McALESTER, Okla. - Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, addressing a court for the first time, proclaimed his faith in God and asked victims of the blast for forgiveness Monday as a judge sentenced him to 161 consecutive life sentences.
"Words cannot adequately express the sorrow I have had over the years for the grief that so many have endured and continue to suffer," Nichols said from the witness stand. "I am truly sorry for what occurred."
District Judge Steven Taylor gave Nichols life without parole on each of 161 counts of first-degree murder.
Nichols had already been sentenced to life without parole in 1998 on federal charges for the deaths of eight law enforcement officers killed in the April 19, 1995 bombing. He was spared the death penalty in both trials when jurors could not agree on a sentence.
Nichols, 49, never testified during his trials and said nothing after he was convicted in federal court.
In a lengthy statement Monday laced with religious references, he asked for forgiveness, asked "everyone to acknowledge God," and offered to correspond with survivors from jail to "assist in their healing process."
He said God had worked through the jurors to spare him the death penalty.
"His hand has been guiding this trial from day one. There is no other explanation," Nichols said. "And it was God who, through the holy spirit, worked in the hearts of those jurors who refused to vote for death."
Many victims' relatives said they felt Nichols' statement was genuine, but others criticized the tone of his remarks.
"I didn't appreciate being preached to by him," said Darlene Welch, whose niece was killed in the bombing. "My regret is that he won't stand before God sooner."
Marsha Kight, whose daughter, Frankie Merrill, was killed, said "life in prison is good because people have time to think about what they did."
"It pleases me that he is taking time to apologize for his actions. I am glad that he is taking responsibility for what he did," Kight said by telephone from Florida.
Responding to his statement, the judge called Nichols a "terrorist" and the "No. 1 mass murderer in all of U.S. history."
"Your criminal acts in this case are historic in proportion," the judge said. "What could motivate you to do this? There are no answers."
Taylor said if he could legally order it, he would require Nichols to place photographs of all 161 victims on the walls of his prison cell.
"The shadow and cloud of that day will hover over that prison cell," the judge said.
Bomber Timothy McVeigh was convicted of federal conspiracy and murder charges and executed on June 11, 2001.
"My views were not the same as Timothy McVeigh," Nichols said. "We may have had some similarities, but they were not the same.
"And today, my views and beliefs are far different, as the result of finding the real truth of life in this world," he said.
Nichols also was sentenced to 10 years and a $5,000 fine for a conspiracy count, and 35 years and a $25,000 fine for first-degree arson. He was ordered to pay $5 million in restitution and $10,000 per count to a victims compensation fund, as well as legal fees.
The prosecution sought the maximum fine even though Nichols will be unable to pay.
Nichols was convicted on federal involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy charges for the deaths of eight federal law enforcement officers who were among the 168 victims killed during the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
The state charges were for the other 160 victims and one victim's fetus. Jurors could not consider a death sentence on the count involving the fetus and sentenced Nichols to life without the possibility of parole for that count.
Taylor had the choice of sentencing Nichols to life with or without the possibility of parole on the remaining charges.
Nichols has 10 days to appeal his conviction and sentence. His defense attorneys have urged him not to appeal, since gaining a new trial could result in another attempt to secure the death penalty.
The chief prosecutor, Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane, has said he expects Nichols to be returned to federal custody once the appeal deadline expires.