ATLANTA - Lawyers for accused courthouse killer Brian Nichols asked a judge Tuesday for an indefinite delay in his murder trial, currently scheduled to resume next week, in part because they have not been provided enough money to handle the defense.
The first panel of prospective jurors from a pool of roughly 1,100 is set to report to the courthouse Monday for individual questioning by attorneys in the case. Jury selection is expected to last three months.
The trial, which first began in January with prospective jurors filling out questionnaires, has already been delayed several times because of defense funding problems.
The defense wants the trial delayed until adequate defense funding is secured, but its request does not provide a specific timeframe.
'Regrettably, the defense moves to continue this case as a result of the unyielding funding problems that continue to severely interfere with the defendant's ability, through counsel, to prepare for and participate in a constitutionally adequate and fair trial,' the motion states.
The defense motion states that Nichols' lawyers have spoken to prosecutors, who told them they will not join in the request for a delay.
There was no immediate ruling from Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller on Tuesday's delay request.
The defense has said it has been told by the state public defender's office, which is footing Nichols' legal tab because he is indigent, that no more money can be guaranteed to Nichols' lawyers for the duration of the trial. The public defender's office has said the legal costs totaled $1.8 million by the end of June.
Nichols' lawyers argue that regardless of what the cost has been or what it will be in the future, their client has a constitutional right to an adequate defense, which at its basic level means his lawyers and their expenses must be paid.
The defense motion said that as recently as last week, the lawyers were informed that yet another effort to secure funding for the defense from the highest levels of state government would be undertaken immediately. A few days later, the motion states, defense counsel was informed that those efforts had been unsuccessful.
Nichols is charged with escaping from custody at a downtown Atlanta courthouse where he was on trial for rape on March 11, 2005, and killing the judge presiding over the rape trial, a court reporter chronicling the proceeding, a sheriff's deputy who chased him outside and a federal agent he encountered at a home a few miles away that night. He surrendered the next day.
Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty if Nichols is convicted of murder. Nichols' lawyers plan to ask the jury to find their client not guilty by reason of mental illness, arguing that he was suffering a 'delusional compulsion' at the time of the killings.
Earlier Tuesday, prosecutors urged Fuller to rule on several key state and defense motions before jury selection resumes, including ones dealing with defense funding.
Issues raised in the motions include whether Nichols' attorneys have enough money to proceed with their defense. There is also a defense request to bar prosecutors from seeking the death penalty and a state request for a ruling on whether prospective jurors first summoned for trial in January are still qualified to serve after months of delays.
Prosecutors said in their request for rulings that the motions 'have serious implications on the progress of this case through jury selection.'
Fuller had said previously that he would rule on at least the death penalty motion, but so far has not. A court spokesman, Don Plummer, said Tuesday that Fuller will rule on the motions when he is ready. Plummer said he doesn't know when that will be.