Court rejects Nichols case again

By MICHAEL KIRKLAND, UPI Legal Affairs Correspondent  |  Oct. 1, 2001 at 2:08 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court on Monday rejected the latest request from Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols for review of his case, rejecting his petition for a rehearing in a one-line order.

Nichols claims thousands of FBI documents withheld from defense attorneys affected his case.

In an unusual move last June, the Supreme Court asked the Justice Department to file a response to Nichols' request for a new hearing, throwing new uncertainty into what was already a confused legal situation. The department asking that the request be denied and the justices supported that view without comment.

Nichols' action was separate from that of convicted Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, whose lawyers unsuccessfully asked a federal judge in Denver to delay his execution. McVeigh underwent lethal injection on June 11 in the first federal execution in decades.

But Nichols and McVeigh were relying on the same set of facts -- that the FBI failed to turn over about 4,000 documents and pieces of evidence to their defense teams before trial. The failure, which the FBI said was inadvertent and involved nothing that had a bearing on guilt or innocence, violated an unusually sweeping disclosure agreement between the defense lawyers and U.S. prosecutors in 1995.

The Supreme Court's action showed that a majority of the high court was interested in at least taking a cursory look at Nichols' petition at the time. At least five of the nine justices must vote to approve such a request before the full court asks for a response.

In earlier filings with the Supreme Court, Nichols' lawyers told the justices that the newly discovered FBI documents were central to Nichols' case, and said the documents also indicated investigating agents deliberately did not keep written records of some interviews during their massive investigation of the 1995 blast.

The lawyers contended the alleged failure to write routine "after-action" reports designed to keep information revealed in the interviews from defense attorneys and U.S. prosecutors.

Because the Supreme Court turned down Nichols' request for a hearing in April, his latest request to the justices came in the form of a "petition for rehearing." Such petitions are almost never granted, but the request for a Justice Department response was also highly unusual.

In the end, however, the justices denied Nichols' petition for a rehearing along with hundreds of other cases Monday.

The explosion that struck the federal building in April 1995 took the lives of 168 men, women and children, and injured hundreds more.

McVeigh was captured shortly after the bombing in a routine traffic stop. Nichols was implicated in the case because of his connection to McVeigh, and because of witnesses who said both men used aliases to gather materials for the bomb.

Though McVeigh was sentenced to death for committing the actual bombing, Nichols received life in prison for his lesser role. However, if Nichols is convicted on pending state charges, he also could face the death penalty.

Federal prosecutors reached an agreement with defense attorneys, before separate McVeigh and Nichols trials, to turn over all of the millions of documents and pieces of evidence in the case, even those materials that were not central to the prosecution.

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(No. 00-8900, Nichols vs. USA.)

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