subject_name = Brian Gene Nichols
image_size = 150px
image_caption = Nichols after his surrender on
March 12, 2005
date_of_birth = birth date and age|1971|12|10|
Baltimore, Maryland, United States
murder, kidnapping, robbery, aggravated assaulton a police officer, battery, theft, carjacking, rapeand escape.
penalty = Pending
status = Incarcerated, trial ongoing
Brian Gene Nichols (born
December 10, 1971) is known for his escape and alleged killing spreein the Fulton county courthousein Atlanta, Georgiaon March 11, 2005.
What little is known about Nichols' early life is that he came from a middle class family. He went to but did not receive his high school diploma in 1989 from the
Cardinal Gibbons School[cite news| title=A Manhunt and a Woman's Story| work=Washington Post| url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A35137-2005Mar14.html] in Baltimore, Marylandand attended college at Kutztown University of Pennsylvaniain Kutztown, Pennsylvania, for three semesters from 1989 to 1990. At that time, he was also a linebacker on their football team. Nick Pergine, who played football with Nichols at Kutztown, said Nichols' massive physical presence and martial-arts skills earned him a reputation as someone to be careful around. Jake Williams, who coached Nichols at Kutztown, compared Nichols' physique(6'1" 210 pound) with that of NFL star John Mobley, who also played at the university.
Berks County records show that Nichols had been arrested at least three times during his short stay at the university.. In 1990, he was charged with terroristic threats, simple assault, disorderly conduct and harassment, stemming from an incident in a university dining hall, according to court documents. He pleaded guilty to the two lesser charges and the others were dropped.
The next year, Nichols was arrested twice in a month for criminal trespassing, misdemeanor criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. Those charges were later dropped. After his brief stay at Kutztown, Nichols went to
Newberry Collegefrom 1992 to 1993, and played football there. Athletic spokesman Ryan Gross said that during that time Nichols was kicked off the football team for stealing from a dorm room.
After dropping out of school, Nichols moved to Georgia in 1995. He worked for Hewlett-Packard for eight years, as a UNIX system engineer in the computer field. [cite news| title=Larry King Live| date=March 15, 2005| work=CNN| url=http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0503/15/lkl.01.html] Nichols last employment was working as a
computer engineerfor a logistics subsidiary of Atlanta-based shipping giant UPS. Company spokesman Norm Black says Nichols joined the unit in March 2004 and left in September 2004, which was when he was arrested in the rape case.cite news|title=Annals of Law:Death In Georgia|publisher=The New Yorker | date= February 4, 2008|accessdate=2008-02-02|url= http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/02/04/080204fa_fact_toobin] According to his brother, Nichols earned a six-figure income and regularly attended church.
He was arrested after being charged with the brutal assault of his former girlfriend of 8 years after their break up. Nichols forced his way into her home, bound her with duct tape at gun point and raped her. He was charged with
rape, aggravated assaultwith intent to rape, aggravated sodomy, burglary, false imprisonmentand possession of a firearm during commission of a crime. The first case had ended in a mistrial with a hung jury. Nichols had told people in the courthouse "I'm not going to go lying down" when he learned that he would be retried. Nichols’ friends warned the DA’s office he might try to escape and one friend told prosecutors that Nichols planned to escape and asked him to leave a credit card in the pocket of the suit jacket he would wear to court. Nichols mother also emailed the [http://www.fultonsheriff.org/ Fulton County Sheriff's Office] to tell them she believed her son may try to take an officers weapon. The retrial began the next week and the tension heightened even further 2 days before the crime spree when deputies escorting Nichols from the courthouse to his jail cell noticed something in his shoes. They found two sharp "shanks," common jailhouse weapons fashioned out of metal which possibly came from a door hinge. Nichols also taunted Assistant District AttorneyGayle Abramson and Assistant District AttorneyAsh Joshi during the retrial by saying "you're doing a much better job this time" and he was apparently aware that his case was going poorly. The actions prompted Judge Barnes to have a meeting the day before the escape with counsel and he asked for extra security during Nichols scheduled testimony that Friday since the prosecution in the rape case had planned to call its last witness that day and jury deliberations were upon him.. Nichols would have faced life in prison if convicted. [cite news| title=3 Slain in Atlanta Courthouse Rampage| work=Washington Post| url= http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A28346-2005Mar11.html/]
The shootings and escape
State of Georgiaalleges the following events took place on March 11, 2005: 51-year old female sheriff's deputy, 5'1 Cynthia Hall was routinely assigned to guard 6'1 Nichols during the time frame of his two trials under Judge Barnes. Nichols arrives at the courthouse on a bus and she escorted him from a basement detention area to a holding cell on the 8th floor of the Fulton County Justice Tower. Deputy Dilcie Thomas said that on the morning of the attack, she urged Hall three times to get another deputy to go with her upstairs to a holding cell with Nichols, where he was going to change from jail garb before appearing in court. Hall told Thomas, “No, I got him.” She seemed to trust him and did not require he wear customary leg shackles, even though, the day before his attack, he had been caught with hinges hidden in his shoes. The hinges could have been used as weapons. She escorted Nichols to the holding area where she was to remove his handcuffsso that he could change into civilian clothes. Hall released one cuff and turned