Editorial: Nichols case defies logic
The people of Georgia are not the only ones frustrated over the delay in prosecuting Atlanta courthouse shooter Brian Nichols. Rowan County friends and family of David Wilhelm, a federal agent killed in Nichols’ rampage, must be even more perplexed.
Has the state of Georgia lost its backbone?
Georgia’s newly created Office of the Capital Defender has spent $1.8 million on Nichols’ case and has run out of money to finish the job, so the trial is on hold. Meanwhile, authorities recently discovered that Nichols and a girlfriend were plotting an escape that involved a saw and pay-offs to two sheriff’s deputies and a paralegal.
From Day One, this has been a stranger-than-fiction saga. Nichols was on trial for rape in March 2005 when authorities say he grabbed a deputy’s gun and shot his way out of the Fulton County Courthouse, killing three people, including a judge. After his escape, he inexplicably came upon and killed Wilhelm as the off-duty federal agent was working on a house he and his wife had bought. Nichols surrendered after a young woman he took hostage talked him into surrendering to police.
How could the capital defender spend $1.8 million on Nichols’ defense without even going to trial? This death penalty case is so complex that Nichols has had as many as four lawyers at a time, including one from North Carolina, Henderson Hill. He faces 54 felony counts covering crimes in 13 locations. The prosecution itself has five lawyers working on the case.
The furor over the case prompted the state’s capital defender, Christopher W. Adams, to resign last fall, citing inadequate resources for defending clients.
North Carolina has put executions on hold because of disagreement over physicians’ participation in the process. Georgia may have to end the death penalty because it can’t afford to defend indigent suspects like Nichols. Nationwide, states are struggling with the death penalty in one way or another. Colorado lawmakers last year considered ó and rejected ó abolishing the death penalty and using the money spent on capital punishment to solve more than 1,000 cold-case homicides. Death penalty opponents are working every angle.
So is Brian Nichols. While the nation searches its conscience over the death penalty, Nichols will cook up schemes to escape justice, one way or another. He has no conscience. He is a high-risk inmate accused of killing four people. The sooner Georgia can bring this man to justice, the better.