Sentencing the Atlanta courthouse shooter to death would restore a justice system shaken when he gunned down a judge and three others, prosecutors argued Monday, while the defense urged jurors to set aside the impulse for gut-level, vengeful decision-making.
The jury was set to begin deliberating Tuesday on whether to sentence Brian Nichols, 36, to death, life in prison or life without possibility of parole after convicting him last month of murder and other felonies in the 2005 rampage.
In closing arguments Monday, prosecutor Clint Rucker told the jury the killings of a judge, a court reporter, a sheriff's deputy and a federal agent smashed the "brick wall" that is the city's justice system.
"With your help, brick-by-brick, we will rebuild the wall of justice that has been torn down by this defendant," said Rucker, who called Nichols an "extremely dangerous" killer who would try to escape again if sent to prison for life.
Defense attorneys, who contend that Nichols was legally insane when he carried out the killings, said a gut reaction to put Nichols to death for the killings accomplishes nothing.
"That's the kind of vengeful, recriminative response that begets more violence," defense attorney Henderson Hill said.
Nichols was being escorted to a courtroom in downtown Atlanta where he was being tried for rape on March 11, 2005, when he beat a deputy guarding him, stole her gun and went on a shooting spree. He 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.