Americans Divided Over Jury Decision On Nichols

by David W. Moore

But Most Believe Nichols as Responsible as McVeigh


PRINCETON, NJ -- As the trial judge considers the sentence he will impose on Terry Nichols for his part in the 1995 bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City, Americans are mulling over their own ideas about the case. Before the jury announced its verdict, convicting Nichols not of first-degree murder but of conspiracy and manslaughter, Americans were convinced by a two-to-one majority that Nichols was guilty of the more serious charge of first-degree murder. After the verdict announcement, they now express more evenly divided views about his guilt. Americans are also split over whether he should be sentenced to death or given a life sentence. Still, most believe that Nichols is as responsible as Timothy McVeigh for the bombing, the only other person charged with the crime, who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.

According to a Gallup poll taken in December, before the jury decision in the Nichols case, 56% of Americans said they believed Nichols was guilty of first-degree murder, while 26% felt he was guilty of a lesser charge such as manslaughter, and another 3% felt he was not guilty at all. After the jury announced its verdict of manslaughter, Americans expressed more divided views about the verdict in a new Gallup poll: 42% agreed with it, 48% disagreed. Still, almost two-thirds of Americans felt that Nichols was either as responsible as McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing (62%) or even more responsible (2%). Just 27% felt Nichols was less responsible.

Americans Divided on Death Penalty for Nichols
After McVeigh was found guilty of first-degree murder last June, Americans favored giving him the death penalty by a two-to-one majority, 61% to 31%. But after Nichols was found guilty of the lesser charges (before the jury announced it would not recommend the death penalty), Americans were not as eager to invoke the death penalty: 45% said Nichols should be sentenced to die, while 42% said he should receive a life sentence, and another 4% wanted a more lenient sentence.

The current results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,015 adults, conducted January 6-7, 1998. For results based on a sample of this size, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects could be plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

As you may know, Terry Nichols was indicted for first-degree murder in the bombing, among other charges. The jury only found Nichols guilty of manslaughter, not first-degree murder, but did find him guilty of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. Overall, do you agree or disagree with the jury's verdict in this trial?

Agree 42%
Disagree 48
No opinion 10

Do you think Terry Nichols should be sentenced to death for his role in the Oklahoma City bombings, should he be sentenced to life in prison, or should he receive a lesser sentence?

Death 45%
Life in prison 42
Lesser sentence 4
Other (vol.) *
No opinion 9
* Less than 0.5%

Regardless of how you feel about his sentence, do you think Terry Nichols was as responsible or less responsible than Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing?

As responsible 62%
Less responsible 27
More responsible (vol.) 2
No opinion 9
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