Escape plot points to Nichols

Associated Press
Brian Nichols (center) is awaiting trial in an escape from the Atlanta courthouse in 2005, in which he is accused of killing four people. Documents say he also plotted an escape from jail.

ATLANTA --- The man awaiting trial for a bloody escape at the Atlanta courthouse in 2005 is suspected of enlisting his pen-pal girlfriend, a paralegal and at least two sheriff's deputies in a scheme to break out again, according to law enforcement documents obtained by The Associated Press.


Brian Nichols allegedly plotted to cut his way through the cinderblock walls of the Fulton County Jail, jump into a waiting van and make his way to his girlfriend up North. Mr. Nichols evidently used his charm to draw his girlfriend into the plot, while some of the other players were bribed with cash and the prospect of romance with the woman, according to the documents, which include statements from the girlfriend and letters she exchanged with Mr. Nichols.

The alleged breakout attempt apparently did not get past the planning stages, and Mr. Nichols was abruptly moved to another jail in October 2006 for reasons that are not entirely clear.

Special prosecutor Ken Wynne, who has been reviewing the allegations since April, would not discuss the investigation Thursday, and no charges have been filed.

"My God," attorney James E. Voyles, who represents the widow of a sheriff's deputy Mr. Nichols is charged with killing in the shooting spree, said of the allegations. "It's shocking. I would be surprised if there were not indictments."

Reached by telephone Friday, one of Mr. Nichols' attorneys refused to comment.

Exactly how the latest alleged plot came to authorities' attention is not explained, but they had been monitoring his conversations over a jailhouse phone, and later granted the girlfriend, Lisa Meneguzzo, 38, of Beacon Falls, Conn., immunity from prosecution. The documents obtained by the AP consist largely of what she told investigators.

Ms. Meneguzzo said she began writing to Mr. Nichols, 36, after his arrest in the courthouse shootings, talked with him by phone and visited him a number of times in jail, where they held hands and kissed, and where she once sat in such a way that he could look up her skirt.

She told investigators that Mr. Nichols asked her to go to a Home Depot store and buy a masonry saw, a circular saw, a jack and other tools capable of cutting through 11 to 12 inches of cinderblock. It is not clear from the records whether the tools were ever bought.

In a letter to Ms. Meneguzzo, Mr. Nichols said his plan once he got out was to hop into a cargo van driven by a friend who would pose as a Red Cross volunteer. He said there would be boxes in the back he could hide in.

The documents make no mention of any attempts to obtain a gun.

AS FOR THE OTHER alleged conspirators, Ms. Meneguzzo told investigators that a paralegal who once worked for Mr. Nichols' defense team, Tamela Hysten, gave Mr. Nichols pages from a book that were about escape and evasion.

Ms. Meneguzzo said she also helped recruit a deputy at the jail, David Ramsey, who was responsible for guarding Mr. Nichols, saying that he made advances toward her in a jail elevator and that she used that to her advantage.

After Mr. Ramsey resigned, another deputy who was dating Ms. Hysten became their "main man," Ms. Meneguzzo said. She said she didn't know the deputy's name.

Ms. Meneguzzo said she paid Mr. Ramsey $300 to $500 every four to six weeks for an unspecified period of time. She said she also gave money to Ms. Hysten, including a blank check, and separately gave Ms. Hysten three wire payments of $500 to give to the second deputy. The documents include a canceled check for $500 made out to Ms. Hysten and signed by Ms. Meneguzzo.

In a letter to Ms. Meneguzzo, Mr. Nichols said morale among the guards at the jail was low, as was their pay, factors he believed might work to his advantage.

Ms. Meneguzzo said she was able to pass Mr. Nichols a cell phone, and Mr. Ramsey helped keep it charged. Beyond that, what role Mr. Ramsey or other deputies were supposed to play in the breakout itself was not clear from the documents.

Prosecutors previously disclosed in court papers a transcript of a June 2006 call between Mr. Nichols and Ms. Meneguzzo in which the inmate asked her to describe the location of a tower and barbed wire around the jail.

Ms. Meneguzzo said Mr. Nichols' brother Mark was also in on the plot, but she did not specify his role beyond saying he sent her a package that she forwarded to the paralegal, Ms. Hysten.

Ms. Meneguzzo declined to comment when reached by phone.

Mr. Ramsey told AP he knew about the cell phone and charged it a couple of times. He also said Ms. Meneguzzo had approached him about "trying to find somebody to bring some type of tool to help (Nichols) get out of jail."

BACKGROUND: Brian Nichols faces murder and other charges in the March 11, 2005, escape and shooting rampage that began at a downtown Atlanta courthouse and left four people dead. He eventually surrendered after forcing his way into the home of Ashley Smith, a former Augusta resident. DEVELOPMENTS: - In November, the judge overseeing the murder trial delayed it until adequate funds are secured for Mr. Nichols' lawyers. - In April, a special prosecutor started reviewing allegations that Mr. Nichols plotted another escape. - In October 2006, he was transferred from Fulton County Jail to DeKalb County's jail. WHAT'S NEXT: Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty if Mr. Nichols is convicted of murder.