Brian Nichols. Courthouse Killer

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The Brian Nichols CaseOn March 11, 2005, a man on trial for rape, Brian Nichols, overpowered a female deputy, took her gun, and went into the courtroom where his trial was being held and shot the judge and a court reporter at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta (Brian Nichols: Atlanta Courthouse Killer, 2005). Nichols was also charged with killing a sheriff's deputy who tried to stop his escape from the courthouse and shooting a federal agent at his home a few miles from the courthouse (Brian Nichols: Atlanta Courthouse Killer, 2005). Nichols' escape set off one of the largest manhunts in Georgia history, which ended after he took Ashley Smith hostage in her apartment and she convinced him to let her leave and then called 9-1-1 (Brian Nichols: Atlanta Courthouse Killer, 2005).

The day before the shootings, the judge and prosecutors in Nichols' case requested extra security after investigators found a shank — or homemade knife — fashioned from a doorknob in each of Nichols' shoes (Atlanta Slayings Suspect Surrenders, 2005).

Officials did not say what measures were taken to beef up security, but said deputy Cynthia Hall was alone when she escorted Nichols to his retrial on rape and other charges (Atlanta Slayings Suspect Surrenders, 2005). The law requires that defendants not be handcuffed as they enter the courtroom to make sure the sight of cuffs doesn't unfairly influence the jury (Atlanta Slayings Suspect Surrenders, 2005). The shootings had immediately raised questions about security procedures in the courthouse (Dewan, 2005). The legal issue at hand is that the law prohibits defendants from being handcuffed as they enter the courtroom so that the judge and/or jury are not unfairly influenced by the sight of the cuffs. Yet they definitely could have “beefed up” the security of the defendant a lot more than they did. Only one female deputy, Deputy Cynthia Hall, escorted the uncuffed, 6-foot-1, 200 pound, accused rapist, who was just caught the day before with homemade “shanks” in his shoes, to the courtroom (Dewan, 2005). Law enforcement definitely made an error in judgement when they decided to let one deputy escort the defendant. Even though the law prohibited them from cuffing Brian Nichols as he entered the courtroom, they definitely could have upped their security of him a lot more. I understand the point about avoiding prejudicing judges and juries, but at the same time I think innocent people’s safety should be the number one priority. Of course the other legal issue here is cold-blooded murder, yet this is not really an “issue” because there were so many witnesses that Brian Nichols would definitely not beat this one in court.

A civil suit definitely could be filed by the judge’s family and by the court reporter’s family in this case. It could be brought against the Fulton County Police Department for failing to take appropriate precautions that would ensure the safety and well-being of everyone in that building.

Brian Nichols avoided the death penalty when a jury deciding his fate deadlocked after four days of deliberation. The jury was split 9-3 in favor of giving Nichols the death penalty rather than life in prison (Montaldo, 2008). Superior Court Judge James Bodiford had only two options in sentencing Nichols, life without parole or life with the possibility of parole. He sentenced Nichols to life without the possibility of parole or probation on several charges (Montaldo, 2008).

References:Atlanta Slayings Suspect Surrenders, (2005). Retrieved online May 13, 2009 from: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,150233,00.html.

Brian Nichols: Atlanta Courthouse Killer, (2005). Retrieved online May 13, 2009 from: http://crime.about.com/od/current/a/brian_nichols.htm.

Dewan, S. (2005). Suspect Kills 3, Including Judge, at Atlanta Court. Retrieved online May 13, 2009 from: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/12/national/12shooting.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1.

Montaldo, C. (2008). Atlanta Courthouse Killer Avoids Death Penalty. Retrieved online May 13, 2009 from: http://crime.about.com/b/2008/12/12/atlanta-courthouse-killer-avoids-death-penalty.htm.