Hung jury means life sentence for Nichols
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK and ROD WALTON World Staff Writers
Saturday, June 12, 2004
11/09/12 at 2:06 PM
Hopelessly deadlocked, jurors
leave the punishment to the judge,
who cannot impose death.
McALESTER -- Oklahoma
City bombing conspirator
Terry Nichols again faces a
life prison sentence after a jury that had deliberated his
fate for less than 20 hours
failed to reach a unanimous
In both his 1997 federal trial and this state trial, Nichols
was spared the death penalty
because the juries deadlocked and judges were
forced to impose a punishment. The death penalty can
be imposed only by a jury --
not by a judge.
District Judge Steven Taylor scheduled his sentencing
decision for Aug. 9. The delay came at the request of
both the prosecution and the
Mary Reeder, the wife of
juror Cecil Reeder, said by
telephone Friday night that
her husband was "too upset
to talk" about the deliberations. Reeder said that according to her husband, the
jury was split five to seven,
but she would not say which
way the majority leaned.
"I think they should've
killed him," Mary Reeder
said. "They just wouldn't
none of them budge."
The jury that deliberated
Nichols' punishment included
two people who were not on
the jury that took only four
hours May 26 to find Nichols
guilty of 161 counts of first-degree murder. Taylor had removed two jurors from the panel before the trial's punishment
phase began June 1, and two alternate jurors replaced them.
Enid attorney Stephen Jones,
who defended Nichols' co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh in his
1997 federal trial, said the jury's
guilty verdicts on 161 first-degree murder counts vindicate
the decision by Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane
and former Oklahoma County
District Attorney Bob Macy to
prosecute Nichols in state court.
McVeigh was convicted of
murder in the deaths of eight
federal agents when he carried
out the bombing. He was executed in a Terre Haute, Ind.,
federal prison on June 11, 2001
-- exactly three years before
Nichols' state jury deadlocked.
Nichols' federal manslaughter
convictions were for the deaths
of those same eight agents.
"This case has always been
about the 161 men, women, children and an unborn baby having the same right to their day
in court as the eight federal officers in Denver," Lane said after
the hung jury was declared.
"They have now had their day
"Terry Nichols for the first
time now is a convicted mass
murderer, a term and title he's
never had before and a responsibility he's always had."
When he became district attorney, Lane said, he didn't
want to prosecute the case because he thought it was all
about seeking the death penalty
for Nichols. But in the summer
of 2001, he met with victims'
"What I realized is that it was
not about the death penalty.
What I realized that day was
that this was about all these
families truly believed they had
never had their day in court.
From Washington, former
Gov. Frank Keating again expressed similar feelings.
"I felt the trial in Denver only
mentioned eight victims; 160
were not mentioned," he said.
"A trial in Oklahoma seeking
the death penalty and specifically embracing the 160 victims
who were not embraced in Denver, I think, was appropriate."
Jones also supported the
Oklahoma County District Attorney's Office for taking on what
has become the state's most expensive prosecution after Nichols was already sentenced to life
"It is expensive," he said. "So
"It seems to me, if he's guilty
of first-degree murder in this
case, death is appropriate."
"If (defense attorney) Brian
(Hermanson) and his team prevent that, they've secured a big
victory," Jones said before the
jury announced that it was irreconcilably deadlocked.
The jury's decision, Hermanson said, should serve notice to
the state that the death penalty
is not an option.
"At this time we should remember the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing -- their
losses," he said.
Defense attorney Creekmore
Wallace of Sapulpa said looking
at the victims was among the
most difficult things about the
case for him.
"Those people are hurting,"
he said. "I hope they find solace. I will pray for them. They
have been through hell."
Wallace said the case might
have been won in jury selection,
when all the prospective jurors
were questioned about their
ability to impose the death penalty.
"I very definitely think the religious people on the panel" are
the reason the death penalty
was not imposed, he said.
Lane said trying to determine
what happened in the jury room
was "really tea-leaf reading right
Most jurors who were
reached after the hung jury was
announced would not comment.
Joseph Reynolds, a juror who
was reached by telephone, said
only that "it's a shame the jury
couldn't come up with a verdict."
"If I was to give an educated
guess," Lane said, "part of that
guess is there would be sympathy issues" on the part of jurors
who could convict Nichols of
murder but not sentence him to
"There has to be an emotional
tie there," he said. "Otherwise,
how do you explain a mass
murderer not getting the death
penalty? Surely someone got
their heart strings swamped."
Jones said some jurors might
have been unwilling to impose
the death penalty because they
didn't want their part of the
state to seem like it's just trying
to "hang him."
The jury had given indications
throughout the late afternoon
and evening that a unanimous
decision did not seem possible.
After deliberations had gone
on for about 171/2 hours over
three days, jury foreman Peter
Mills sent a note to Taylor, who
then summoned the jurors to
the courtroom about 4:30 p.m.
The judge asked Mills to give
him more information about
concerns he had expressed in
his note, which Taylor said
read: "We are talking. We are
moving very little, . . . followed
by four question marks."
