Religion and Social Trends

Terry Nichols to Face State Murder Trial, Possible Death Sentence

In 1998 poll, public opinion was mixed on question of Nichols' receiving death penalty versus life in prison

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Terry Nichols, who is already serving a life sentence on a federal conviction for his role in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, may now face a state murder trial that carries with it the possibility of a death sentence.

A survey conducted when Nichols was originally sentenced in 1998 showed that 45% of Americans said Nichols should be sentenced to death for his crime while 42% said he should be given life imprisonment. By way of comparison, in a survey conducted late last spring, a large majority of the public (80%) said they believed Timothy McVeigh -- Nichols' co-conspirator in the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil -- should be executed. That majority included 57% who favored the death penalty in general and 23% who said they generally opposed the death penalty, but felt it should be used in McVeigh's case.

A 1998 survey also showed that 62% of the public believed Nichols was as responsible as McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing, while just 27% thought Nichols was less responsible.

McVeigh was executed on June 11, after a month-long delay. The delay resulted from the FBI's discovery that it had not turned over files in the case to the McVeigh defense team. At that time, roughly half of Americans (52%) said they thought the FBI had made an honest mistake in not turning over the files, while 42% thought the FBI knowingly withheld evidence. Based on that development, 33% of the public said they believed Nichols should receive a new trial, while the majority (59%) said he should not.

Death Penalty Support

Americans in general remain supportive of the use of the death penalty in cases of murder. A Gallup poll from May of this year shows that 65% of Americans say they are for the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, while 27% are against it, a trend that has been fairly consistent in recent years. The high point of 80% who indicated they were for the punishment came in 1994 and the low point of 42% came in 1966.

The public's support for the death penalty diminishes when the alternative of life imprisonment without parole is offered, but a majority still favors it. When asked which method was best for the punishment of convicted murderers, 52% chose the death penalty, while 43% selected life imprisonment.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with randomly selected national samples of at least 1,000 adults, 18 years and older, conducted in 1998 and 2001. For results based on these samples, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is 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.

Are you in favor of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder?

[BASED ON -- 491 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A; ±5 PCT. PTS.]

 

 

For

Against

No opinion

 

%

%

%

 

     

2001 May 10-14

65

27

8

2001 Feb 19-21

67

25

8

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

67

28

5

2000 Jun 23-25

66

26

8

2000 Feb 14-15

66

28

6

1999 Feb 8-9

71

22

7

1995 May 11-14

77

13

10

1994 Sep 6-7

80

16

4

1991 Jun 13-16

76

18

6

1988 Sep 25-Oct 1

79

16

5

1988 Sep 9-11

79

16

5

1986 Jan 10-13

70

22

8

1985 Jan 11-14

72

20

8

1985 Nov 11-18

75

17

8

1981 Jan 30-Feb 2

66

25

9

1978 Mar 3-6

62

27

11

1976 Apr 9-12

66

26

8

1972 Nov 10-13

57

32

11

1972 Mar 3-5

50

41

9

1971 Oct 29-Nov 2

49

40

11

1969 Jan 23-28

51

40

9

1967 Jun 2-7

54

38

8

1966 May 19-24

42

47

11

1965 Jan 7-12

45

43

12

1960 Mar 2-7

53

36

11

1957 Aug 29-Sep 4

47

34

18

1956 Mar 29-Apr 3

53

34

13

1953 Nov 1-5

68

25

7

1937 Dec 1-6

60

33

7



If you could choose between the following two approaches, which do you think is the better penalty for murder -- [ROTATED: the death penalty (or) life imprisonment, with absolutely no possibility of parole]?

[BASED ON -- 521 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B; ±5 PCT. PTS.]

 

 

The death penalty

Life imprisonment

No opinion

 

%

%

%

       

2001 May 10-14

52

43

5

2001 Feb 19-21

54

42

4

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

49

47

4



Now thinking about Timothy McVeigh, the man convicted of murder in the Oklahoma City bombing case and sentenced to death,

Which comes closest to your view -- [ROTATED: I generally support the death penalty and believe McVeigh should be executed, I generally oppose the death penalty, but believe McVeigh should be executed in this case, (or) I generally oppose the death penalty and do not believe McVeigh should be executed]?

 

 

2001 May 18-20

2001 Apr 20-22

     

Support death penalty and believe McVeigh should be executed

57%

59%

Oppose death penalty but believe McVeigh should be executed

23

22

Oppose death penalty and don't believe McVeigh should be executed

16

16

 

 

 

OTHER (vol.)

2

1

No opinion

2

2

     

(vol.) Volunteered response

     


As you may know, the F.B.I. recently discovered documents that were related to the McVeigh court case but that were not previously made available to his defense lawyers.

Which comes closer to your view -- [ROTATED: the F.B.I. knowingly withheld evidence in the McVeigh case, (or) the F.B.I. made an honest mistake]?

 

 

Knowingly
withheld evidence

Made an
honest mistake

No
opinion

 

 

 

 

2001 May 18-20

42%

52

6



As you may know, the FBI recently discovered documents that were related to the Oklahoma City bombing court case but that were not previously made available to defense lawyers. Do you think the federal government should or should not hold a new trial for Terry Nichols, the man convicted of helping Timothy McVeigh make the bomb?

 

 

Should

Should not

No opinion

 

 

 

 

2001 Jun 8-10

33%

59

8



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?

 

   

1998 Jan 6-7

 

Agree

42%

Disagree

48

No opinion

10

 

___

1998 Jan 6-7

100%

   
   


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?

 

   

1998 Jan 6-7

 

Death

45%

Life in prison

42

Lesser sentence

4

Other (vol.)

*

No opinion

9

 

___

 

100%

* Less than 0.5%

 

(vol.) Volunteered response

 
 


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?

 

   

1998 Jan 6-7

 

As responsible

62%

Less responsible

27

MORE RESPONSIBLE (vol.)

2

No opinion

9

 

___

 

100%

   

(vol.) Volunteered response

 


Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/4858/Terry-Nichols-Face-State-Murder-Trial-Possible-Death-Sentence.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030