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Terry Nichols: The Perfect Case

Short Version: mp3, 2.53 MBs, 3:09
Speech Version:
mp3, 3.38 MBs, 4:13

[Col. Recorded 6/16/04]

In this, the Prisonhouse of Nations, there are some cases which are almost emblematic of an era, which, because of its notoriety, or sheer impact, goes beyond its own importance, to reflect on the institutions around it.

If one mentions, say, the Simpson case, heads nod.

In rustic Oklahoma, formerly known as 'Indian Territory', the trial of Terry Nichols, the man charged in connection with the April 19, 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, faced not one, not two, not three, but a mind-numbing 161 death sentences following his recent convictions of 161 counts of first degree murder. Several days ago, the Oklahoma state jury, after some five days of deliberations, announced they were hopelessly deadlocked, meaning, as a matter of law, Nichols can only be sentenced to life in prison.

The funny thing is, that's what he had all along.

Nichols was convicted in December of 1995, of conspiracy in connection to the bombing, and several counts of manslaughter stemming from the deaths of a number of federal officials. He was serving a federal life sentence. But prosecutors back in Oklahoma weren't satisfied. They wanted death. So, they indicted him, empaneled a jury, and argued for 161 death sentences.

While the jury was quite willing to convict, they became far more reticent to sentence him to death by lethal injection. This, after heart-rending testimony by relatives of the slain.

After five, long days of deliberations, according to reports, only 7 jurors voted for death, while 5 others were holdouts, opting for life.

Under the state and US constitutional laws, death verdicts must be unanimous to pass muster; that they didn't do so in this case, is significant.

One can almost hear the entreaties of the prosecutors: "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury — This case, *where 161 of your fellow Oklahomans were blown asunder!* — I mean, this is 'the perfect case'!" Sure to tug at the hearts of parents, was the horrific loss of babies.

Yet, it didn't work.

I don't claim to know why, for I've read no deep account of the juror deliberations, but the penalty phase defense tried hard to portray Nichols as a religious man, and perhaps that helped.

Yet, it must be clear that some 70% of polled Oklahomans opposed the state trial of Nichols. Some thought it was a waste of state resources, like money. Others thought it was best to put the whole dreary subject behind them, for Nichols was already serving life terms. Others opposed the death penalty, which was the penultimate reason for the state prosecution.

After all the bills are paid, Oklahoma will have paid nearly $5 million dollars for over 150 life sentences.

What the Oklahoma trial reflects also, however, is the truly unrepresentative nature of death penalty trial juries, for while some 30% of Oklahomans wanted the state prosecution (understood to be for the purpose of returning a death verdict), almost twice that number, 58% (7 of 12), voted for death. If anything, this shows us the flaw in the death qualification process, that *over*-selects for death.

Still, the political ambitions of prosecutors must be given its due.

Oklahomans have spent vast sums, and stirred the passions of its people, for essentially nothing.

Nichols had life in 1997. He has the same thing now.

The state is out $5 million bucks.

Perhaps his case is a harbinger of things to come in the ever-political death business.

Time will tell.

Copyright 2004 Mumia Abu-Jamal

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Submitted by: Sis. Marpessa

Text © copyright 2003 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.