the trial, Matsch has indicated he won't permit additional victim impact statements before he imposes sentence.
Cassell, who last year led the legal battle to win victim access to the trial of Timothy McVeigh, said he is challenging Matsch's decision in the interest of victim rights.
As lead counsel in the motions filed Monday, Cassell is representing Marsha Kight, whose daughter died in the blast, and Martin Cash, who lost an eye and suffered other injuries.
What they and other victims have to say could have a bearing on the judge's sentencing decisions beyond the life prison term, Cassell said. For example, their testimony could apply to restitution and a ban on any financial gain Nichols might realize from the crime through book or interview contracts.
"Also, simply having the opportunity to make a statement can have a cathartic effect," Cassell said.
Kight said she and the other victims and survivors deserve the same consideration afforded to Nichols.