Nichols trial costs closing in on $5 million

Monday, September 15th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Terry Nichols' state murder case has not even gone to trial yet, but it has already cost the state nearly $4 million, and another million could be spent before it is over next year or in 2005, records show.

The trial is to start March 1st in McAlester.

Nichols, 48, was convicted of federal involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy charges and sentenced to life in prison for the deaths of the eight law enforcement officers in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The state murder trial is for the 160 other people who died in the April 19, 1995, bombing, and there is an additional charge for the death of a fetus whose mother was killed in the blast.

Most of the money spent to date has been for his defense.

``I continue to be concerned with the overall cost of this case and the (Oklahoma County) court fund's ability to cover it,'' state Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph M. Watt said last week. ``However, I am confident that all parties involved in this case will work to keep that cost at a minimum.''

Almost all the defense expenses and much of the actual trial costs will come out of an Oklahoma County court fund that is a collection of fines, fees and forfeitures in civil, traffic and criminal cases. If that fund is exhausted, funding for Nichols' trial will come from the taxpayer-supported Supreme Court Revolving Fund.

Prosecutors expect the trial, including jury selection, to last four to five months. Defense attorneys estimate it could take a year or longer.

The total cost of the case so far is about $3.8 million.

Defense expenses -- including salaries and overhead -- already exceed $2.72 million, and another $65,000 in defense bills is being processed.

Prosecutors are using their existing budget to meet expenses, but they did spend $488,786 from a special appropriation to the case before the Legislature cut off such funding in 1999.

Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel said the special security for Nichols so far has cost close to $500,000 extra.

The defense expense was projected to be $78,846 a month for salaries and overhead. Nichols now has five court-appointed attorneys and at least two investigators.

The estimate did not include payments to defense experts and defense witness fees. It also did not include the cost of defense housing and office space in McAlester. The defense team is now based in Ponca City.

``Considerable expense will be incurred moving the massive quantity of files and documents from Ponca City to the trial site,'' lead attorney Brian Hermanson wrote in one filing. ``In addition, it will be extremely expensive to bring witnesses all over the United States to the trial site and to house and feed them.''

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