Facebook Twitter

Prosecutor seems doubtful on case against Nichols

SHARE Prosecutor seems doubtful on case against Nichols

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — More than two years after an Oklahoma prosecutor filed murder charges against bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, a new district attorney is expressing his biggest doubts to date about whether the case will move forward.

Wes Lane became Oklahoma County's top prosecutor July 1 following the retirement of Bob Macy, who in March 1999 filed 160 counts of first-degree murder against Nichols and said he would seek the death penalty.

Lane expressed reservations about pursuing the case on the day he took office. Since then, he has reassigned a top prosecutor in the Nichols case, and a preliminary hearing that will decide whether there is enough evidence to try Nichols was postponed for the fourth time.

"Just because the case was filed, in my mind, does not automatically mean it should be pursued," Lane said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Lane, 45, questions whether his office's limited resources should be devoted to a case in which obtaining a death penalty is far from certain.

He said prosecutors assigned to Nichols' case are needed to help ease a backlog of serious crimes that await prosecution.

Nichols was convicted of federal manslaughter charges and sentenced to life in prison for the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. He was moved to Oklahoma from a federal prison in Colorado in January 2000 to face state charges.

Nichols' lawyers are seeking a new federal trial over the failure of the FBI to turn over thousands of documents to his defense attorneys.

But Lane said he does not believe a state trial is necessary to keep Nichols behind bars.

"The odds are pretty slim that the conviction will be overturned, at which point in time he will rot in a federal penitentiary," Lane said.

Lane's reassessment of the case is being watched closely by attorneys and legal scholars who have also expressed doubt that Nichols can receive a fair trial in Oklahoma.

Gov. Frank Keating said he would support any decision Lane makes. But Keating said it is unlikely Nichols would be sentenced to death.

"If the evidence is that he didn't light the fuse, it will be very difficult to get a punishment greater than life in prison," Keating said.

Timothy McVeigh, who actually carried out the bombing, was sentenced to death in the federal case and was executed last month.

Almost $1.5 million has already been spent on Nichols' defense and another $521,024 has been budgeted for the new fiscal year, which began July 1.

Public opinion polls indicate that the majority of Oklahomans are opposed to a potentially costly state trial.

Lane said he would officially decide whether to proceed with Nichols' prosecution by the end of the summer. The next scheduled hearing is Aug. 22.