Charged with kidnapping and robbery, Joshua Nichols sat between a pair of defense attorneys Wednesday with a Vegas Golden Knights mask covering his face.
About 20 feet away, from the witness stand of a Henderson courtroom, a 68-year-old man who said Nichols had attacked him inside a vacant home three months ago, recognized the defendant’s forehead and eyebrows.
Defense attorney Robert Draskovich tried to object to the courtroom identification of Nichols, arguing that the alleged attacker wore a baseball cap that would have covered the top of his head.
Acknowledging the COVID-19 crisis, Justice of the Peace Stephen George asked Nichols, the son of Oklahoma City bombing accomplice Terry Nichols, to remove his face covering, which he did.
“Sir, do you see the person that had a firearm to your head (in February) in the courtroom here today?” prosecutor Barbara Schifalacqua asked.
“Yes,” the witness, Richard Ameral replied. “The gentleman with a gray shirt and striped gray and black tie.”
“And is that the person who just removed his mask?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yes it is,” Ameral said.
“Sir you may put the mask back on,” the judge told Nichols.
Nichols was among seven people of 19 inside the courtroom wearing a face mask through the course of a preliminary hearing, where the judge decided prosecutors had enough evidence to present the case to a jury.
While most criminal and civil proceedings in Clark County are being conducted via video or telephone conferences, if not postponed, justice courts throughout the valley have scheduled preliminary hearings during the pandemic. Others masked included journalists, a court marshal, Nichols’ wife and his co-defendant, George Moya, who also wore shackles and a jail jumpsuit.
Three of five witnesses walked into the courtroom donning masks, but removed them to testify. Attorneys, the judge, his clerks and a court stenographer also remained unmasked for the proceeding.
Nichols, 37, and Moya, 24, are accused of luring Ameral to the vacant Henderson home on the pretext of selling him jewelry.
When Ameral walked into the kitchen of the home on Feb. 6, he said, he found mostly costume jewelry before he heard the click of a 9 mm handgun’s magazine and turned to see a bearded Nichols, who pointed the firearm at his head.
“Take off your jewelry, take off your clothes,” Ameral quoted the attacker as saying. Nichols, he said, forced him to the floor, face down and without pants. “Tell me what’s in the car. What else is in the car? And you better not lie to me, (expletive), I’ll kill you.”
Ameral begged him not to shoot.
Ameral said Nichols and Moya then pulled $1,700 cash and ID from his wallet and stole his jacket, bracelets, a ring and a cellphone before the fleeing the vacant home.
A neighbor’s home surveillance camera captured a rented 2019 Cadillac XTS driving away from the scene, according to police.
The car was traced to a woman with ties to Joshua Nichols and Moya, but she has not been charged in the robbery. Ameral later identified the two men as his attackers in separate police photo lineups.
About a month after the heist, police found Ameral’s jewelry testing kit and business cards inside a wooden shed in east Las Vegas, where Nichols was hiding out.
Joshua Nichols’ father helped Timothy McVeigh build the bomb that killed 168 people at an Oklahoma City federal building in April 1995.
In 2009, Joshua Nichols pleaded guilty to stealing a Yamaha motorcycle in Las Vegas and was given probation. His father is serving a life sentence for his role in the Oklahoma City bombing. McVeigh was executed in 2001.
Next month, Nichols is scheduled to face another judge, who is expected to set a trial date.