Nichols around to unhook the remaining cuff, which is dangling from his wrist. Nichols brutally attacked the deputy pushing her into another open cell. The video surveillance camera recorded as he overpowered the deputy hitting her so hard in the face her feet left the ground. He emerges from the cell with her gun belt which included her radio and weapon magazines. Nichols retrieved her keys from the floor and locked Deputy Hall in the cell. Nichols entered another cell and changed into his street clothes and is seen about 4 1/2 minutes later leaving the holding cell area. He used the keys to open a lock box where he armed himself with her Beretta .40 cal. semi-automatic pistol. [cite news| title=Nichols Wanted to Be With His Baby Boy| work=Fox News|url=http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,150683,00.htm] ] According to hospital sources, the deputy sustained significant brain injury, facial fractures and a large laceration to her forehead. After the attack, her condition was reported as critical, but she survived. Deputy Hall's injuries were so severe that Grady Memorial Hospital Doctors initially believed that she had sustained a gunshot wound to the face. [cite news| title=Judge, Two Others Killed in Courthouse Shooting| work=Fox News| url=http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,150119,00.html]
Nichols then crossed over to the old courthouse via a skybridge, where he entered the private chambers of Judge
Rowland W. Barnes. He encountered case managers Susan Christy and Gina Clarke Thomas along with attorney David Allman. Nichols made them all sit on the floor and held them at gunpoint while inquiring as to where Judge Barnes was. Sgt. Grantley White, the court baliff, entered the chambers and was also met by an armed Nichols. Sgt. White tried to disarm Nichols but failed. Nichols continued to point the gun at him and stated "Don’t do nothing Sarge. I’ve got nothing to lose". [cite news| title=Courthouse Shooting Case Opens With Audiotape of Gunshots| work=Law.com| url=http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1202424720420] He was held at gunpoint and Nichols also disarmed him. Nichols forced Sgt. White to handcuff Christy, Thomas and Allman but not before Sgt. White was able to push an emergency button in the chambers. When Nichols heard court security trying to contact Sgt. White he responded to dispatch on the radio trying to dispel the alarm. That alerted other Deputies because they heard someone using Sgt. Whites radio number but they did not recognize the voice. Nichols handcuffed Sgt. White and forced him into a bathroom and exited the chambers.
Nichols entered courtroom 8-F from a door behind the judge's bench. He found Judge Barnes in the courtroom presiding over motions in a
civil trial. He shot him at close range in the back of the head. Witnesses said the judge never knew Nichols was behind him. Nichols scanned the prosecution table apparently in search of the Assistant District Attorneys that were prosecuting and when he saw they were not in the court room he lowered the gun and shot Julie Brandau, the court reporter, in the head. Sgt. White was able to get out of the restroom and access his radio where he put in the first radio transmission letting responding officers know there had been "shots fired" and he also gave a description of the armed Nichols. Nichols then walked down from the bench and checked a side room where witnesses were held before trial began, apparently seeking his rape victim, but she was late that day and the room was empty.
Nichols exited the courtroom and ran into an emergency stairwell where he was seen by Sgt. Hoyt Teasley. Sgt Teasley had just arrived at work and was responding to the alarm before he picked up a radio or even put on his bulletproof vest. Sgt. Teasley pursued Nichols and the two ran down seven flights of stairs and out of the old courthouse via an emergency exit onto Martin Luther King Drive. When Nichols exited the building he sounded a door alarm. He fired several gun shots in the air creating a chaotic situation on the crowded street. He started across Martin Luther King when the door alarm sounded again as Sgt. Teasley exited the building. Nichols pointed one of the guns at Teasley and fired 2 shots before the Deputy could even draw his on gun. Sgt. Teasley fell to the ground and Nichols fled. Sgt. Teasley was presumably unaware that the Nichols was armed or of the incident in the courtroom because he did not have a radio. Barnes and Brandau died at the scene and Sgt. Teasley was pronounced DOA due to bleeding from a single gunshot wound to his abdomen at
Grady Memorial Hospital.
Nichols ran across the street into the Underground parking garage across from the courthouse. During his escape Nichols carjacked at least five vehicles. He first took a 2002 Mazda Tribute from Deputy Solicitor General Duane Cooper who was entering the parking garage. Nichols reportedly walked up to Cooper, pointed a gun a him, and said "Give it up, mother… .” Cooper exited the car and Nichols got in, backed out, and sped away in the vehicle down down Martin Luther King Blvd. Larry McCrary who works in the Fulton County juvenile court saw Nichols fleeing and followed him as he turned on Peachtree Street and then into a parking garage near Underground Atlanta. McCrary said he parked his vehicle to block the entrance and exit to the parking deck and was able to flag down three Atlanta Police officers. He said after the officers went inside the parking deck he saw Nichols calmly walk out at a entrance down the street and approach a tow truck which was at the corner of Peachtree and Wall streets. [cite news| title=Nichols was calm after shooting, before hijacking| work=AJC| url=http://www.ajc.com/services/content/metro/atlanta/stories/2008/10/01/nichols_trial_atlanta.html?cxtype=rss&cxsvc=7&cxcat=13] Nichols pointed a gun at the driver, Deronta Franklin, and ordered him out. Nichols sped off in the tow truck and traveled north briefly on Peachtree Street, then turned left onto Walton, a one-way street, heading the wrong way. He enters the Imperial parking garage on Cone Street.
