Judge sentences courthouse shooter to life

ATLANTA -- A judge on Saturday sentenced the man who killed four people in a brazen courthouse escape to multiple life sentences with no chance of parole and hundreds more years on more than fifty charges.

Brian Nichols, 37, was found guilty last month of murder and dozens of other counts for the March 2005 rampage that led from a downtown courthouse to an Atlanta neighborhood and ended with his capture the next day in a suburban county.

He will likely die in prison after Superior Court Judge James Bodiford handed down the maximum sentence on each charge, to run consecutively.

"If there was any more I could give you, I would," the judge said.

Nichols was spared multiple death sentences when his jury failed to reach a unanimous decision recommending the punishment, as required by Georgia law.

The sentence caps more than three years of efforts to bring Nichols to justice since his arrest that were repeatedly bogged down by legal complications, frustrating victims' relatives and angering state legislators over the costs.

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 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, Ashley Smith Robinson, alerted police to his whereabouts. Smith Robinson was credited with bringing a peaceful ending to the rampage by appealing to Nichols' religious beliefs and giving him illegal drugs.

Nichols, who was raised in Baltimore, 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.

In closing arguments Monday, prosecutors asked the jury for a death sentence while defense lawyers urged jurors to avoid vengeance.

"That's the kind of vengeful, recriminative response that begets more violence," defense attorney Henderson Hill said.

Prosecutor Clint Rucker called Nichols an "extremely dangerous" killer who would try to escape again if sent to prison for life.

Nichols' rampage prompted attorneys and judges to question their safety and law enforcement around the state to re-examine courthouse security measures.

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