McALESTER, Okla. – Jurors began deliberating Wednesday whether Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (search) should live or die after a defense attorney made an impassioned plea to spare his life.
"This case is about one person, this man, Terry Lynn Nichols, and whether you will take his life," attorney Creekmore Wallace said after standing behind his Nichols and putting his hands on his shoulders. "It's about whether you will kill Terry Lynn Nichols, the man."
Jury deliberations concluded for the evening and were to resume Thursday morning.
Defense attorneys said Nichols life should be spared because he has become a religious man who has the capacity for good. But prosecutor Sandra Elliott pointed to Nichols from across the courtroom and asked jurors to impose the death penalty.
"We are all accountable for what we do," she said. "There is nothing that can mitigate the deaths of 161 people."
Nichols was convicted May 26 of 161 counts of first-degree murder in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building (search).
He is already serving a life sentence for the deaths of eight federal agents in the blast. The state trial began March 1 for the others killed in the explosion, including the fetus of one of the victims.
"After three and a half months, important work begins," Judge Steven Taylor told the jury before deliberations began about 11:30 a.m.
Wrapping up the defense closing arguments, Wallace told jurors Nichols' turn toward religion "is real. His conversion didn't come overnight."
"I'm placing his future in your hands," he said. "They want to remove this unique individual from society. Vote for love. Don't kill my client."
Nichols, 49, was acquitted of federal murder charges in 1997 but convicted of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter charges in the deaths of the law officers.
The defense argued that the bombing was the obsession of Timothy McVeigh (search) and that there was no evidence Nichols intended to hurt anyone. McVeigh was executed in 2001.
But prosecutors said the death penalty was legally justified under Oklahoma law because Nichols knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person.
Prosecutor Suzanne Lister (search) characterized the bombing as "one of the darkest, ugliest days in American history."
"Think about the number of dreams, the number of plans and the number of loved ones that Terry Nichols destroyed on April 19, 1995," Lister said.