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2 Ga. Lawyers Testify: What Happened the Day When Judge Barnes Was Murdered

Posted Sep 30, 2008 12:30 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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It seemed like a routine court hearing. Everyone was in a good mood, and Georgia Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes had just made one of his trademark jokes.

But when a man in a business suit stepped up behind Barnes, seeming to be a staffer about to hand something to the judge, “I saw the judge’s head go out like confetti,” attorney Nicole Waller testified yesterday at the murder trial of the judge's accused killer. Next the man aimed his gun at court reporter Julie Ann Brandau, shooting her in the head, too, Waller continued.

The 18th witness to testify in the murder case against Brian Nichols, Waller is the first to describe the carnage on March 11, 2005 in the Fulton County courtroom, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

After Barnes was shot, she hid under the lectern at which she had been speaking only moments earlier. Meanwhile, her opposing counsel at the hearing, Richard Robbins, testified that he heard a loud crashing noise and looked up to see the judge, obviously dead, slumping slowly from his seated position onto the floor. Then the suspect turned to him, Robbins recounted: “He pointed the gun at my chest and he looked directly into my eyes. I thought, ‘He killed the judge, now he is going to kill the prosecutor and then he is going to kill everybody else and I am sitting at the prosecutor’s table.’”

Instead, Nichols allegedly fled into another judge's chambers as Waller and Robbins retreated into their own judge's chambers. They stepped over his dead body to do so, which was only then beginning to bleed, Waller testified, "to give you an idea how fast this happened." Inside Barnes' chambers, they found the judge's staff handcuffed.

Nichols, whose rape trial had been scheduled to continue that morning before Barnes, is accused of overpowering and badly beating his guard, then using her gun to murder the judge and court reporter. Although he spared the two attorneys, he also allegedly murdered two lawmen after he escaped from the courthouse. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.

His lawyers are pursuing an insanity defense.

As discussed in earlier ABAJournal.com posts, the Nichols trial has been controversial because of the extraordinary expense involved in prosecuting—and defending—a multiple-murder case in which the usual lawyers and judges are conflicted out because they knew the victims.

Additional coverage:

11.com (NBC affiliate): "Nichols Eyewitness Gives Emotional Testimony"

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Woman who led police to Nichols ready to testify"

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Judge’s staff recalls horror of Nichols’ attack"

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