McALESTER, Okla. -- A federal death row inmate who may testify in the state murder trial of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols says the defendant didn't help Timothy McVeigh make the bomb.
Prosecutors contend Nichols and McVeigh made the bomb at a lake in north-central Kansas the day before the April 19, 1995, attack, but David Paul Hammer asserts McVeigh told him that other coconspirators helped him assemble the device the night before in an Oklahoma City warehouse.
"Nichols backed out. He didn't show up," Hammer said in a March 26 interview.
Hammer, who served on death row with McVeigh, could bolster defense lawyers' arguments that Nichols was set up by unknown coconspirators to take the blame for the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that killed 168 people.
Prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty against Nichols, 49, are expected to vigorously attack Hammer's credibility if he takes the stand.
Prosecutors have described Hammer as "one of the least credible sources ever to serve time" in an Oklahoma prison. Assistant District Attorney Lou Keel said Hammer once threatened to kill him and a judge and to blow up the Oklahoma County Courthouse.
Testimony is scheduled to resume today in Nichols's case, which began March 22. Serving a life sentence in federal prison for the deaths of eight federal law enforcement officers, he is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of the other 160 victims and one victim's fetus.
Hammer, 45, who is scheduled to be executed June 8 for killing his cellmate in 1996, contends McVeigh disclosed secrets about the bombing plot during almost two years of conversations at the US Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. McVeigh, convicted of murder, was executed in 2001.
Hammer reported that McVeigh said he planned the attack and gathered components for the bomb (ammonium nitrate and fuel oil) with help from a bank-robbery gang made up of members of the Aryan Republican Army, a white supremacist group. Defense lawyers may question a member of the gang at Nichols's trial.
Although Nichols participated in the plot, McVeigh said others were responsible for the theft of explosives from a Kansas rock quarry and the robbery of a gun dealer, Hammer said. Prosecutors attribute those activities to Nichols.
McVeigh "said that Nichols did help him gather the stuff and helped him store it," Hammer said. But McVeigh said Nichols cooperated only because he was concerned for the safety of his family, Hammer said.
Judge Steven Taylor has authorized Hammer to testify at Nichols's trial to rebut Michael Fortier, the prosecution's star witness against Nichols. McVeigh said Nichols was deeply involved in the bomb plot, Fortier has said.