Verdict 'a slap in the families' faces,' say bombing victims' irate relatives

December 24, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

DENVER -- After a long and painful vigil, the families of the victims that gathered last night said they found little solace in the verdict in the Terry L. Nichols trial.

"It was a slap in the families' faces," said Marsha Kight, who lost her 23-year-old daughter, Frankie Merrell, in the Oklahoma City bombing. Her eyes red from crying, she blurted out into the winter night: "I'm mad. I'm very mad."

She wore a silver brooch in the shape of a heart, with a bandage covering a deep crack.

"I lost the lady I loved more than anybody in the world," Roy Sells said of his wife, Leora Lee. Checking his emotions, Sells, a grim man with gray hair and a black leather jacket, added stoically: "It's kind of a slap in the face -- but I'm not hurt by it."

Nearby, Jannie Coverdale shed tears before a bobbing sea of microphones.

"I'm very hurt," said Coverdale, whose two young grandsons, Elijah and Aaron, were killed by the truck bomb. "I had more faith in the American justice system."

The relatives, who had sat through the eight-week trial, were stunned that the jury found Nichols innocent of 10 out of 11 of the capital crimes.

"He conspired to build a bomb with Timothy McVeigh. What did they think he would do with that bomb?" Kight asked. "I think it's very unlikely that he will be sentenced to death."

Sells agreed, saying with a slight shake of his head: "It was premeditated murder. It took months to build this bomb."

A few feet away, but out of earshot in the crowded, outdoor media enclosure, Coverdale agreed wholeheartedly.

"I think the government proved that Terry Nichols carried out that bombing, that Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh conspired for seven months to carry out that bombing," the grandmother said. Although pessimistic about the prospects of Nichols getting the death penalty, she vowed to testify about the bomb's human toll, saying: "I'm going to introduce the jury to Aaron and Elijah."

A rare dissenter was Rudy Guzman, who lost his brother Randy in the bombing. A heavyset man with a bristle haircut, he said about the death penalty prospects: "It looks good."

The relatives, who are just as steeped in the case as the media, placed the blame -- or the credit -- for yesterday's verdict on Michael Tigar, the lead defense attorney for Nichols.

The jury will not be able to speak until the penalty phase is over. But Coverdale said that a turning point was the dramatic end of the defense summation, "Michael Tigar's last little antic when he broke down and cried, and said that Nichols is my brother."

Kight agreed, saying bitterly: "Tigar needs to team up with Woody Allen. They can do theater of the absurd for fun and profit."

Pub Date: 12/24/97

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