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Jury weighs life or death for Atlanta court gunman

ATLANTA - Jurors will return today to continue deliberating whether to condemn gunman Brian Nichols to death or sentence him to life behind bars for murdering a judge and three other people in violence that began at a downtown Atlanta courthouse.

The jury reached no decision Tuesday on the fate of Nichols after spending much of the day considering the case.

Nichols, 36, was found guilty last month of murder and dozens of other charges for killing the judge, a court reporter and a sheriff's deputy at the courthouse and a federal agent in an Atlanta neighborhood on March 11, 2005. He could be sentenced to death or to life in prison with or without the possibility of parole.

Nichols confessed to the killings but claimed he was legally insane and that he believed he was a slave rebelling against his masters. Prosecutors argued that he concocted the delusions to avoid the death penalty.

In closing arguments Monday, prosecutors asked the jury for a death sentence while defense lawyers urged jurors to avoid vengeance.

'That's the kind of vengeful, recriminative response that begets more violence,' defense attorney Henderson Hill said.

Prosecutor Clint Rucker called Nichols an 'extremely dangerous' killer who would try to escape again if sent to prison for life.

'With your help, brick-by-brick, we will rebuild the wall of justice that has been torn down by this defendant,' Rucker said.

Nichols was being escorted to his trial for rape when he beat a deputy guarding him, stole her gun and went on a shooting spree. He killed Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes, court reporter Julie Ann Brandau and Deputy Hoyt Teasley.

He fled downtown Atlanta and managed to evade hundreds of police officers searching for him overnight. In Atlanta's posh Buckhead neighborhood, he shot and killed federal agent David Wilhelm at a house the agent was renovating.

Nichols was captured the next day in Gwinnett after a woman he took hostage, Ashley Smith Robinson, alerted police to his whereabouts. Smith Robinson was credited with bringing a peaceful ending to the rampage by appealing to Nichols' religious beliefs and giving him illegal drugs.