McALESTER, Okla. – Jury selection began Monday in the murder trial of Oklahoma City (search) bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (search) after the judge refused to postpone proceedings while the FBI reviews whether investigators suppressed evidence of a wider conspiracy.
Nichols stood at the defense table and smiled when District Judge Steven Taylor introduced him to the first panel of 42 prospective jurors.
Nichols, already serving a life sentence on federal charges for his role in the bombing, could get the death penalty (search) if convicted of the state charges.
Picking 12 jurors and six alternates is expected to take two weeks.
About 150 prospective jurors reported to court. The judge planned to question the initial group of 42 individually in his chambers.
He asked them to raise their hands if they had ever heard anything about the case, and they all raised their hands.
"The fact that all of you have heard about this case will be the basis for a lot of questions," he said. "Can you set aside what you saw and heard?"
Fifteen prospective jurors were excused. Nineteen others passed the initial round of screening and will return for more questioning Tuesday, along with those who have not yet been screened.
One prospective juror was arrested and charged with public intoxication after appearing unsteady and groggy when he returned from lunch, authorities said.
A second arrest occurred outside the building, where a man yelled that Nichols' trial was unfair and demanded to see the defendant. The man was among prospective jurors, authorities said.
Earlier Monday, Taylor rejected a defense request to postpone the trial pending an FBI review of some aspects of the bombing investigation.
After disclosures in an Associated Press story last week, the FBI on Friday ordered agents to determine why some documents did not properly reach the bureau's Oklahoma City task force during the original investigation. The documents concern the question of whether there may have been accomplices in addition to Timothy McVeigh (search).
The judge said federal and state government officials have assured him that all relevant material that Nichols' attorneys could use to show his innocence has been provided. But he said that if it turns out some important material has not been turned over, he will dismiss the case.
Prosecutors allege that Nichols and McVeigh built the 4,000-pound fertilizer-and-fuel-oil bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building to avenge the FBI siege at Waco, Texas, two years earlier.
Nichols' attorneys say that there is evidence of a wider conspiracy and that Nichols was set up by unknown conspirators to take the blame. McVeigh was convicted on federal murder charges and executed in 2001.
The AP reported last week that government documents never introduced at McVeigh's trial suggest the FBI believed McVeigh tried to recruit additional help in the days before the deadly bombing and that agents gathered evidence that white supremacist bank robbers may have become involved.
Nichols, 48, was convicted of federal involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy charges. He is serving a life sentence without parole for the deaths of eight federal law enforcement officers in the bombing.
In Oklahoma, Nichols faces 161 counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of the 160 other victims and the unborn child of one victim.
Nichols' case was moved from Oklahoma City to McAlester, about 130 miles away, to help ensure a fair trial.