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6:27 PM Thu, Nov. 15th

Defense attorneys face daunting task at Nichols' murder trial

Miner Photo/TERRY ORGAN

Officers from the Future Business Leaders of America chapter on the south campus of Kingman High School restock shelves in the school's store Monday.

The store has been burglarized and vandalized twice since January, and FBLA members are about 80 percent along on a remodeling effort of the store, which is housed in a converted classroom.

Pictured from left are: Ruben Trevino, secretary; Michael Geraci, vice president; Brittany Calderon, treasurer; and Abby Cruz, president.

Abby Cruz, FBLA chapter president, said about 150 man-hours have been invested so far in cleanup and painting of the store, along with a Bulldog mural being painted behind the checkout by Ruben Trevino, chapter secretary.

"I've helped in the cleanup and painting and I've gone to four businesses for help," Cruz said.

"All of them understood our need and have helped."

Sharie Weber, school resource officer, said the remodeling is about 80 percent finished.

Cabinets are being built that will be mounted in front of the windows of the converted classroom that houses the store to discourage future break-ins.

Campus security has been stepped up and burglar alarms installed at the store, Weber added.

"The kids have taken a bad situation and turned it around for the better," Weber said.

Trevino said he has helped paint the walls of the store, in addition to painting the mural of the school's mascot.

Michael Geraci, chapter vice president, helped with cleanup efforts, painting and is putting inspirational messages on the store's walls.

Both burglaries involved theft of merchandise and vandalism with the smearing of items on the store's ceiling, floor and walls.

Weber estimated the damage and losses in the two crimes at between $800 and $1,000.

Five students were arrested in connection with the first burglary and face charges, Weber said.

They now attend the I-Care program, which allows students to continue their education after regular school hours under more supervised and stringent conditions.

The second burglary case is still open.McALESTER, Okla.

– Now that prosecutors have wrapped up the state case against bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, defense attorneys face the daunting task of countering 29 days of gruesome descriptions, tearful testimony and more than 1,000 pieces of evidence.

Nichols' lawyers are set to begin questioning an estimated 200 defense witnesses on Thursday.

They will try to make the case that if Nichols was involved in the plot to destroy the Oklahoma City federal building, it was only marginally, according to attorneys familiar with the case.

The jury has already heard testimony that Nichols was trying to withdraw from the conspiracy, said Michael McGuire, who represents the prosecution's star witness, Michael Fortier, a former Kingman resident.

During his three days of testimony, Fortier said bomber Timothy McVeigh, who was executed after being convicted of federal murder charges, tried to recruit him because "Terry was backing out."

"There's a question whether or not his (Nichols) intent was the same as McVeigh," McGuire said.

Fortier was sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to knowing about the bomb plot and not telling authorities.

Nichols was sentenced to life after being convicted of federal charges.

Now Oklahoma prosecutors are trying to convict him on state murder charges that could bring him the death penalty.

Presiding Judge Steven Taylor limited the defense's ability to explore evidence of alternative suspects, saying there was no substance to allegations McVeigh had links to a gang of white supremacist bank robbers and residents of Elohim City, a separatist enclave in eastern Oklahoma.

Attorney Stephen Jones, who defended McVeigh at his federal bombing trial, said Taylor's ruling might have helped the defense attorneys refine their case.

"It may have persuaded them to rethink the defense and come up with another alternative explanation," Jones said.

Jurors may still hear suggestions of another conspirator through witness accounts of the so-called John Doe No.

2, who dozens of people have said they saw with McVeigh before the bombing.