Oklahoma taxpayers pay for alarm system, books, seminars to help defend Terry Nichols

Tuesday, January 4th 2005, 5:53 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahoma taxpayers paid almost $4.2 million to provide a defense for bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, paying for such things as books, seminars, coffee sweetener and an alarm system.

Expenses filed by defense attorney Brian Hermanson included $28.05 so Nichols could read the book, "The American Terrorist," an account of the life of Oklahoma City federal building bombing mastermind Timothy McVeigh.

A $300 claim was filed for lawn care costs for one of the defense attorneys, whose $750-a-month rental house in McAlester was paid for by taxpayers during Nichols' trial before a Pittsburg County judge.

Court officials questioned the lawn care expenses and Hermanson's $59.95-a-month cable bill in McAlester, but approved the expenses anyway.

Coffee sweetener that cost $3.99 was among the other claims filed. The fund was tapped for $11.46 to pay for hemorrhoid medicine for an ailing juror and $427,392.24 for security provided by Pittsburg County officials.

Details of the expenditures had been previously sealed by court order, but were opened Monday at the request of The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World and The Associated Press.

The AP attempted to contact Hermanson at his Ponca City law office, but he did not return a telephone calls by late Monday afternoon.

Nichols was convicted of 161 first-degree murder counts, but the jury sitting in McAlester could not agree on a sentence. A judge gave Nichols 161 life prison terms for his role in the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that killed 168.

McVeigh was executed in 2001 after his conviction on federal murder charges by a Denver jury.

The bulk of the $4.2 million spent on Nichols' defense went to a team of attorneys headed by Hermanson, who was paid $185 an hour, out of which he paid office expenses.

Hermanson was paid the most -- almost $1.9 million for his legal services, overhead and other expenses.

His final expense in the case came Aug. 20 after Nichols decided not to appeal. Hermanson spent part of 6.4 hours destroying sensitive client information, the records show.

Taxpayers paid thousands of dollars for computers and other equipment, much of which Hermanson agreed to return to Oklahoma County officials.

The defense expenses were in addition to the cost to the state of prosecuting the case against Nichols, who has been returned to federal prison in Colorado.

The heaviest defense expenditures -- $1.4 million -- occurred in the 2003-2004 fiscal year, leading up to Nichols' trial that began last March.

One claim filed by Hermanson in 2002 was for $2,742 to install an alarm system in his Ponca City law office. Other claims were for cleaning Nichols' clothing, buying him shoes, a shirt and paying for his stamps.

The state paid $50.19 for a law dictionary for Nichols. Hermanson also filed a claim for the best-selling book, "The Secret Life of Bees."

Other claims went for such things as cell phones for lawyers and investigators, cab fare, legal seminars, newspaper subscriptions, renting a storage unit, buying a vacuum cleaner and business cards.

The expenditures were over a six-year period and paid incrementally from Oklahoma County court fund, which is funded by court costs, fines and fees.