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Nichols' Defense Presents More Aggressive Hand Than McVeigh's

By Lois Romano
The Washington Post
DENVER

Attorneys for accused Oklahoma City bomber Terry L. Nichols sent a small but unmistakable signal Monday that they were not going to accept a rerun of the trial of Timothy J. McVeigh, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the same crime three months ago.

Before jury selection even began yesterday morning, Nichols's attorney Michael Tigar sat in the jury box to ensure that prospective jurors would be able to see his client. And then his lawyers lifted the massive defense table and moved it several inches forward so their client's view would not be obstructed.

As Terry Lynn Nichols, 42, looking relaxed and attentive, finally went to trial Monday in the same courtroom where McVeigh was sentenced to die for the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history, there were clear signs from the judge, the lawyers and even spectators that the two trials would be different.

Nichols and McVeigh, 29, were indicted on identical charges - conspiracy and murder in the April 19, 1995, truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people.

However, U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch pointedly instructed the court that this trial "begins with a clear page" in terms of factual substance and judicial procedure.

The government has conceded Nichols was not in Oklahoma City the day of the blast, but contends he is equally culpable because he helped plan and execute the deadly truck bombing.

The second Oklahoma City bombing trial commenced with noticeably less fanfare than the first. The courtroom was not filled to capacity.

The core group of relatives of the victims, who attended the McVeigh trial every day, were here. But for some, the intensity was clearly not the same.

"I'd be happy if he cut a deal and went to prison without the possibility of parole," said Charles Tomlin, whose son Rick, 46, was killed in the blast.

"He built the bomb, he purchased the fertilizer, he helped plant the getaway car."

Said Marsha Kight, who lost her daughter Frankie Merrell, 23, "I don't there's a lack of interest on the part of the victims - but it's just a lot to deal with for two years. We've had the McVeigh trial. It takes its toll."

Whereas McVeigh's family was not even in the courtroom for his conviction, Nichols's mother, Joyce Nichols Wilt, and sister Suzanne sat in the front row Monday.

Nichols, a father of three, wore a navy blazer, khaki pants and a turtleneck under a light blue dress shirt.He smiled at his mother when he came into the courtroom.

His attorney indicated he will continue to fight the highly emotional atmosphere and victim testimony that drove the McVeigh trial. Tigar renewed his objection to the participation of Oklahoma City U.S. Attorney Patrick Ryan in the Nichols trial because he cried in front of the McVeigh jurors.