On the fourth floor of the garage, Nichols hijacked a 2004 Mercury Sable owned by Almeta Kilgo, an
Atlanta Journal-Constitutionsoftware developer. He walks up and pointed the gun at her telling her to move to the passenger seat. Kilgo froze and he said "I’m not playing with you. Can’t you see the blood on my hands." He drove a short distance and then stopped and told her to get in the trunk. She was able to escape. Nichols left in the car and headed north on Spring Street. He drove inside the parking lot at the Apparel Mart and confronted Sung Chung in his 1997 Isuzu Trooper. Chung, who works at a jewelry store there said Nichols put a gun to his head and first ordered him to get in the passenger seat, and then to the floor board. Chung said as Nichols was pulling out of the garage, he ordered him to give him his jacket so he could change his appearance. It was while Nichols was changing into the jacket that Chung saw an opportunity and unlocked the passenger door and jump out before the car exited the lot. Nichols drove to the Centennial parking lot across from CNN Center, at 9:20 a.m. and only 15 minutes after the first carjacking, Atlanta Journal-Constitutionreporter Don O’Briant became the final carjack victim. He pulled the SUV into a handicapped space. Nichols, who wasn't wearing a shirt, gets out of the car and asks for directions to Lenox Square. Then he pulls a gun and says "Give me the keys or I'll kill you". He ordered O'Briant out of his car and told him to get into the trunk. O'Briant refused and Nichols hits him with the gun. He hijacked O'Briant's 1987 Honda Accord. O'Briant sustained a broken wrist and received 15 stitches above his eye.
Later that day the Honda was located on the first level of the same parking deck from which it was reported stolen. Investigators suspected Nichols may have abandoned the car after spotting an easier target, taking the owner with him to avoid being reported. Police tried to determine if there were any missing persons or stolen vehicle reported from the area, but their efforts were be hampered by the fact that the NCAA Southeastern Conference basketball tournament was taking place a few blocks away and thousands of out-of-town visitors were in the area at the time. Police then recovered security camera images taken Friday morning inside a stairwell in the parking deck which showed a shirtless Nichols putting on a jacket taken from O'Briant's car as he went to a lower level and disappeared.Security camera images did not yield clues as to how Nichols left the parking garage.
Nichols was featured on [http://www.amw.com/fugitives/brief.cfm?id=30703 America's Most Wanted] that night and the manhunt expanded.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard's office later announced that a 911 call had been received from a man claiming to be Nichols as the late-afternoon news conference was being televised. Nichols threatened to kill Assistant District Attorney [Gayle Abramson and Assistant District Attorney Ash Joshi who were prosecuting his rape case.
Governor Sonny Perdueannounced that there was a reward of approximately $65,000 for information leading to Nichols' arrest. [cite news| title=Hunt on for Atlanta Courthouse Shooter| work=Fox News| url= http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,150201,00.html] The city of Atlanta was in a virtual lockdown following the shootings. Hundreds of officers in cruisers and helicopters swarmed the area in the search of the suspect setting up roadblocks at major intersections in downtown and midtown. More than 100 state troopers and officers from several agencies, including the FBI, were assisting in the search, but there were few leads, said G.D. Stiles, a Fulton County deputy chief. [cite news| title=Manhunt for courthouse killer| work=CBS News|url=http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/03/12/national/main679741.shtml] Offers of help from officers on their days off were pouring in. Law enforcement also cast a net outside the city, and patrol cars were being positioned on median strips along I-75 and I-285. Public schools in the area were secured, and people inside the courthouse were not allowed to leave until around 11:30 a.m. Friday after authorities locked everyone inside and performed a thorough check of the building.
Atlanta police Chief Richard Pennington announced it was believed that Nichols took a MARTA train north. It was later learned that Nichols traveled on foot from Centennial Parking garage to the 5 Points MARTA station which is less than a block from the the parking deck. Police later located a witness, Michal Taylor, who said she was on the train with Nichols that morning. She was the only person on a MARTA train when Nichols boarded at the Five Points station shortly after the shootings. Taylor said Nichols was wearing a jacket that didn't fit, no shirt and he was sweating profusely. Taylor did not recognize Nichols because she had not seen any of the news coverage that morning. Surveillance video was later recovered showing Nichols walking through the station at 9:57am.
There was an incident at approximately 10:18pm where Nichols attacked 2 people at the Summit at Lenox (now the Heights at Lenox) apartments at 3200 Lenox Road. The apartments were near the Lenox MARTA subway station in northern Atlanta's popular Buckhead neighborhood. Nichols tried to kidnap Iman Adan as she was walking towards her apartment after leaving the gym. He pulled a gun on her and told her he needed to use her apartment as a hiding place. But after taking her to the apartment, he was surprised by the woman’s boyfriend Shelton Warren, who was already inside the apartment. Warren pushed Adan inside and started to wrestle with Nichols in the hallway. The two continued to fight and Warren could hear a hysterical Adan talking to a 911 operator. Nichols could hear Adan calling police, Warren said. “If I heard it, he heard it,” Warren said. [cite news| title=Witness describes gunpoint encounter with Nichols| work=AJC| url=http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/atlanta/stories/2008/10/02/brian_nichols_trial.html] Nichols struck Warren in the forehead with the gun he was holding and then fled in search of another victim.
