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Nichols Finally Breaks Silence with Written Appeal to Judge

By Richard A. Serrano
Los Angeles Times

Terry Nichols has finally begun to speak, yet it appears he has a lot more explaining to do. Nichols, the convicted co-conspirator with Timothy J. McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing, recently sent a 16-page letter to the federal judge in Denver who will decide whether he will ever be allowed to walk out of prison a free man.

The letter, along with 28 notes from Nichols' relatives, friends, teachers and former employers, sought to show him as a loving family man, a hard-working, shy, perhaps clumsy fellow who had the misfortune of being used by McVeigh, an old Army pal.

"I'm a very private person," wrote Nichols, once a farmer in Michigan and Kansas. "All I've ever wanted was to live a quiet peaceful life where no one bothers me and I don't bother others."

But no sooner had U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch reviewed the letters than the judge was telling Nichols that if he truly hopes to ever win his freedom, he better start talking about matters more substantial than his desire to raise blueberries and make pinatas for children's birthday parties.

Last week, Matsch held a pre-sentencing hearing and warned Nichols that while he is leaning toward giving him life in prison with no parole, he might hand down a lighter punishment if Nichols were to provide insight into how he and McVeigh pulled off the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.

"If the defendantŠ comes forward with answers or information leading to answers," the judge said, "it would be something that the court could consider in imposing sentence."

Together, Nichols and McVeigh assembled an ammonium nitrate and fuel oil bomb. On April 19, 1995, with the bomb packed in barrels stacked in the back of a rented Ryder truck, McVeigh delivered it to the front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The blast killed 168 people and injured more than 500.

McVeigh was convicted and sentenced to death last June.

In a second, separate trial, Nichols was acquitted of first-degree murder, but found guilty of conspiring with McVeigh to plan and prepare for the bombing. But because the jury in January could not reach a consensus on how he should be punished - which eliminated the prospect of the death penalty - it fell to Matsch to come up with the appropriate penalty.

With the judge expected to sentence Nichols sometime in May, federal prosecutors have asked for the maximum: life and no parole. Nichols' lawyers have suggested as little as the time he already has served since surrendering two days after the bombing.

To that end, the defense filed the batch of letters with the court, hoping to personalize Nichols and stress that McVeigh is the more evil of the two.

It may be foolhardy for Nichols to tell the judge anything more, given that state prosecutors in Oklahoma hope to try him on bombing-related charges and sentence him to death. Anything Nichols might tell Matsch could be used against him in state court.

But in any case, should he be allowed to go home, Nichols promised: "I would begin my blueberry cropŠ The nearly three years in prison has made me truly realize how precious my freedom is. I surely will not take it for granted again and I'll do my best to instill that in my childrenŠ"

"I miss so much the clear blue sky, the soft white clouds, the fresh clean air, the green grass and trees, the sounds of the birds and animalsŠ " he said.