MANHATTAN (CN) - "You have to be willing to lose," said a member of the federal team that prosecuted Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols for the Oklahoma City bombing. "The Ghailani verdict reminded me of the Nichols trial," Aitan Goelman said of the verdict that cleared Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani of 284 of 285 charges in the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Africa. "It looked like the jurors were hanging. They did not convict him of the murder charges. They convicted [Nichols] of eight counts of manslaughter. It was weird, kind of incoherent. ... Jury verdicts don't have to be consistent. You can get weird results. To reach agreements on certain results, you end up compromising."
Ghailani was convicted only of conspiring to destroy U.S. government buildings. He faces a mandatory sentence of 20 years to life in prison at his Jan. 25, 2011 sentencing.
Goelman is a partner in the Zuckerman Spaeder law firm. Then-Attorney General Janet Reno selected him as the youngest member of the team that prosecuted the suspects in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
In both cases, defendants were accused of helping to destroy U.S. buildings with truck bombs and murdering hundreds of civilians. Both trials operated under the same "mechanics" and burden of proof, Goelman said.
McVeigh was convicted on all counts, but jurors acquitted Nichols of the murder charges and convicted him of manslaughter, conspiracy and using a weapon of mass destruction.
Ghailani's attorneys vowed to appeal the single conviction, and they continue to maintain that their client is innocent.
Goelman said it was much easier for prosecutors to get evidence entered in a domestic terrorism trial, such as he prosecuted, than in a foreign one.
"Part of the evidence in Oklahoma City was a statement that Terry Nichols gave to the FBI," Goelman said. "That statement, he was sitting in a police station in Kansas and talking. He was Mirandized. He didn't have the complications of this being not just a criminal case but also a war."
On the night of the Ghailani verdict, The New York Times reported that prosecutors in the Ghailani case never considered entering into evidence statements he made to the FBI and CIA, which allegedly "amounted to a confession."
Ghailani allegedly told the FBI he did not know he was helping al-Qaida when he bought a truck, gas tanks and TNT used in the bombings. He told the FBI these were "routine commercial transactions" in Tanzania, and that he was told the TNT would be used for "mining," according to the Times report.
Ghailani told the FBI he started "putting the pieces of the puzzle together" after the purchases but before the bombings, and said he regretted not stepping forward when he learned about the Tanzanian -- but not American -- dead, according to the Times report.
Ghailani's defense attorneys contended the statements were "coerced, untrustworthy and inadmissible," and the prosecution never tried to enter them, the newspaper reported.
Goelman said that prosecutors rarely turn to the CIA for evidence to be used in a trial.
"When the CIA is interviewing someone, they're trying to get information. They're not looking for admissibility," Goelman said. "They're looking for operational intelligence. They're looking for something they can use. Their whole viewpoint isn't geared toward getting proof to convict somebody in a court of law. The FBI's is.