Around 7:00am Saturday March 12th carpenters arriving for work find U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent David G. Wilhelm dead in his unfinished house. It was reported that Wilhelm had been shot and killed late Friday night at his new home at 962 Canter Road in the Buckhead section of
Atlanta. Canter Road is located across the street from the Summit at Lenox apartments. Wilhelm was working alone laying tile in the bathroom in the home, which was under construction, at the time of his slaying, said Kenneth Smith, special agent in charge of the ICE office. [cite news|title=Atlanta courthouse killings suspect captured|publisher=CNN |url= http://www.cnn.com/2005/LAW/03/12/atlanta.shooting/] Agent Wilhelm's body was found in a back bedroom and he had been shot one time in the abdomen. It was apparent he had been robbed because the pockets in his pants were turned inside out and some loose change was scattered on the floor. One spent shell casing was found next to the body. Agent Wilhelm's wallet with his badge, his gun and his blue Chevrolet pickup truckwere stolen.
Gwinnett County 9-1-1received a call saying Nichols was the at the Bridgewater Apartments in Duluth, Georgia, approximately 27 miles north of Atlanta and 15 miles north of Buckhead, in Gwinnett County. [http://www.gwinnettcounty.com/cgi-bin/gwincty/egov/ep/gcbrowse.do?channelId=-536881951&pageTypeId=536880236 Gwinnett Police] , the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms responded to the scene. The Gwinnett PD SWATteam quickly surrounded the apartment. After some time, Nichols walked out of the apartment waving a white towel and surrendered peacefully to the SWAT Team 26 hours after the rampage began. Atlanta police chief Richard Penningtonadmitted surprise that Nichols surrendered peacefully. Authorities recovered the 3 stolen firearms and Agent Wilhelm's wallet from inside the apartment. Agent Wilhelm's Chevrolet truck was found about two miles away from the apartment at a nearby industrial complex.
It was later learned that around 2am on March 12th Nichols approached a woman named
Ashley Smithin the parking lot of the Bridgewater Apartments. He pointed a gun at her and said "If you do what I say, I won't kill you". He forced her inside her apartment and reportedly told her that he was a wanted man. Nichols forced her into the bathroom and tied her up with an electrical cord and duct tape. He placed a hand towel over her head while he took a shower (so that she wouldn't have to watch him). She was sitting on a stool with the towel around her eyes when she told him about her five-year-old daughter Paige and how she was supposed to visit her that day. Thinking she may never see her daughter again, she tried to reason with him.
Smith was held hostage for several hours in her apartment, during which time Nichols requested marijuana, but Smith told him she only had "ice" (
methamphetamine). In her book "Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero", Smith revealed that she “had been struggling with a methamphetamine addiction when she was taken hostage,” and the last time she used meth “was 36 hours before Nichols held a gun to her and entered her home. Nichols wanted her to use the drug with him, but she refused.” [cite news| title=Culture Digest: Ashley Smith gave kidnapper crystal meth, she says in book| date= September 28, 2005|accessdate=2007-01-22| author=Erin Curry| work=Baptist Press| url= http://baptistpress.com/bpnews.asp?ID=21740] Instead, she chose to read to him from the Bibleand Rick Warren's " The Purpose Driven Life". She tried to convince Nichols to turn himself in by sharing with him how her husband "had died in her arms four years earlier after being stabbed during a brawl."cite news|title=Shooting suspect’s hostage: I gave him meth|publisher=The Associated Press | work=MSNBC | date=Sept 27, 2005|accessdate=2007-01-22|url= http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9505849/] Smith also writes that she asked Nichols “if he wanted to see the danger of drugs and lifted up her tank top several inches to reveal a five-inch scar down the center of her torso — the aftermath of a car wreckcaused by drug-induced psychosis. She says she let go of the steering wheel when she heard a voice saying, ‘Let go and let God.’” When news of his crimes was reported on television, Nichols looked to the ceiling and asked the Lord to forgive him. Nichols said he needed to get the stolen truck away from the apartments so he told Smith to follow him in her car while he drove Agent Wilhelm's pickup truck away from the apartment complex. She asked whether she could bring her cell phone and he said she could but she never placed a call for help. She picked him up after he dropped off the truck and drove back to her home with him, she said. Her decision had a courageous purpose: She feared that he would kill more people if she did not do what he said. She had taken it upon herself to end the manhunt. After they returned to her apartment Smith cooked breakfast for Nichols. She began to ask him if she could leave to go see her daughter and he finally agreed. When Nichols let Smith leave her apartment that morning to visit her daughter, Smith placed a call to 9-1-1at 9:50am.
