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Published: Thursday, 12/11/2008

Judge orders jurors in Atlanta murder trial to persevere


ATLANTA A judge ordered jurors Thursday to return Friday morning and keep trying to reach a unanimous decision on how to sentence a man who killed four in a shooting rampage that started in a downtown Atlanta courthouse.

Jurors in Brian Nichols trial told Superior Court Judge James Bodiford they were split 9-3, but did not say which way the majority is leaning.

Nichols was found guilty last month of murder and dozens of other counts in the 2005 killings.

Georgia law requires that a death sentence must be a unanimous jury decision. If at least seven of the 12 jurors vote for death or for life in prison without parole, the judge must impose a life sentence but can choose whether it is with or without possibility of parole.

Nichols, 37, confessed to the killings but claimed he was legally insane and that he believed he was a slave rebelling against his masters. Prosecutors argued that he concocted the delusions to avoid the death penalty.

Nichols was being escorted to his trial for rape when he beat a deputy guarding him and stole her gun. He burst into the courtroom and shot and killed Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes, court reporter Julie Ann Brandau, and moments later Deputy Hoyt Teasley.

He fled downtown Atlanta and managed to evade hundreds of police officers searching for him overnight. In Atlanta s posh Buckhead neighborhood, he shot and killed federal agent David Wilhelm at a house the agent was renovating.

Nichols was captured the next day in suburban Gwinnett County after a woman he took hostage alerted police to his whereabouts.

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