Preliminary hearing postponed pending decision on attorney's pay

Monday, October 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A state judge delayed bombing conspirator Terry Nichols' preliminary hearing Monday after Nichols said a dispute over funding ``has totally devastated my defense team.''

``Without proper funding, you may as well go ahead and hang me right now because that is exactly what is occurring in this courtroom,'' Nichols told state District Judge Ray Dean Linder, who is handling pretrial issues in Nichols' case.

In a rambling statement, Nichols said his attorneys cannot afford to remain on the case and requested a two-year postponement ``so that any new attorneys can have adequate time to get up to speed on this case.''

``I'm clearly being railroaded by the entire state of Oklahoma court system,'' said Nichols, who said the funding issue would prevent him from getting a fair trial on 160 counts of first-degree murder.

Nichols also announced that he has begun ``a complete and total fast'' that could affect his health and prevent him from participating in his preliminary hearing.

Nichols said his hunger strike was the result of his meal portions being cut back beginning Oct. 15. ``And all attempts to get this problem resolved has failed thus far,'' he said.

Linder stayed Nichols' preliminary hearing until the Oklahoma Supreme Court rules on his defense attorneys' request for more money. Linder denied a request to postpone the hearing on Oct. 14, a ruling that was upheld last week by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.

Linder did not rule on Nichols' attorneys' request to withdraw from the case, which was filed under seal.

Nichols, 46, faces state murder charges for his role in the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building, which killed 168 people. Oklahoma County prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

A federal jury in Denver convicted Nichols of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of eight federal agents and conspiracy and sentenced him to life in prison. The 160 murder counts are for the other people who were killed.

Nichols said he has developed a relationship with his attorneys over the past three years and that ``it would be senseless to remove them at this point.'' But he added that the funding issue has created a conflict with his attorneys.

''...I cannot have attorneys representing me who do not get paid. I must have conflict-free attorneys,'' Nichols said.

``The state prosecutors continually get paid with no cuts in their personal paychecks no matter how long the case takes. Therefore, my attorneys should receive the same privileges of fair and adequate funding,'' he said.

Defense attorneys complained to the state Supreme Court in July after Oklahoma County's presiding judge, Niles Jackson, ruled that they are limited by contract to $1.8 million.

Only $148,365 is left.

Nichols complained that funding for his defense ``has been attacked and withdrawn and cut severely'' by the state Legislature, the courts and the state legal defense fund.

He also complained that his defense attorneys are ``providing me with inadequate and inferior representation'' because of funding concerns.

``This simply reveals the overall prejudice of the legal system in this state,'' Nichols said.

Nichols' co-conspirator, Timothy McVeigh, was convicted of federal murder charges and sentenced to death. McVeigh was executed on June 11 at a federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.