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Expenses postpone trial in deadly rampage

March 22, 2007|From the Associated Press

ATLANTA — A judge postponed the murder trial Wednesday of a man accused in a 2005 courthouse rampage because of problems the state has had funding his defense.

Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller said the funding situation forced him to put off the individual questioning of potential jurors in Brian Nichols' case until Sept. 10. Hundreds of potential jurors filled out questionnaires in January and were to have been questioned in person last month, but Fuller delayed it then because of defense funding problems.

Prosecutor Christopher Quinn argued that the trial should go forward as scheduled, saying plenty of money had been spent already by the defense.

Nichols, 35, could face the death penalty if convicted in the four killings on March 11, 2005.

Authorities say he was being escorted to a courtroom in the Fulton County Courthouse in downtown Atlanta for his retrial in a rape case when he beat a deputy and stole her gun. He is accused of killing the judge presiding over the rape trial, a court reporter, a sheriff's deputy who chased him outside and a federal agent at a home a few miles away. Prosecutors say he took a woman hostage the next day in her suburban Atlanta home, then surrendered.

At last count, his defense attorneys had cost the state public defender's office $1.4 million in fees and expenses. The average Georgia death penalty case from the beginning through the initial appeal following a conviction costs the defender's office about $400,000.

"The issue of funding for indigent capital defense in Georgia and the complexities of this case have prevented the orderly and uninterrupted process of this case to trial," Fuller said.

Nichols, through his attorneys, has offered in writing to change his plea to guilty to murder in exchange for the state taking the death penalty off the table, but Dist. Atty. Paul Howard has rejected the idea.

Howard has said he believes a jury should decide Nichols' sentence.

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