McALESTER, Okla. (AP) — Terry Nichols hated the U.S. government and worked hand-in-hand with Timothy McVeigh in the deadly, "monstrous" bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, a prosecutor told jurors Monday.
"These two were partners, and their business was terrorism," Assistant Oklahoma County District Attorney Lou Keel said in opening statements in Nichols' state trial. Proceedings got under way after two jurors and an alternate were excused by the judge, who blamed prosecutors for the problem.
Keel said Nichols purchased the fertilizer, which was used with fuel oil to create the bomb.
"This huge, monstrous bomb was detonated right in front of that building," Keel said. He said those not killed in the initial blast died because of glass projectiles that were sent "flying like bullets" by the force of the blast.
And he offered a motive.
"Terry Lynn Nichols had long been mad at the federal government," Keel said.
He said the evidence will show that Nichols told his ex-wife, Lana Padilla, that he was angry at the government's actions at Waco, Texas, in the deadly end to the standoff with the Branch Davidians, exactly two years before the Oklahoma City bombing.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. McVeigh was executed on June 11, 2001, for the bombing.
Before opening arguments began Monday, two jury members and an alternate juror were excused because they are distant cousins of an attorney with the prosecutor's office, George Burnett. Judge Steven Taylor criticized prosecutors for "inexcusable conduct" in not revealing the links sooner.
Except for consulting on jury selection, Burnett, who was born in McAlester and has many relatives in the area, is not a Nichols trial attorney. But he is an assistant district attorney with the Oklahoma County district attorney's office, which is prosecuting the case.
It was not clear how prosecutors learned of the problem, or why they didn't let the judge know of it earlier.
Burnett did not immediately return telephone calls Monday to ask about the judge's comments. Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane was out of state and unavailable for comment, his office staff said.
The trial had been moved to McAlester, about 130 miles from Oklahoma City, because of pretrial publicity.
The trial will go on with 12 jurors and three alternates, instead of the six alternates that the judge had planned to use. Prosecutors learned of the problem on March 9, but didn't notify the judge about it until March 12, one day after the jury was seated.
"Unfortunately, the court's plan to have six alternate jurors has been cut in half due to the inexcusable conduct by the state," Taylor said.
Taylor said that if there are further problems with the jury and he runs out of alternates, he will dismiss the case.
The trial for Nichols, who is already serving a life sentence on federal changes, is expected to take four to six months. Prosecutors have lined up more than 400 witnesses.
Nichols, 48, was already convicted and sentenced to life for the deaths of eight federal law enforcement officers in the April 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The 161 state charges are for the other 160 victims and one victim's fetus.
He could be sentenced to death if convicted. Defense attorneys claim Nichols was set up by unknown coconspirators, suggesting a 1994 robbery in Arkansas that prosecutors blame on Nichols was actually committed by white supremacist bank robbers who may have helped McVeigh.
Some of those directly affected by the bombing differ on whether the trial is necessary.
"The last nine years, I've just put my life on hold. Almost everything I do, it has something to do with the bombing," said Jannie Coverdale, who lost two grandsons in the blast. "If Terry Nichols does not get the death penalty, we might as well abolish the death penalty in this country."
Others oppose the trial because of its cost and the fact that Nichols is already serving life in prison. The case already has cost the state about $3.4 million, not including prosecution expenses and security costs.
"We think it's a waste of money, a waste of time. This is a black mark on our justice system," said Jim Denny, whose two children were injured in the explosion.
Bud Welch, a death penalty opponent whose daughter, 23-year-old Julie Marie Welch, was killed, said the trial "has nothing to do with the healing process."
"Family members are being victimized again," he said.
Authorities say the bombing was a plot to avenge the 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas. The bombing happened on the raid's second anniversary.