Several jury members say faction supported execution for Nichols They say majority wanted deliberations on death to continue

January 09, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

DENVER -- A strong faction of the jury in the second Oklahoma City bombing trial favored sentencing Terry Lynn Nichols to death, and a majority of jurors wanted their deliberations to continue, several panel members said yesterday.

Their account differed sharply from the explanation the panel's forewoman provided Wednesday to an American public

astonished at the way things ended.

"A majority of us were leaning toward the death penalty," said one juror, Thomas Baker, "and we never, ever felt that anything else in the case was an option."

Joining two other jurors yesterday in contradicting the jury forewoman, Niki Deutchman, Baker added that the jury engaged in lively, often emotional debate that over time could have brought a unanimous decision either for or against a death sentence.

Although he said that the panel took several votes behind closed doors, Baker would not divulge exactly how many jurors wanted Nichols to die for his role as a conspirator in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

But he and other jurors said a death sentence was a real possibility for Nichols, and some of them also challenged their forewoman's criticism of the government's role in the case.

Attorney General Janet Reno expressed confidence yesterday in the investigation of the April 19, 1995, explosion. "I think the FBI did an excellent job," she said.

Baker also defended the prosecution and the FBI, and criticized the courtroom tactics of lead defense attorney Michael Tigar.

"We looked at all of the evidence, and I saw his guilt," said Baker, part of the jury of seven women and five men that had earlier convicted Nichols of conspiracy while finding him guilty only of involuntary manslaughter -- rather than murder -- in the deaths of eight federal law enforcement officers in the blast.

A second juror, Diana Vaughn, said she also argued with her peers that Nichols should die, and had hoped their talks would continue. She was bothered by a letter Nichols left for his convicted co-defendant Timothy J. McVeigh telling him to "go for it" -- an apparent reference to the bombing.

"That was pretty incriminating," Vaughn said.

A third juror, Chris Seib, said she also thought the panel should have kept deliberating.

"I wanted the death penalty," she told CNN. "I think it was the answer here."

She said a plurality of jurors "were more or less going for the death penalty," specifying that five jurors favored death while the remaining seven were split on whether they should give Nichols life or pass the decision on to the judge.

But another juror, Holly Hanlin, backed up Deutchman's contention that the government's case did not justify a death sentence.

"We did the best we could with what we had," Hanlin said.

The new insight into the jury's travails came as prosecutors and defense lawyers began the arduous task of preparing legal arguments to present to U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch before he passes judgment on Nichols, 42.

Because the jury did not reach a unanimous verdict, the judge can impose a sentence of either life in prison with no release, or a shorter, fixed number of years that someday could restore Nichols to freedom.

Pub Date: 1/09/98

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