ATLANTA - Courthouse shooting suspect Brian Nichols told authorities he lashed out because his girlfriend had a relationship with the couple's pastor, an FBI agent testified Monday.
Agent Joseph Fonseca's testimony came during a hearing in which Mr. Nichols' lawyers were seeking to have the court throw out their client's statements to police after his arrest the day after the March 11, 2005, shootings.
They've argued that Mr. Nichols was denied counsel before he made incriminating statements about the killings of a judge, a court reporter, a sheriff's deputy and a federal agent. Prosecutors have argued, however, that Mr. Nichols waived his right to counsel and spoke voluntarily.
There was no immediate ruling by Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller.
Agent Fonseca testified that during a 20-minute ride with Mr. Nichols from the apartment where he was arrested to the FBI office, Mr. Nichols spoke mostly about sports and his love of college basketball. At one point at the beginning of the ride, he told the agent he wanted to make a statement, Agent Fonseca said.
"This whole thing started because my girlfriend slept with our pastor," Agent Fonseca quoted Mr. Nichols as saying.
Agent Fonseca did not immediately reveal during the hearing what else was said during the ride or when Mr. Nichols was questioned by other agents and Atlanta police detectives.
Another FBI agent, Jeffrey Holmes, testified that Mr. Nichols never asked for a lawyer before speaking to authorities. However, a third FBI agent, Cynthia Myers, testified that Mr. Nichols was in FBI custody for two hours before being advised of his rights to a lawyer, and was not told until after he made the comment about his girlfriend.
A portion of a videotape of Mr. Nichols' three-hour police interview was played in court, but only the part that shows him being advised of his rights.
When Mr. Nichols was being retried on charges that he raped the off-and-on girlfriend, he grabbed a deputy's gun and went on the shooting spree, authorities say. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. His murder trial has been scheduled for Oct. 3 in the same courthouse complex where the spree started.
Mr. Nichols testified during his first rape trial that he was dating two women: the alleged victim and another woman who gave birth to his son three days before the shooting spree.
The alleged rape victim testified during the first trial that Mr. Nichols was suicidal at times about her threats to end their seven-year relationship. She also said Mr. Nichols at one point attacked the minister from the couple's church, whom she had recently started dating.
A defense request to throw out the murder charges against Mr. Nichols is among several motions that will be argued during a series of hearings this week.