Nichols trial focuses on theft of explosives

/ Source: The Associated Press

Prosecutors at the murder trial of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols used a drill bit Wednesday to try to connect him to the theft of blasting caps and detonation cord from a rock quarry.

James Cadigan, a retired FBI tool-mark examiner, testified that a bit seized from Nichols’ home after the April 19, 1995, bombing made the distinctive markings found in a drill hole in a padlock at the quarry near Marion, Kan.

“That was the drill that was used,” Cadigan said.

A variety of explosives, including detonation cord and blasting caps, were stolen from the quarry less than seven months before the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The quarry was about 25 miles from Nichols’ home in Herington, Kan.

Prosecutors say detonation cord and blasting caps were among the components of the 4,000-pound fertilizer-and-fuel bomb that destroyed the federal building, killing 168 people.

Defense questions credentials
Nichols attorney Barbara Bergman questioned Cadigan at length about his experience and about the accreditation of the FBI laboratory’s tool mark unit. Cadigan testified the unit was not accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors at the time the tests were done.

The defense also sought to raise doubts about FBI procedures for examining drill bit evidence and questioned whether a comparison is possible based on cuts and grooves left by such a bit.

Prosecutors allege Nichols and Timothy McVeigh worked together to gather the components for the bomb and build it. McVeigh was convicted on federal charges and executed in 2001.

'It moves very fast'
Prosecutors have said Nichols purchased 4,000 pounds of the fertilizer from a Kansas farmer’s co-op in September and October 1994.

Paul Rydlund of Eldorado Chemical Co., an explosives expert who specializes in commercial applications for ammonium nitrate, testified Tuesday that a bomb made of 4,000 pounds of the material would be large enough to bring down a building.

“It moves very fast,” Rydlund said. According to Rydlund, the explosion would produce a fireball as hot as 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit and a shock that moves at 13,000 mph. “You have a very violent chemical reaction,” he said.

Nichols is on trial on 161 state charges of murder, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. He is already serving a life sentence on federal charges in the attack.