Police initially thought that Smith may have had a prior relationship with Nichols but later learned she chosen at random. "She's a remarkable lady," said Maj. Bart Hulsey, commander of Gwinnett County's SWAT team. "She managed to make a rapport with him and made herself a person, not just an object, and she has an amazing capability for survival." But Smith downplayed her efforts and later said "Throughout my time with Mr. Nichols, I continued to rely [on] my faith in God. God has helped me through tough times before, and he'll help me now," she told reporters in Augusta, Georgia. "It's natural to focus on the conclusion of any story, but my role was really very small in the grand scheme of things. The real heroes were the judicial and law enforcement officials who gave their lives and those who risked their lives to bring this to an end," she said. [cite news| title=Nichols to make court appearance today| work=CNN.com| url= http://www.cnn.com/2005/LAW/03/14/atlanta.shooting/]
On March 25th 2005 Ashley Smith received $70,000 in reward money for helping with Nichols capture. Smith received $25,000 from the U.S. Marshals Office, $20,000 from the FBI, $10,000 from Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue's office, $5,000 from the Georgia Sheriffs' Association, $5,000 from the Georgia Fraternal Order of Police and $5,000 from the city of Atlanta. She previously received $2,500 from the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police. [cite news| title=Ashley Smith Collects $70,000 Reward| work=About.com| aurthor:Charles Montaldo| url= http://crime.about.com/b/2005/03/25/ashley-smith-collects-70000-reward.htm]
After his arrest, Nichols was taken to a FBI field office in Decatur, Georgia where he was initially held on a federal charge of possession of a firearm by a person under indictment. Nichols was then transferred to the Atlanta Police station where he was interviewed by Atlanta Police Detective Vincent Velazquez. Nichols confessed on video and detailed his crimes over the three-and-a-half-hour statement he made to police without any lawyer present. Nichols was in custody for about two hours when he signed a waiver and agreed to make a videotaped statement about the courthouse shootings. Nichols told police he felt like a "soldier on a mission" exacting revenge on a judicial system he feels is unfair to African-Americans. He feared he was about to go to prison for a rape he claims he didn't commit and grew weary of awaiting trial in jail and looking at a sea of black faces. He describes how he flung the much smaller female deputy into the concrete wall like a rag doll. After taking her weapon instead of escaping down nearby stairs, he ran across a skybridge to hunt down the judge in his rape case. He said Barnes was nice, but part of a larger system of injustice. He also killed the judge's court reporter when she stood to check on the judge. He said he shot the sheriff's sergeant outside the courthouse so he could escape and he later shot the federal agent in Buckhead while attempting to steal his car. He also admitted holding Ashley Smith hostage in her apartment before he surrendered.
"I was actually very impressed that they didn't shoot me when I walked out the door," Nichols told police in the videotaped interview on March 12, 2005. “He was very up front and very detailed and meticulous in telling me what happened,” Velazquez said. “It was one of the easiest interviews I’ve ever done.” [cite news| title=Brian Nichols' family braces for trial| work=Atlanta Journal Constitution| url= http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/stories/2008/03/11/nichols0311.html] [cite news| title=Nichols’ judge: Mental illness did not lead to confession| work=AJC| url=http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/atlanta/stories/2008/09/02/nichols_confession_evidence.html]
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howardsaid he saw Nichols shortly after he was taken into custody and he appeared to be "someone who was proud of what he had done -- that he did not show remorse."
May 5, 2005, he was indicted by a Fulton County grand jury on 54 counts including murder, felony murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, theft, carjacking, and escape from authorities. [cite news| title=Grand Jury Indictment| url=http://www.11alive.com/includes/art/news/nichols/nichols_indictment.pdf]
Nichols subsequently pled
not guiltyto the charges on May 17. Jury selection began in January 2007. Nichols' attorneys disclosed at that time that they wanted to defend Nichols on the basis of mental health. They did not disclose any further information. [cite news| title=Judge Seeks Nichols Military Records| date= January 26, 2007|accessdate=2007-01-28| author=Harry R. Weber| publisher=Associated Press|work=boston.com| url= http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2007/01/26/judge_seeks_nichols_military_records/] Nichols' pre-trial hearing commenced mid-September 2007. His defense attorneys submitted that they were not receiving enough funding. Nichols' attorneys attributed this to the Georgia legislature limiting state funding for defense attorneys, the prosecution continuing to interview witnesses (which the defense then must interview) and the complication of factoring in the mental health defense. His trial was expected to commence October 2, 2007, but was delayed (see Trial delayed, below). [cite news| title=Brian Nichols' Attorneys say they have no funds left| date= September 17, 2007|accessdate=2007-09-23| author=Beth Warren| work=Atlanta Journal Constitution| url=http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/atlanta/stories/2007/09/17/nichols_0917.html]
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced he would seek the death penalty. Nichols is expected to become Georgia's most expensive defendant, with his case likely topping $5 million for the prosecution and defense combined. The judge and Standards Council assigned Nichols four attorneys. In addition to the costs for Nichols' defense, the shootings have also gouged the budget for Fulton County, which is on the hook for at least $10 million in settlement fees to victims' families.
