Accessibility links

Supreme Court Rejects Nichols Appeal - 2002-01-07

The U.S. Supreme Court has dealt a major legal setback to Terry Nichols, the man who helped Timothy McVeigh carry out the 1995 terror bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

Without comment, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Terry Nichols contending that he should not have to face state murder charges in Oklahoma for his role in the 1995 bombing.

Nichols was convicted on federal charges of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter in 1997 and was sentenced to life in prison. That trial was held in Colorado.

But now authorities in Oklahoma want to try him on 160 counts of murder in state court. If convicted, Nichols could face the death penalty.

Attorneys for Terry Nichols had argued in lower courts that permitting the state trial to go ahead would violate his constitutional rights against what is called double jeopardy - being tried twice for the same crime.

But law enforcement authorities in Oklahoma say his conviction on federal charges does not preclude him from having to face murder charges in the state where the bombing took place.

As they often do, the Supreme Court justices did not explain why they rejected Nichols' appeal. But legal analyst Andrew Cohen says he is not surprised that Nichols' attorneys had a hard time convincing the high court. "Traditionally, the courts have ruled that state charges and federal charges are sufficiently different so as not to create double-jeopardy problems," he said.

A preliminary hearing will now be required to determine if enough evidence exists to put Nichols on trial for murder in Oklahoma.

The mastermind behind the bombing, Timothy McVeigh, was executed by lethal injection last June.

The 1995 bombing claimed 168 lives and injured hundreds of others. Prior to September 11, the Oklahoma City bombing was the worst act of terrorism on American soil.