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Supreme Court asks criminal appeals court to rule on hearing issue in pay dispute

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma Supreme Court has given only part of a dispute over pay for bombing co-conspirator Terry Nichols' attorneys to a state appeals court to consider.

On Thursday, the judges said they were ``transferring issue to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for decision.''

Their ruling was clarified on Friday. Justices said they want the criminal appeals court to decide whether a hearing in the case should be open to the public, but the judges will still decide on the pay issue.

Lawyers for Nichols, 46, have complained that their funding should not be limited to $1.8 million since the case has lasted more than two years.

Oklahoma County prosecutors have filed 160 counts of first-degree murder against Nichols for his role in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The blast killed 168 people and injured more than 500.

Timothy McVeigh was executed June 11 for his role in the attack.

Also on Thursday, Nichols' attorneys asked a judge to dismiss the case or sanction prosecutors. His lawyers have alleged that prosecutors violated a judge's gag order.

Lead defense attorney Brian Hermanson denies he himself violated the gag order. Prosecutors want Hermanson fined for sending letters Sept. 4 to The Daily Oklahoman and Tulsa World.

In them, Hermanson said Nichols is willing to end his federal appeals and accept his federal life sentence if the state case is dropped.

Prosecutors rejected the offer because they said they don't trust Nichols and worry he would later seek to restart his federal appeals.

The defense attorney on Thursday explained he wrote the letters to try to correct a ``public misconception'' that Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane had no choice but to go forward with the state prosecution.

The ``letters were designed to prevent Mr. Lane from further manipulating public opinion and thereby shielding his exercise of prosecutorial discretion from public criticism,'' Hermanson argued.

A federal jury in 1997 convicted Nichols of conspiracy and the involuntary manslaughter of eight federal agents. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Nichols' appeals of his federal conviction are pending before the U.S. Supreme Court and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The nation's high court could rule in October.
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