Barnes' widow won a $5.2 million lawsuit and county commissioners agreed to pay $5 million to Brandau's daughter, Christina Scholte, who also sued.
The trial could last for months. As many as 600 witnesses could be called, and written evidence is over 50,000 pages.
Nichols' family reaction
Nichols' parents were not available for immediate reaction, as they were traveling abroad in
Africawhere Nichols' mother works. She is a former agent for the Internal Revenue Service and is helping set up a tax system. Nichols' father is retired from the restaurant business. She became aware of her son's case via a CNNbroadcast while in Tanzania. She remains in contact with Nichols' criminal attorney Barry Hazen via
Nichols' brother Mark was very upset, quoting "Everyone knows me as the brother of the person who killed those people".
"The only thing I can say is, our hearts go out to the people in Georgia," said Reginald Smalls, Nichols' uncle. "I really mean that ... Brian is a nice young man, as far as we know. I don't know what happened."
Childhood friend Maxine Glover described Nichols as a "normal young child playing with the other kids in the block, very well mannered, had no problems with him at all".
His daughter who is in high school says that she was shocked.
Nichols' father Gene Nichols was interviewed at the start of the death penalty trial, said he has been surrounded by sadness every day since the March 11, 2005, killings.
"It never leaves you," he said Friday. "I don't think it's going to get any better. You try to go to sleep at night, and if you can, that's the only time it leaves you." Gene Nichols said he and his wife have also reached out to the widow of Judge Barnes to let her know they are sorry for her loss. Gene Nichols said his son was mentally ill the day he shot a judge, court reporter, sheriff's sergeant and federal agent. He is praying at least one juror decides to spare his son's life.
But he also believes a life in prison could be worse.
"I really don't know if he's afraid of death," he said of his son. "I'm not. Death sometimes is better than living." [cite news| title=Brian Nichols' family braces for trial| work=Atlanta Journal Constitution| url= http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/stories/2008/03/11/nichols0311.html]
Courthouse security concerns
The shooting deaths of three people in a courthouse by Nichols led to intense debate about the state of security in public buildings, especially courtrooms.
There was intense controversy about the security practices and staffing at the courthouse which unfolded over the next few months. [cite news| title=Timleine of court security fallout| work=11Alive| url=http://www.11alive.com/news/local/nichols/story.aspx?storyid=91066]
March 24, 2005 Fulton County judges order their own security review of courthouse security.
March 27, 2005 A security audit of the Fulton County Courthouse begins.
March 31, 2005 The union representing Fulton County deputies recommend courthouse safety upgrades, including improving training and equipment.
April 22, 2005 A 25-member task force begins looking into courthouse security.
May 9, 2005 The task force announces key recommendations to improve courthouse security, including installing cameras in all courtrooms, using two deputies to escort high-risk inmates, using proper restraints on inmates, and the use of special doors in courthouse holding cells that allow deputies to handcuff inmates before they enter the cell.
July 8, 2005 The Fulton County Courthouse Security Commission releases its report outlining security mistakes made on March 11, 2005. The report found that the courthouse was understaffed by security personnel. While about 235 deputies were assigned to courthouse, the report said there should be over 300. The report recommended that civilian bailiffs be used for administrative duties so deputies can focus on security. It also recommended that panic buttons be installed under courtroom desks and that an emergency plan be in place in case of a security breach at the courthouse. [cite news| title=Security Commission Report| url=http://www.11alive.com/includes/art/news/nichols/nichols_security_commission.pdf]
August 8, 2005 Eight Fulton County deputies are fired due to their actions during the courthouse shootings.
October 5, 2005 The Fulton County Sheriff's Department internal review of the courthouse shootings is released.
An episode of "
American Justice" titled "Murder in the Court" deals with famous legal-related murders including the one done by Brian Nichols and the attack on the Chicago federal judge.
Over 3 years after the shooting, Nichols' trial has yet to begin. It was reported on
January 30, 2008, that Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller, who took on the case after local judges recused themselves due to their friendship with the murdered judge, has himself decided to step down. Fuller had suspended the trial indefinitely because the state public defender's office, amid a budget crunch, had cut off funding to Nichols' lawyers. He agreed to be interviewed by CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who incorporated remarks made during the interview into an article subsequently published in the January 30 issue of " The New Yorker". In it, Fuller said the "only defense" open to Nichols' defense attorneys was an insanity defense, "because everyone in the world knows he did it."
In his letter to the chief judge for Fulton County Superior Court, Judge Fuller stated that "judicial impartiality, real and perceived, is a critical element of the trial process," and "in light of recent media reports, I am no longer hopeful that I can provide a trial perceived to be fair to both the state and the accused."
Nichols' eventual trial was scheduled to take place in July in the very courtroom where two of his murders were committed, but Superior Court Judge James Bodiford, brought in from nearby Cobb County, ruled that "fundamental fairness" made it necessary to move the trial to another location in Fulton County within 10 days. [cite news| title=Judge: Move gunman's trial from crime scene| work=CNN| url=http://edition.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/07/10/courthouse.shootings/index.html]
While awaiting trial it was discovered that Nichols is suspected of plotting a second escape attempt. District Attorney Paul Howard's office confirmed that the Attorney General was asked to appoint an outside prosecutor to investigate Nichols' security at the Fulton County jail. The independent investigation so far has discovered that Nichols allegedly got direct and indirect help while in custody in Fulton County, not only from his girlfriend, but also from two deputies who were reportedly paid cash for favors, a paralegal who worked for Nichols' lawyers and Nichols' brother.
