Nichols Defense Argues Others Helped McVeigh

Attorneys for bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (searchquestioned a prosecution witness Monday on a key element of Nichols' defense — that executed bomber Timothy McVeigh (searchhad help from others as he planned the Oklahoma City bombing.

Suggestions of a wider conspiracy surfaced at Nichols' state murder trial with the testimony of Eldon Elliott, who operated the truck rental agency where McVeigh leased the Ryder truck later packed with explosive material.

The homemade bomb destroyed the Oklahoma City (searchfederal building on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people.

Elliott said McVeigh was accompanied by another man when he picked up the truck two days before the bombing. He said the man was not Nichols.

Prosecutors have suggested that McVeigh walked about a mile to Elliott's shop, but Elliott said it was raining the day McVeigh picked up the truck and neither man appeared to be wet.

He said the second man's skin "was a little darker" than McVeigh's and he wore a cap set off with blue lightning streaks, a design he had never seen before.

Descriptions of the man were used to create a composite sketch known as John Doe No. 2, a shadowy figure that people reported seeing with McVeigh before the blast.

Nichols' defense attorneys maintain that McVeigh had substantial help from other coconspirators while collecting components for the homemade bomb and that Nichols was set up to take the blame.

Prosecutors have said the man in the sketch was an Army soldier not involved in the bombing who rented a truck the day after McVeigh rented one.

Elliott said the FBI tried unsuccessfully to convince him that his memory was incorrect.

In other testimony, a former FBI agent testified that tracks found outside a Herington, Kan., storage shed matched the tires on Nichols' pickup truck. Prosecutors say components for the bomb that destroyed the federal building were kept at the shed.

Other tracks were similar to what would be expected from a heavy duty Ryder rental truck like the one that carried the 4,000-pound bomb made of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil bomb.

Ruth Haley, of Herington, testified she saw a large Ryder truck parked behind Nichols' home there one or two days before the deadly blast. She said she saw no one around the truck.

And an FBI fingerprint examiner testified that he found Nichols' fingerprints on evidence in the case, including a box found in Nichols' home that contained detonation cord like that used in the bomb.

Nichols is already serving a life prison sentence for the bombing, after being convicted on federal involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy charges for the deaths of eight federal law enforcement officers.

In Oklahoma, he faces 161 counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of the other 160 victims and one victim's fetus. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.