As an unsmiling Timothy J. McVeigh faced jurors for a final time before they began considering his fate on Friday, he knew he had received the best defense that taxpayer dollars could buy.
“He feels good,” Stephen Jones, McVeigh’s court-appointed defense attorney, said afterward.
The American public should feel good, too, about money well spent, other lawyers and legal observers said. Regardless of the outcome in the case, the defense team’s ability to keep up with the government’s massive investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing should allow confidence in the verdict.
“This was the most outrageous, most public murder case in history, and the money spent to defend Tim McVeigh means no one can say he was discriminated against,” said Garvin Isaacs, a defense lawyer in Oklahoma City.
Still, some victims of the blast that killed 168 and injured hundreds on April 19, 1995, resent the huge expenditures. The trial was transferred from Oklahoma City to get a more impartial jury pool, and most relatives and victims have had to pay their way to Denver.
Dr. Paul Heath, president of the Oklahoma City Murrah Building Survivors Association, said he found it ironic that the same government that McVeigh allegedly hated enough to murder innocent people then paid to defend him.
Just how much money has gone toward prosecuting and defending McVeigh is unclear, because U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch has refused to disclose the amounts. Estimates start at $30 million for the government, $10 million for the defense - far more than is typically spent in a capital murder case.
What is known is that Matsch has allowed Jones to assemble a 14-member team of lawyers backed by six other lawyers and a small support staff. Since January, when Jones relocated most of his office from Enid, Okla., the government has paid the rent on the team’s offices, as well as for its meals and hotels. Jones and three other lawyers earn $125 an hour; while some earn as little as $10 an hour, most of the others are paid $55 to $85 an hour.
It’s a deal few murder defendants get.
Scott Wallace, director of defender services at the National Legal Aid and Defender Association in Washington, noted that 99 percent of all murder cases are tried at the local level and that state or county caps for court-appointed attorneys can be as low as $1,000 a case. With murder cases taking an average of 500 hours to prepare, he added, that works out to $2 an hour for the attorney.
“Lawyers are either getting massively under-compensated or taking these cases pro bono, which means that murder cases are attracting a bunch of saints or hacks who are willing to do it for rock-bottom prices by spending less time than they ought to preparing,” Wallace said.