The split verdict in the second Oklahoma City bombing trial has only reinforced the determination of the local district attorney to try Terry L. Nichols and Timothy J. McVeigh on state murder charges.
Some people, including victims' families, had questioned whether a state trial was necessary. But after Tuesday's Nichols verdict, many see District Attorney Bob Macy as their last chance to achieve the justice they say is needed.
"Thank God for Bob Macy," said Dan McKinney, whose wife, Linda, died in the bombing.
"It has to be tried in the State of Oklahoma," Macy said Wednesday. "After all, it was Oklahoma citizens who were killed.
Macy has said all along that he wanted to bring the two to trial to help make sure that they are sentenced to death.
In Tuesday's verdict, a jury convicted Nichols, 42, of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter but cleared him of murder, and legal analysts said it was unlikely that the jury would sentence him to death.
"The verdict was such a strange verdict," Macy said. "I was shocked, especially with the involuntary-manslaughter verdict. I didn't think there was any basis in law for the involuntary-manslaughter verdict."
Macy said the conspiracy and murder statutes on which he plans to file charges are simpler and easier to prove than the federal statutes.
"The state has a higher chance of convicting Nichols based on what state law is than they did in Denver," agreed Oklahoma City defense attorney Irven Box.
McVeigh, Nichols' co-defendant and Army buddy, was earlier convicted and sentenced to death for his role in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that killed 168 people.
Macy, who has sent 52 defendants to death row, said there was a better chance to implement the death penalty in Oklahoma than in Colorado.
"We know that the Oklahoma death-penalty statute is constitutional. We've tried death-penalty cases time and time again," he said.
But he said the constitutionality of the federal death-penalty statute has not yet been tested in appellate courts.
The federal trial was moved to Denver after a federal judge ruled that the defendants could not get a fair hearing in Oklahoma.
Macy's office will still have to overcome some formidable legal hurdles, including finding the money to pay for a trial and selecting an unbiased jury.
"We have a poisoned public here in Oklahoma," said Oklahoma City defense attorney Garvin Isaacs. "How can a guy get a fair trial when everybody in the state knows he's already been convicted in Denver?"
In Denver, meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch on Wednesday defended the jury's verdict in the Nichols trial and, dismissing objections from defense attorneys, authorized the panel to consider the death penalty.
"I'm not saying this is an inconsistent verdict," the judge said of the jury's findings Tuesday. "But the jury, in any criminal case, is entitled to have an inconsistent verdict." The death-penalty phase is to begin Monday.
Matsch's comments came as he weighed a motion by Michael E. Tigar, Nichols' lead defense attorney, to rule out the death penalty because the jury's verdict was mixed.
In effect, jurors found that Nichols did not intend to kill the eight federal law enforcement officers who died in the Murrah federal building. But at the same time, the jury held that Nichols conspired with McVeigh in a terrorist action in which deaths were foreseeable.
Given those verdicts, "how in the world is the government going to go forward here?" Tigar asked the judge. "Mr. Nichols has a right not to have to go through this."
But prosecutor Sean Connelly argued that the verdict on the conspiracy charge carries a possible death sentence and that this count alone was enough to move to a death-penalty phase.
Connelly said the government did not have to prove that Nichols intended to kill anyone. Under federal law, he said, Nichols can be executed if he knew deadly force would be used and if the bombing was done with "reckless disregard for human life."
In denying Tigar's motion, Matsch said the issue was appropriate for jurors to decide.
Matsch's ruling sets the stage for a climactic second phase of the Nichols trial.