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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The Case of Terry Nichols

Terry Nichols, the man alleged to have manufactured the bomb which Timothy McVeigh used to detonate next to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, has been sentenced to 161 consecutive life sentences without a possibility of parole by the Oklahoma State Court in McAlester, OK. While McVeigh had been sentenced to die in his federal trial for his role in the crime and was executed in 2001, Nichols has been spared the execution. On top of today's Oklahoma state sentence, he is under a federal life sentence as well.

There appears to be a number of holes in the official version of the events that resulted in 168 deaths. Still, let us assume for now that the version of the events offered by the prosecutors is correct. So we have a situation when a man who is responsible for building a device that was destined to be used in a terror attack and to cause mass casualties,- a man who thus was an integral part of that terror attack is spared the death penalty. Another man who merely pulled the lever on the detonator is executed.

That sentencing pattern somewhat arbitrary. It becomes even more arbitrary when contrasted with the death sentence meted out to Manny Babbitt, a Vietnam veteran suffering from a severe form of PTSD and various other ailments, physical and mental. His crime was borderline accident,- an assault on an elderly woman during what was most likely a flashback to the war. Mr Babbitt never denied his responsibility, though he claimed,- and I tend to believe him,- that he could never recall the attack. Yet he was sentenced to death and executed.

Other cases abound throughout the US where the evidence was shaky, the extenuating circumstances were plentiful, the victims were just one person,- and yet the defendants were sentenced to die and consequently executed. Against that background, the fact that Nichols,- a man who stands convicted of directly participating in an attack that killed well over a hundred people,- is spared is amongst the strongest arguments I can think of in favor of abolishing the death penalty. Even those who support it in principle should acknowledge that the manner in which it is used in this country is so completely arbitrary as to make it an utterly immoral practice.

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