Can Okla. Jurors Give Terry Nichols a Fair Trial?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, March 10, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Terry Nichols could be put to death for his role in the Oklahoma City bombing. Some locals might do anything to make sure Nichols gets the needle. Heather Nauert is here with that story.

HEATHER NAUERT, FNC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hi, John. Terry Nichols (search) is serving a life sentence for his role in the Oklahoma City bombing and the state's case, a second case is just about to begin. Jury selection is now taking place, and some jurors in the potential pool claim that they would say just about anything to get on the jury, even lie. Just so they can convict Terry Nichols.

Former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating (search) joins us from Washington. Governor, today's big question can Oklahomans be impartial on the Terry Nichols trial?

FRANK KEATING, FMR. OKLAHOMA GOVERNOR: They can. Remember, Heather, virtually every prosecution of serial killers and murders, even horrific offenses and offenders are done at the state level. The issue is not whether or not there's revenge on the part of some wanting to get even for somebody who did something that was really awful. The issue is whether or not a juror can put aside prejudice, and sentimentality and hate and listen to the facts and decide according to the law and the facts. That's the challenge for any case at any level especially a level like this.

NAUERT: OK. But in this case, in jury selection, just the other day, one juror came forward, said to the judge, I've heard some of the other potential jurors in the pool saying that they would do anything, that they would lie, just to get on this case so they could convict this guy so he could face the death penalty. That's beyond what you're talking about here. That's a big deal.

KEATING: Well, remember, the fact that those allegations are out there suggest that the system does have a culled (ph) mechanism. And the mechanism has to work to make sure people who are not afflicted with passion, and prejudice or sentimentality are not on a jury. In this case, the judge, who is a very capable judge, said I'll look into this and decide. Obviously, if an individual gets on the jury with preconceived notions of guilt or innocence, they should be excluded and must be excluded.

NAUERT: You're obviously from Oklahoma and represented that state for many years. And I don't mean this to be a cute question, but is there the prevailing attitude among Oklahomans, especially since Terry Nichols is simply serving his life sentence right now for the killing of eight federal agents, not for the rest of the victims in that tragedy, but is there the prevailing sense they do want revenge because so many of them have been affected by this?

KEATING: Of course, I can't speak for 160 families. Remember, the prosecution of Nichols in federal court, eight families, eight law enforcement victims were focused on in that prosecution for which Nichols was given life in prison. The other 160 victims were not mentioned. And I think if I lost a loved one who was not a federal agent, I would say I'd like to have my day in court. Is that revenge? No. I think that's justice. But you have to be all the more sensitive to make sure a person, in fact, does get a fair trial and the individuals hearing that case are, in fact, listening to the facts and the evidence. Remember, the last thing you want to do is convict an innocent person. You want to make sure the person who did it is the person who, in fact, you find guilty and sentence.

NAUERT: What can the judge do now, better perhaps, to ensure that none of those people, especially since they'd be willing to lie, to make sure that none of them get into the jury pool?

KEATING: He's got to find out how many people are above that ilk. I would suspect it's a rather small number. There was one of the jurors who said I just moved to Oklahoma some years ago, I really don't know much about the Oklahoma City bombing. Obviously, there's nothing wrong about knowing the facts of the case. It's just that can you acknowledge with the facts of the case the publicized facts of that case, step back and say, look, I don't know anything about this guy, I know about the facts. If the facts, in fact, are proven and this guy, in fact, is proven to be responsible beyond a reasonable doubt, he should go to prison or lose his life? If you can do that, that objectivity is what this jury needs and the judge will make sure it happens.

NAUERT: All right, Governor Frank Keating, thank you so much.

KEATING: My pleasure, thank you.

GIBSON: And Heather, thank you very much.

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