McALESTER, Okla. – Defense attorneys rested their case Thursday at the trial of Oklahoma City bombing (search) conspirator Terry Nichols (search), who faces state murder charges that could carry a potential death penalty.
Nichols' attorneys questioned 96 witnesses over 11 days of testimony in a case that was shortened by Judge Steven Taylor's ruling that limited their ability to offer evidence of alternative suspects in the bombing that killed 168 people.
Taylor denied a defense motion Friday to acquit Nichols on grounds that the prosecution had not metn more witnesses to rebut defense testimony. That questioning was to begin Thursday afternoon.
Closing arguments were tentatively scheduled to begin Monday afternoon.
Nichols, 49, is serving a life prison sentence after a federal jury in 1997 convicted him of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of eight federal law enforcement agents in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Oklahoma city federal building.
In Oklahoma, Nichols is charged with 161 counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of the other 160 victims and one victim's fetus.
Defense attorneys allege that other co-conspirators gave Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (search) substantial help in planning the destruction of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building (search). The bombing was the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.
Taylor ruled on April 21 there was no substance to defense allegations that McVeigh had links to a gang of white supremacist bank robbers and residents of Elohim City, a separatist enclave in eastern Oklahoma.
The defense witness list, which included hundreds of witnesses, including a federal death row inmate who claimed he had frequent conversations with McVeigh, was pared down to about 200 after Taylor's ruling.
It was trimmed further after defense attorneys began presenting their case. Many witnesses did not want to testify on Nichols' behalf.
Jury selection began on March 1. If convicted as charged, Nichols' trial will move into a separate phase in which jurors will decide whether he is sentenced to death or life in prison.
Nichols was at his home in Herington, Kan., when the 4,000-pound fertilizer bomb was detonated. But a procession of prosecution witnesses linked Nichols to the bomb plot.
Prosecutors allege Nichols gathered bomb components, including explosive ammonium nitrate fertilizer, and helped McVeigh build the homemade device and pack it into the cargo bay of a Ryder truck.
Prosecutors also allege Nichols robbed an Arkansas gun collector of weapons and gold and silver coins to help finance the plot. Some of the stolen weapons were found in Nichols' home following the bombing.
Defense attorneys had promised to show jurors that Nichols was building a business, not a bomb. But they did not explain key pieces of evidence, including a receipt for a ton of fertilizer in Nichols' kitchen drawer."
McVeigh was convicted on federal murder charges and executed in June 2001.
Some of the final defense testimony Thursday came from a private legal investigator who suggested Nichols may have been referring to something other than the Oklahoma City bombing when he wrote a letter to McVeigh, including the phrase, "Go for it!!"
Ed Killam of Colorado was questioned about the phrase and household items he found in Nichols' Herington, Kan., home after the Oklahoma City federal building was bombed.
Killam testified that the phrase could have alternative meanings that have nothing to do with the bombing.
He said the phrase "go for it" appears prominently on a box of Girl Scout cookies he bought after the bombing as well as advertisements, comic strips and motivational literature.
FBI investigators have testified they found bomb-making materials, including detonation cord and other explosives, as well as anti-government literature in Nichols' home during a search three days after the bombing.
Killam said he found a collection of ordinary household items when he searched the house almost four months later, including parts for a model airplane, power tools, books and a variety of military surplus materials, including shovels, saws and empty sandbags.