The judge presiding over the murder trial of a man charged with fatally shooting four people in a 2005 rampage suspended jury selection indefinitely Wednesday because the defense hasn’t been adequately funded.
“I’m interested in getting this case tried ... in a way the constitution requires,” Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller said.
Jury selection had resumed Monday after several previous delays due to defense funding issues. Fuller indicated he would decide later whether to release the 1,100 prospective jurors in the current pool from duty and create a new one.
The trial has been continuously bogged down in friction with the state public defender’s office over fees and expenses for attorneys representing the indigent Brian Nichols.
Nichols is charged with escaping from custody at a downtown Atlanta courthouse, where he was on trial for rape. He allegedly killed the judge presiding over the rape trial along with a court reporter, a sheriff’s deputy who chased him outside and a federal agent he encountered at a home a few miles away.
Prosecutors say he took a woman hostage the next day in her suburban Atlanta home, then surrendered. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty if Nichols is convicted.
In requesting suspension of jury selection, the defense said in court documents Wednesday that it can’t continue to subsidize costs with “no realistic end in sight.”
Council ordered to contempt hearing
Fuller has ordered the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council to appear at a contempt hearing Monday to explain itself. The council is responsible for Nichols’ defense costs.
But Nichols’ lawyers said in their motion that jury selection needs to end now. They said they have not been able to prepare for the trial without funding.
The cash-strapped council has said that because of the amount of money already spent on Nichols’ defense — $1.8 million as of the end of June — there isn’t enough money for other cases. The Legislature has refused to step in, and Fulton County has resisted helping pay for Nichols’ defense costs.
Fuller disputes the council’s figure, saying Nichols’ defense costs have reached only $1.2 million. The council has stood by its figure and said the average Georgia death penalty case costs the defender’s office about $400,000.