Reports said Nichols asked his long-distance girlfriend Lisa Meneguzzo to go to a Home Depot store and make a purchase of construction tools including a masonry saw, a circular saw, and a jack. Nichols is said to have plotted an escape by sawing his way out of a cement block and exiting. The reported plot did not get past the planning stages and Nichols was moved to DeKalb County jail in October 2006. [cite news| title=State: Nichols' Phone Calls 'Damning'| work=11Alive| url=http://www.11alive.com/news/article_news.aspx?storyid=92973] [cite news| title=Report: Brian Nichols Had Plans to Escape| work=Fox 5| url=http://www.myfoxatlanta.com/myfox/pages/Home/Detail?contentId=5396584&version=2&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=TSTY&pageId=1.1.1]
On Monday, September 22, 2008, roughly 3 1/2 years after the crimes Nichols' trial began in courtroom 6B of the Atlanta Municipal Court in front of Judge Bodiford. At 11:12 a.m, Nichols officially entered his plea: not guilty by reason of insanity. Nichols’ defense team moved again to delay the trial but Bodiford refused.
“It is no surprise to the lawyers and to any observers that I am denying the continuance,” Bodiford said. “There has got to be a deadline… and we have reached our deadline.” [cite news| title=Judge tried to speed up Nichols jury selection| work=AJC| url=http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/atlanta/stories/2008/08/16/nichols_jury_trial.html?cxntlid=inform_artr] Nichols' counsel, a nationally known death-penalty litigator from Charlotte, attorney Henderson Hill, acknowledged in his opening statement to the jury that the "terrible, almost unspeakable things that happened on March 11" were "at Mr. Nichols' hands." He acknowledged that Nichols also was guilty of the rape and aggravated assault of his longtime girlfriend-the crime for which Nichols was being tried in front of Judge Barnes. The dispute is not over the details of the crimes, Henderson Hill told the jury. The key question is whether Nichols is not guilty by reason of insanity. "That's the question: whether he's crazy or delusional," he said. The delusional disorder that Henderson Hill claimed has plagued Nichols led him to believe he was in a war in which he was a slave rebelling against the United States and plantation politics. The delusional disorder that Nichols suffers, Henderson Hill said, manifested itself in Nichols' addiction to video games in which he came to believe he was a real superhero.
A jury of six black women, two white women, two black men, one white man and one Asian man are hearing the case. They were selected after a nine-week process in which more than 240 prospective jurors were questioned. Georgia taxpayers are paying the bill for Nichols case and some estimates are that it will ultimately cost taxpayers at least $5 million to prosecute and defend Nichols. In addition to the costs for Nichols' defense, the shootings have also gouged the budget for Fulton County, which is on the hook for at least $10 million in settlement fees to victims' families. Barnes' widow won a $5.2 million lawsuit last month. And county commissioners on Wednesday agreed to pay $5 million to Brandau's daughter, Christina Scholte, who also sued. [cite news| title=Courthouse shooting trial opens| work=AP| url=http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hoTcmwPPNhNioEasogYLimSGyC4gD93C0KL01]
The prosecution opening was marked by the playing of an audiotape of the gunshots that killed Fulton County Superior Court Judge Rowland W. Barnes and court reporter Julie Anne Brandau, whose tape recorder-left running-preserved her last moments of life. [http://www.wxia11.com/video/default.aspx?aid=99557] Played by lead prosecutor Kellie Hill, the tape at first began with what Hill called a moment of “regular courtroom tranquility” of a lawyer’s argument to the court — until the first BANG rang out. Then, the apparent confusion of stunned civil lawyers and a second shot, four seconds later. Shrieking erupted. “DON’T HURT ME DON’T HURT ME,” came the breathless plea of a woman. “HELP DON”T HURT ME.” The screams of Barnes’s staff attorney were recorded as Brandau fell across her, fatally shot through the head. [cite news| title=Courthouse Shooting Case Opens With Audiotape of Gunshots| work=Law.com| url=http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1202424720420] [cite news| title=Jury hears tape of courthouse shootings| work=AJC| url=http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/atlanta/stories/2008/09/22/brian_nichols_trial_tape.html]
Hill said Barnes had been shot in the head from behind. As the lawyers in the rape case fled the courtroom, they had to step over Barnes’ body. During opening statements Hill called him a "conniving, vicious, cold-blooded, remorseless, evil and extremely dangerous killer" who carefully planned the attack and methodically sought out his targets. "He's not insane," she said. "He had a plan. And we're going to bring you proof of the plan."
