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Judge Unconvinced by Legislative Withdrawal of Funds

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A state district judge said Monday he is
not convinced that helping tornado victims is a proper reason for
the Legislature to withdraw money for Terry Nichols' state bombing
trial.

"I have a hard time seeing that as a legitimate reason to
withdraw the money," Associate District Judge Robert M. Murphy Jr.
said during a hearing on the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System's
request to withdraw as Nichols' attorney because of a lack of
money.

"With the disapproval of that funding, we believe our
appointment fails," OIDS executive director Jim Bednar said.

The Legislature appropriated $1 million to OIDS in 1998 for
Nichols' defense on state charges in the April 19, 1995, bombing of
the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building which killed 168 people.

State Sen. Cal Hobson, D-Lexington, testified that the payment
was considered "a down payment" and it was assumed that more
money would be distributed later for Nichols' defense, which Bednar
has said could cost up to $5 million.

"We viewed this as an extraordinary case," Hobson said.

Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy filed 160
first-degree murder charges against Nichols in March and said he
will seek the death penalty.

Two months later, the Legislature withdrew $900,000 of the
defense funds not yet spent in Nichols' case and reallocated it to
help victims of the May 3 tornadoes, which killed 44 people and
destroyed thousands of homes.

An attempt to restore the funds failed during a special session
in June.

"The Legislature sets priorities," Hobson said. He said
lawmakers deemed a state trial unnecessary because Nichols has
already been convicted on federal charges and was sentenced to life
in prison.

"We are swayed regularly by public opinion," he said.

Hobson testified that the Legislature also reappropriated the
remaining $300,000 of $810,000 that had earlier been appropriated
to Macy's office to prosecute Nichols.

But Murphy said it is not up to the Legislature to tell a
prosecutor which cases to prosecute and which not.

"There is a constitutional obligation to defend those cases as
well," Murphy said. At one point he referred to Nichols as the
"second most hated person in the state of Oklahoma" behind
Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted of the bombing in a federal
trial.

The case has placed OIDS at odds with the private defense
attorney it appointed to defend Nichols, Brian Hermanson of Ponca
City. Hermanson is fighting to continue as the attorney.

The motion is also opposed by Macy, who told Murphy that the
public defender's office has other financial resources it could use
to pay for Nichols' defense.

"We are very concerned that he have competent counsel," Macy
said.

Nichols wrote Murphy on July 16 and asked that Hermanson be
retained as his attorney. In the handwritten letter, Nichols, 44,
says he doesn't think he can get a fair trial in Oklahoma.

"However, the immediate concern that I have are the various
attempts by various people to not only stifle the proper funding
for a fair defense but by doing so they also prevent me from having
a properly qualified and experienced attorney to represent me in my
defense," wrote Nichols, who is being held in a federal prison in
Colorado.

Nichols said replacing Hermanson "would seriously jeopardize my
defense and would therefore create a prime cause for any conviction
to be overturned on appeal, and thus, in the long run cost more
money and court time,"

"It is my belief that Mr. Macy is attempting to try me for
vengeful reasons," Nichols said.

(Copyright 1999 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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