A few days before prospective jurors were to report for the Atlanta death penalty trial of Brian Nichols on charges of killing a judge and two others, a judge postponed the case for a month in hopes that funding problems can be overcome, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Judge Hilton Fuller set a new trial date of March 27 to allow Georgia legislators time provide morel money to the cash-strapped state agency that is paying for Nichols’ defense.
Lawmakers say that may not be enough time. Defending Nichols has cost taxpayers more than $1.2 million. His three private attorneys are billing a combined $395 an hour for a trial expected to last five months. The mounting cost of Nichols’ defense has compounded a budget crisis at the state’s new public defender system. Officials at the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council say the system is running out of money and must trim the fees it pays defense attorneys in other death penalty cases. The Nichols case has cost more than the other death penalty cases in part because the judge granted Nichols four lawyers, double the number that state law requires, to defend him against 54 felony counts, an extraordinarily large number of charges.