ATLANTA --- A judge Wednesday said he is "very likely" to order a full hearing be held that would address whether the lead prosecutor on accused courthouse shooter Brian Nichols' rape case engaged in criminal activity.
Superior Court Judge James Bodiford acknowledged that if he holds an evidentiary hearing and witnesses are called to testify, he will have difficult decisions to make.
Mr. Nichols' lawyers have asked Judge Bodiford to bar District Attorney Paul Howard's office from seeking the death penalty and from using evidence from the rape case in Mr. Nichols' murder trial, which is set to resume July 10.
Mr. Nichols is charged with escaping from custody in 2005 during his rape trial at the Fulton County Courthouse and killing the judge presiding over the trial, a court reporter chronicling the proceeding, a sheriff's deputy who chased him outside and a federal agent he encountered at a home a few miles away that night. He surrendered the next day after allegedly taking a woman hostage in her suburban Atlanta home.
Judge Bodiford did not issue a decision on the defense requests or say when he plans to decide on an evidentiary hearing. He did make clear that whatever happens, the repeatedly delayed murder trial will move forward on schedule. He denied a defense request Wednesday to postpone the trial yet again.
"The trial is really going forward on July 10," Judge Bodiford said. "There's no question about that."
The murder trial is scheduled to take place in the same downtown Atlanta courthouse complex where the March 11, 2005, shooting spree began. Efforts to move the trial to a nearby courthouse have not been successful.
The defense has accused Mr. Howard of improperly withholding information about police recordings implicating Gayle Abramson, the prosecutor on the rape case, in criminal activity. The details about the allegation have been filed under seal.
Ms. Abramson has called the allegation inaccurate, and Mr. Howard has said he wasn't obligated to disclose it to Mr. Nichols' lawyers.
If an evidentiary hearing is held, it would likely include testimony from witnesses, including current and former members of the district attorney's office.
The defense has said it will argue at trial that Mr. Nichols suffered a "delusional compulsion" that "overmastered" his will to resist committing the killings. They have said he should, therefore, be found not guilty by reason of mental illness.
Prosecutors sought Wednesday to secure an order to allow them to get records of a psychiatric examination they believe Mr. Nichols had two years ago. Judge Bodiford said he would consider the request.