The foreman told the judge
that the jury was "talking, so we
are not in absolute deadlock."
He said, however, that some
members had some "highly held
beliefs" and that each of the jurors had gone through their arguments several times.
"We're divided," Mills said,
adding that the jurors had gone
through the same arguments
several ways. "I don't think anyone is unwilling to talk," he
Taylor then called Hermanson
and lead prosecutor Oklahoma
County Assistant District Attorney Sandra Elliott to the bench.
When the attorneys returned
to their seats, Taylor asked the
foreman if he thought further
deliberations would be helpful.
The foreman said, "I do not
believe we are deadlocked. We
are not absolutely deadlocked."
Taylor sent the jury back into
the deliberating room, telling
them that if at any point they
knew they were deadlocked or
that further deliberation would
not be helpful, they should send
him a note. The jurors went
back into the deliberation room
about 4:45 p.m.
About seven minutes later,
they took a break, and they returned to deliberations at 5:06
p.m. At 6:31 p.m. -- after 19
hours of deliberations -- the jury returned to the courtroom
again. Taylor indicated that he'd
gotten a note from the foreman
that said: "The jury feels a
unanimous sentence may not be
Taylor inquired further, and
Mills said that quite possibly
the jurors could not reach a
unanimous decision. He said
they had used the same arguments over and over, that the
arguments had been strong, and
that there had been no movement.
Taylor instructed them that "if
on further deliberation you are
unable to agree unanimously as
to punishment, I shall discharge
you and impose a sentence of
life without parole or life with
Taylor then sent the jury back
into the deliberation room once
more, telling them it was up to
them how long they wanted to
deliberate and offering to make
arrangements for an evening
The jury returned for the last
time at 7:28 p.m.
"Judge Taylor, the jury is still
deadlocked on sentencing," the
foreman said. "We will not be
able to reach an agreement."
"You have done your job,"
Taylor told the jury. "You've
done it, and you've done it
The jurors has served for 31/2
months, he said.
"No one could ask any more
of 12 people than we've asked
of you. I am very proud of
Taylor shook the hand of
each juror as he or she left the
Although the jury did not impose the death penalty, it found
that an aggravating circumstance that would have allowed
it -- knowingly creating a great
risk of death to more than one
person -- did exist.
Wallace said the case was
tough and difficult, but he
called the outcome a victory for
Nichols, whom he said he has
known and cared for for four
He said his client's religious
conversion in prison -- about
which the defense introduced
testimony during the penalty
phase -- is real.
Hermanson said Nichols is
prayerful and "asked for all of
you to keep in your prayers all
who have suffered a loss and
hope that all people can recover from the hate and fear that
has resulted from the Oklahoma City bombing."
Lane said, though, that "I
don't see Terry Nichols as being repentant."
"I know Mr. Nichols was not
willing to accept responsibility
for the murders of all these
folks" when he tried to enter a
no contest plea before the trial
Lane said that if the death
penalty had been imposed,
state prosecutors would have
sought to have Nichols remain
in Oklahoma on death row
rather than returned to federal
prison. But because Nichols
will be sentenced to life in prison, the federal government will
want him returned to federal
custody, he said.
World staff writers Ziva Branstetter and
Curtis Killman contributed to this story.
Barbara Hoberock (405) 528-2465
Rod Walton 581-8457
April 19, 1995: A bomb destroys
the Alfred P. Murrah
Federal Building at 9:02 a.m.,
killing 168 people. Timothy
McVeigh is arrested 90 minutes
later after a traffic stop.
April 21, 1995: Terry Nichols
surrenders in Herington,
June 2, 1997: A federal jury
in Denver convicts McVeigh
on all 11 counts.
June 13, 1997: McVeigh is
ordered to die by lethal injection.
Dec. 23, 1997: Nichols is
found guilty on one count of
conspiracy and eight counts of
involuntary manslaughter. A jury
deadlock spares him the
June 4, 1998: Nichols is
sentenced to life without parole.
March 29, 1999: Oklahoma
County District Attorney Bob
Macy files 160 state murder
charges against Nichols and
asks for the death penalty.
June 11, 2001: McVeigh is
executed in Terre Haute, Ind.
May 13, 2003: A judge orders
Nichols to stand trial on
state murder charges.
Sept. 8, 2003: Trial moved
to McAlester because of pretrial
March 1: Jury selection begins
for Nichols’ state trial.
May 26: A jury in McAlester
finds Nichols guilty on 161
first-degree murder counts,
one count of arson and one
count of conspiracy.
June 11: A jury deadlock
again spares Nichols from the
Aug. 9: District Judge Stephen
Taylor to sentence Nichols
to either life in prison without
the possibility of parole or
life with parole possible.
Prosecutor Sandra Elliott (left) cries as sheleaves the McAlester courthouse Friday. At right isShelly Thompson Fravert, whose mother, VirginiaThompson, died in the bombing.