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A jury's impasse spares bomber's life for the second time

By Associated Press
Published June 12, 2004

McALESTER, Okla. - Convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols was spared the death penalty Friday by jurors who convicted him of 161 counts of murder but deadlocked over his sentence.

The impasse in the state trial is the second time prosecutors have been denied the death penalty against Nichols, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1998 after federal jurors also could not agree on his punishment.

Jurors announced they were at an impasse after deliberating for about 191/2 hours over three days. Nichols will be sentenced by Judge Steven Taylor, who is required by law to sentence Nichols to life in prison.

The deadlock was a blow to state prosecutors and victims' family members who said death was the appropriate punishment for the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.

The jurors deliberated over Nichols' sentence after a week of emotional testimony in the trial's sentencing phase. Nichols faced sentences of life in prison or death by lethal injection on state murder convictions.

Nichols, 49, escaped the death chamber after a federal trial in the late 1990s in which he was acquitted of murder but convicted of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of eight government agents. Oklahoma prosecutors then brought him to trial for the deaths of the other victims, including one fetus, with hopes of winning a death sentence.

The April 19, 1995, bombing killed 168 people and wounded 500. Timothy McVeigh, Nichols' former Army buddy and the mastermind of the bombing, was convicted of federal charges and executed in 2001 for what was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil at the time.

During closing arguments in the sentencing phase, prosecutor Suzanne Lister called the bombing "one of the darkest, ugliest days in American history."

Just before the start of deliberations, defense attorney Creekmore Wallace stood behind Nichols and asked jurors to spare his life.

[Last modified June 11, 2004, 23:46:13]

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