Archive for Sunday, November 30, 2003

Nichols defense costs top $3 million

November 30, 2003

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— The cost of defending bombing conspirator Terry Nichols against state murder charges has surpassed $3 million.

Checks issued to Nichols' court-appointed defense attorneys last week pushed the total paid from the Oklahoma County court fund to $3,006,735. Payment of another $103,846 in defense bills is pending, records show.

Nichols faces trial on March 1 on 161 counts of first-degree murder in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Nichols, 48, is already serving a life prison sentence after being convicted on federal charges for the deaths of eight federal agents in the bombing, which killed 168 people. The state charges involve the other victims and a fetus whose mother was killed.

The defense costs have involved preparation and pretrial issues. They include salaries, office, secretarial and other overhead costs, hearing transcripts and expert witness fees. Nichols has four full-time attorneys, one part-time attorney and at least two investigators.

Defense attorneys also will be reimbursed for their costs to live in McAlester, where the trial will be held. The trial is projected to last from four months to a year.

The trial judge, Steven Taylor, has taken steps to cut back on defense expenses. He has called off some pretrial hearings and refused some defense requests for hearing transcripts.

But officials are still eager for the case -- and its costs -- to be finished.

"I wince each time I have to approve monthly court fund claims in this matter," said Joseph M. Watt, the state Supreme Court's chief justice.

"I am continuing to monitor these ongoing expenses. No one case should jeopardize any county's court fund. I am hopeful that this matter will be behind us soon. In the meantime we will continue to be vigilant."

Defense fees are paid by the Oklahoma County court fund, a collection of fines, fees and forfeitures in civil, traffic and criminal cases.

Another $32,891 in defense money came from taxpayers in 1999 before legislators cut off all special funding.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburg County sheriff will guard Nichols during his trial in an effort to cut costs.

Nichols will be guarded at the courthouse in McAlester by Pittsburg County sheriff's deputies. He will be held at night and on weekends at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

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