Dispute over Legal Bills Puts Nichols' Murder Trial on Hold

Article excerpt

The murder trial of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols was put on hold Wednesday until a dispute over Nichols' legal bills is resolved.

State District Judge Ray Dean Linder issued a stay requested by Nichols' defense attorney, Brian Hermanson of Ponca City. Linder said it would remain in effect until the state Supreme Court clarifies when and how Nichols' legal bills will be paid.

"The funding issue is paramount in my opinion," Linder said. The order canceled a Sept. 4 hearing where Linder was expected to set a new date for Nichols' preliminary hearing.

Nichols' defense has spent about $1.7 million since state murder charges were filed for the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Nichols' defense costs are paid from a fund financed by court fees and fine collections in Oklahoma County.

Defense attorneys have complained that their contract with the county limited their fees to a total of $1.8 million. Last month, the Supreme Court voided the contract, and Linder instructed Nichols' attorneys to work out a new one.

But fund administrators have complained that the Nichols case has been "financially devastating," Hermanson said. He said differences he has with fund administrators on how to interpret the Supreme Court's order have blocked a new contract.

Hermanson said he plans to ask the high court for additional guidance on how to comply with the order.

Hermanson said he has not been paid in almost one year, creating financial burdens for his family.

"It has been difficult," he said.

Other members of Nichols' defense team have taken other cases and found other work in order to make a living.

"There is no money flowing to the defense team," Hermanson said. "We have been unable to pay expenses in this case.

Assistant District Attorney Lou Keel said Nichols' defense has exhausted its revenue through excessive litigation in the case.

"I recall no other case with a fraction of the issues they have chosen to take up on appeal," Keel said.

He said a preliminary hearing that will decide whether Nichols, 47, will be tried for first-degree murder has been scheduled and postponed six times. …