Early in the trial the prosecution sought to cut away at the defense plea that Nichols is not guilty by reason of insanity. On the stand Gayle Abramson Csehy, the former Fulton County prosecutor who tried Nichols twice in 2005 on charges he raped his former girlfriend said she never saw any signs of mental illness in Nichols when she met with him and his attorney during the rape trial. She said Nichols’ attorney never mentioned his client’s alleged mental illnesses, either. Asked what Nichols’ demeanor was like during the rape trial, she replied: “Confident. I hate to use a cliche, but cool, calm and collected.” Far from seeming delusional, she said, he seemed constantly alert and scheming. In the afternoon, Defense Attorney Henderson Hill probed her again and again until she finally lost her cool during a testy exchange.“I’m an attorney, and I know what your defense is,” she said. “And it is B.S.” [cite news| title=Nichols seemed sane to witness| work=AJC| url=http://www.ajc.com/services/content/printedition/2008/09/24/nicholsb.html?cxntlid=inform_sr]
The prosecution stated a primary witness, Cynthia Hall, will not be able to testify at trial. She has no memory of the last day she trusted Brian Nichols. The beating she took on March 11, 2005, left her an invalid. The former Fulton County sheriff’s deputy is now blind in her right eye and her eyelid droops. Her brain damage is causing confusion, memory problems, difficulty with speech and she has difficulty walking unassisted according to Dr. Gerald Bilsky, the assistant director for the brain injury unit at the Shepherd Center. [cite news| title=‘It was red with blood’| work=AJC| url=http://www.ajc.com/services/content/metro/stories/2008/09/26/nichols.html?cxntlid=inform_sr] [cite news| title=Like family| work=11Alive| url=http://www.11alive.com/life/community/persona.aspx?U=6687af3b79ec4cd5803ebe87961b0caf&plckController=PersonaBlog&plckScript=personaScript&plckElementId=personaDest&plckPersonaPage=BlogViewPost&plckPostId=Blog%3a6687af3b79ec4cd5803ebe87961b0cafPost%3ae931a045-d259-4937-9b76-e0f3c7a320e8&sid=sitelife.11alive.com] Witnesses testified during the trial that she was his guard and had become friendly with him. She seemed to trust him and chatted with the inmate in the manner of friends. “They seemed to be quite familiar with each other,” former Fulton County sheriff’s deputy Sharon Pauls said on the stand.. “They talked about the case, what had happened in court, they talked about their children.” Nichols seemed to have won special concessions from Hall; for example, she did not require him to wear leg shackles as was customary. [cite news| title=Deputy: Guard trusted suspect| work=AJC| url=http://www.ajc.com/services/content/printedition/2008/09/25/nichols.html?cxntlid=inform_sr]
The prosecution put forensic expert Ross Gardner on the stand to offer his findings on the crime scene at the Wilhelm home. Nichols had admitted to the shootings in a statement to police, but he claimed he fired on Wilhelm only after the off-duty federal agent pointed a gun at him. Wilhelm’s death is the only killing for which there is no witness other than Nichols. Mr. Ross found “At the moment of the gunshot to his abdomen, Mr. Wilhelm was either kneeling or standing with his upper torso leaning toward the shooter,” Gardner wrote in his report. Gardner told jurors Wilhelm was shot at an downward angle through the stomach which severed Wilhelm’s spine and paralyzed him. The bullet struck the thumb, before entering . He said that the thumb injury was not possible if Wilhelm had been gripping the pistol. Wilhelm’s Glock pistol was also found undamaged when it was recovered. Gardner said when Wilhelm fell he was face down, but not for long. Gardner also contended that a trail in the drywall dust on the floor showed Nichols turned Wilhelm over and dragged him after shooting him. The agent’s pockets were turned inside out as if they had been rifled when he was dying on the floor of the house. [cite news| title=Nichols’ team balks over forensic expert| work=AJC| url=http://www.ajc.com/services/content/printedition/2008/09/19/nichols.html?cxntlid=inform_artr] [cite news| title=Ashley Smith Testifies At Nichols Trial| work=CBS46| url=http://www.cbs46.com/news/17633999/detail.html#]
* [http://www.scangwinnett.com/LibraryArticle138.html Recording of Gwinnett County Police capturing Nichols]
* [http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/11/national/11cnd-atla.html?hp&ex=1110603600&en=369820db45b64914&ei=5094&partner=homepage Man Flees After Killing Judge and 2 Others at Atlanta Court] (subscription required)
* [http://www.cnn.com/2005/LAW/03/11/atlanta.shooting/index.html Defendant overpowers deputy, kills 3]
* [http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,150119,00.html "Judge, Two Others Killed in Atlanta Courthouse Shooting; Manhunt Continues"]
* [http://www.wsbtv.com/news/4451980/detail.html Grand Jury Indicts Nichols]
* [http://www.wtopnews.com/index.php?nid=104&sid=577679 Hostage Gave Meth to Atlanta Fugitive]
* [http://www.firstcoastnews.com/news/georgia/news-article.aspx?storyid=55862 Lawyers for Brian Nichols Back in Court for Motions] article on the trial (
April 17, 2006)
* [http://www.lexisone.com/news/ap/ap010807c.html State of the trial 2007]
* [http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-03-13-ga-courthouse_x.htm "USA Today"'s report on the incident]
* [http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/02/04/080204fa_fact_toobin Article update from the "New Yorker"] ,
February 4, 2008
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