McALESTER, Okla. – Jury selection resumed Tuesday for the state murder trial of Oklahoma City bombing (search) conspirator Terry Nichols' (search) as prospective jurors were called into the judge's chambers for questioning.
An initial panel of 42 prospective jurors was culled from a group of about 150 people Monday as attorneys started the lengthy the task of picking 12 jurors and six alternates to decide Nichols' guilt or innocence on 161 counts of first-degree murder.
Fifteen of the 42 were excused Monday and 19 passed the prescreening process conducted privately in District Judge Steven Taylor's chambers.
The remaining eight in that group were brought in for interviews Tuesday, and more prospective jurors were expected to join the process. Jury selection is expected to take about two weeks, and the trial will last four to six months.
Although most questions were posed behind closed doors, an initial line of questioning in open court revealed one of the trial's biggest obstacles: whether Nichols can receive a fair trial in Oklahoma.
When Taylor asked for a show of hands, all 42 people selected for the initial group Monday indicated they knew something about the case. Nichols, already serving a life sentence on federal charges for the Oklahoma City bombing, could get the death penalty if convicted on state charges.
Defense attorneys have argued that pretrial publicity about Nichols and the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building make it impossible to find impartial jurors anywhere in the state.
"The fact that all of you have heard about the case will be the basis for a lot of questions," Taylor told the jury panel. "Can you set aside what you saw and heard?"
Some prospective jurors who were excused indicated they could not.
"I didn't feel I was a fit juror," said Jeffrey Duane Smith, 41, of McAlester. "He was found guilty of his charges federally."
"I had already formed an opinion about his guilt. And I stated that," Charles Battles, 54, of McAlester, said as he walked away from the Pittsburg County courthouse after being excused. "I was pretty solid about it."
One prospective juror was arrested and charged with public intoxication after appearing unsteady and groggy when he returned from lunch, said Richard Sexton, Pittsburg County chief sheriff's deputy.
Nichols was convicted on federal involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy charges for the deaths of eight federal law enforcement officers in the bombing that killed 168 people.
Now Nichols faces 161 counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of the 160 other victims and the fetus of one victim. Nichols' case was moved from Oklahoma City to McAlester, about 130 miles away, to help ensure a fair trial.
Prosecutors say Nichols helped co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh acquire components for the fertilizer-and-fuel-oil bomb, helped McVeigh build the bomb and robbed an Arkansas firearms dealer to finance the attack.
McVeigh was convicted on federal murder charges and executed in 2001.