Money to pay for the defense of accused Atlanta courthouse killer Brian Nichols could be a factor for seeking a reversal if he is convicted, says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Defense attorneys have complained about a lack of funds and their heavy workload as they prepare for the scheduled Jan. 11 jury selection. The judge expressed similar concerns yesterday. “This is a very serious issue in this case,” Judge Hilton Fuller said about the public money to help Nichols defend himself against 54 felony charges. Nichols has pleaded not guilty to charges he murdered Judge Rowland Barnes, court reporter Julie Ann Brandau and deputy Sgt. Hoyt Teasley at the Fulton County Courthouse March 11, 2005, and U.S. Customs Agent David Wilhelm later.
There have been no discussions between prosecutors and defense attorneys for a plea, which would avert a trial and possibly a death sentence. Because of the media attention the case has drawn, 3,500 jury summons have been sent and it could take as much as three months to find 12 jurors and six alternates. Legal bills for three of the four lawyers defending Nichols passed $500,000 in November, state dollars paid by the new statewide public defender’s office. The three private attorneys are paid $125 to $175 an hour, which is more than the $95 per hour the state pays other private attorneys to defend death penalty cases. The half-million dollars does not include the salary of the fourth Nichols attorney, a state employee who earns $108,000. Nor does it include money for experts and investigators, support staff for the defense team, copying, travel expenses and transcripts, the $25 paid each juror daily or the per diem of almost $500 for the senior judge from DeKalb County assigned to the case after all of Fulton’s judges recused themselves. “It’s incredibly expensive,” said veteran death penalty attorney Jack Martin.