Courthouse tightens security

Published: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 7, 2007 at 11:04 p.m.

ATLANTA — Twenty-two months after a man's rape trial ended in gunfire, his murder trial will begin amid tight security in the same courthouse complex that was the scene of the bloodshed.

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The Associated Press

This time, Brian Nichols could be sentenced to die if convicted in the killings of a judge, a sheriff's deputy, a court reporter and a federal agent. Jury selection in the murder trial begins Thursday under heightened security at the Fulton County Courthouse complex in downtown Atlanta.

"I refuse to say it's going to be business as normal," said sheriff's Maj. Antonio Johnson, who became chief of security at the courthouse a few months after the rampage.

Prosecutors allege that when Nichols was being escorted to court for the continuation of his retrial on rape charges on March 11, 2005, he beat a deputy, stole her gun and shot the other victims. He surrendered the next day after taking a woman hostage in her suburban home, authorities said.

Nichols, 35, has pleaded not guilty to a 54-count indictment that charges him with murder and other offenses. His lawyers haven't elaborated on how they plan to counter the overwhelming evidence that includes numerous witnesses, surveillance video and Nichols' three-hour statement to investigators after his arrest when police say he confessed to the killings.

The trial will take place in a first-floor courtroom connected by a walkway to the building that houses the eighth-floor courtroom where the shooting started.

Courtroom 8H — where Nichols' rape retrial was held and where Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes and court reporter Julie Ann Brandau were killed — hasn't been used for cases since the killings.

The trial could last six months or more, including up to four months of jury selection and orientation. About 3,500 Fulton County residents were summoned for the jury pool.

Nichols' lead attorney, Gary Parker, said he hopes for "a fair trial. That's it."

District Attorney Paul Howard declined to comment.

Several deputies were fired over the shootings, and some victims' relatives and other courthouse employees have sued some of the fired deputies and the county.

Nichols' first rape trial ended in a mistrial because the jury was deadlocked, and then the retrial was declared a mistrial because of the shootings. A third trial has not been set.

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