Local News

Terry Nichols Gets Life Behind Bars for Bombing

Posted June 4, 1998

— Terry Nichols, the quiet, bespectacled man convicted of plotting the Oklahoma City bombing that ended 168 lives and shattered a nation's sense of security, will never get out of prison.

U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch made the declaration Thursday as he sentenced the 43-year-old Nichols to life behind bars without the possibility of parole, a penalty embraced reluctantly by survivors of the deadliest act of terrorism ever within the country's borders.

``There's no joy, but there is some justice being served,'' said Roy Sells, whose wife died in the bombing.

An appeal was immediately promised by defense attorneys, but Nichols for now is headed for a federal prison _ perhaps even the Colorado lockup where convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh is appealing his death sentence.

Nichols was convicted Dec. 23 of conspiracy and eight involuntary manslaughter counts, one for each federal agent killed in the blast on April 19, 1995. He was acquitted of murder and weapons offenses.

The jury deadlocked over whether to give him the death penalty on the conspiracy conviction, so sentencing fell to Matsch, who under law could impose no more than the sentence he did.

The judge didn't just impose a sentence. As Nichols sat without visible emotion, Matsch called him an ``enemy of the Constitution'' and ridiculed the bombing plot as a vain attempt to throw the nation into chaos.

``The intentions were to change the course of government, change the policies of government. But you know, it didn't work out that way,'' Matsch said. ``There was no anarchy; there was no reign of terror.

``We proceeded with the orderly process of recovery and restoration.''

Matsch called the anti-government literature hoarded by Nichols ``a gross distortion of the language of the Founding Fathers.'' He said if anything, McVeigh and Nichols showed how strong the government could be.

At trial, survivors of the bombing not only helped rescue their own but retrieved government documents from the rubble so welfare checks and veterans' benefits wouldn't be cut to the needy.

Acquaintances said Nichols particularly liked a quote from Thomas Jefferson: ``The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.''

But Matsch said this was no murder case but ``a crime against the Constitution of the United States. That's the victim. ... Terry Nichols has been proven to be an enemy of the Constitution.''

Matsch had indicated he would have considered a lesser sentence had Nichols revealed new information about the bombing. Nichols declined an opportunity to speak.

While Nichols remained stone-faced, his ex-wife, Lana Padilla, and their son, Josh, wept. His wife, Marife, and his parents were not in the courtroom.

Outside court, Marsha Kight, who lost her 23-year-old daughter, Frankie Merrell, said simply: ``God bless America.''

In Oklahoma City, survivors and victims' relatives smiled and laughed as they spoke to reporters.

``I hope mom is up there dancing,'' said Angela Richerson, whose mother, Norma Jean Johnson, was killed. ``We did deserve this, big time.''

Nichols' attorney, Michael Tigar, said he would appeal. ``We're going to go forward here and attempt to reunite the Nichols family,'' he said.

Prosecutors had wanted a life sentence, arguing that Nichols worked ``side by side'' with McVeigh to plan and carry out the bombing. They contend Nichols helped acquire bomb components, raised money to finance the plot and helped McVeigh stash his getaway car.

Defense attorneys had recommended no more than seven years, insisting that Nichols was building ``a life, not a bomb.''

They also said Nichols could not speak freely before his sentence because anything he said could be used against him if he is tried on state murder charges in Oklahoma, where prosecutors have vowed to seek the death penalty.

Matsch also gave Nichols eight concurrent six-year terms for the manslaughter convictions and ordered him to pay $14.5 million in restitution for destroying the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Prosecutors have asked Matsch to secure Nichols' assets, saying they were worried he would try to sell rights to a book or a movie.

Before sentencing, bombing survivors and relatives of the victims urged Matsch to put Nichols behind bars for life, saying the attack had left their lives in ruins.

Rudy Guzman, whose brother, Randy, was killed, said: ``Please keep him locked up so he'll never hurt anyone again.''

Spectators, prosecutors, victims and Ms. Padilla wept as Virginia Moser told of trying to help babies brought out of the building, only to find out they were dead. She said she hears them crying in her nightmares. Nichols just stared.

``I think he's going to have a long, long time to think about what he done, what he could have stopped,'' said Dan McKinney, who lost his wife, Linda, in the blast. ``I think eventually this is going to weigh on his mind.''

(Copyright 1998 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-06-05-98 0441EDT

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