Prosecutors could have scaled down their case against Brian Nichols without compromising it, said Hilton Fuller, a retired state Superior Court judge from suburban Atlanta.
The trial should be used to shine a light on how the prosecution's case affects the cost of an adequate defense in death penalty cases, Mr. Fuller told an American Bar Association panel on capital cases.
"There's a relationship between what the prosecution spends and what the defense needs," Mr. Fuller said.
Prosecutors presented a 54-count indictment, including four murders, for crimes that took place at 13 separate crime scenes, and they identified 487 witnesses, Mr. Fuller said.
Defense lawyers have an obligation to investigate what those witnesses would say at trial, Mr. Fuller said.
But when state money to the defense team was cut off amid controversy over its $1.8 million bill and a state budget crunch, "that investigation simply is not going to happen," Mr. Fuller said. "Prosecutors could have proceeded with one or two counts. Ten witnesses could prove that case."
Mr. Fuller suspended the trial when the money was cut off. He was criticized by state lawmakers and others for his handling of the case. He stepped down in January after he was quoted in The New Yorker magazine saying "everyone in the world knows he did it."
State lawmakers approved new measures this year to ban senior judges such as Mr. Fuller -- who do not face re-election -- from hearing death penalty cases. They also tightened the public defender system's budget.
Mr. Fuller said political pressure in a capital case is intense and rarely works in a defendant's favor. Yet judges have to ensure a fair proceeding, no matter how unpopular, he said.
"I was doing my job and I would do the same things again," he said.
Mr. Nichols is charged with killing four people March 11, 2005, in a spree that began at the county courthouse in downtown Atlanta.