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Nichols' first trial ended in a mistrial. The jury found him guilty, but could not agree on the sentence because of doubts over whether he fired the fatal shot. Under existing law, Nichols was retried. (A month later, a change in the law went into effect that a life sentence would automatically be imposed if the jury could not agree on a sentence in a capital murder case.)
On retrial in March 1982, Nichols was convicted and sentenced to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence in April 1988.
In August 1992, a U.S. district judge vacated Nichols' conviction and ordered a new trial. The court ruled that the jury should have been instructed to consider whether Nichols fired the fatal shot. The court also said that the state contradicted itself by arguing that Nichols was the shooter, whereas previously, at Williams' trial, the state argued that Williams was the shooter.
In November 1995, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court's decision and reinstated Nichols' conviction and death sentence, ruling that the jury did not need to be instructed to consider whether Nichols fired the fatal shot. The appeals court also ruled that the district court's decision to grant Nichols a new trial on the basis of the prosecution's statements at Williams' trial was unsupported by law or precedent.
All of Nichols' subsequent appeals were denied.
Willie Ray Williams was convicted in January 1981 of capital murder, after pleading guilty, and was sentenced to death. He was executed in 1995.
"I'm not telling you I'm not guilty of anything," Nichols said in an interview from death row, but when Williams fired the fatal shot, "I had already left." He said that in the robbery, Williams "got some change. I got nothing."
Of his 25 years on death row, Nichols said, "Honestly, I thought I'd be dead at 25," and that his time on death row was good and positive. "I was able to grow and do a few things, experience life and meet different people."
"I don't want to die, but I've come to terms. No doubt, I'm regretful."
According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's director of public information, Michelle Lyons, Nichols did not resist being taken from his cell to the death chamber, but he "didn't cooperate either" and had to be carried and strapped to the gurney by the five-man tie-down team. Earlier in the day, Nichols was "uncooperative and belligerent," Lyons said.
At his execution, when the warden asked Nichols if he wanted to make a last statement, he answered, "Yes, yes I do." He then mentioned a supervisory corrections officer on death row by name and uttered a string of obscenities about her. Then he said, "That's all I got to say." He then winked toward his parents and three brothers, who witnessed his execution from a viewing room. The lethal injection was then started. He was pronounced dead at 6:19 p.m.
By David Carson. Posted on 8 March 2007.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Attorney General's office, Associated Press, Huntsville Item, court documents.