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Judge to Atlanta courthouse shooting trial jury: Try again

ATLANTA - A judge told jurors to keep deliberating Thursday after they reported they were unable to reach a unanimous sentencing decision in the case against a man who killed a judge and three other people in a shooting spree that started in a downtown Atlanta courthouse.

Superior Court Judge James Bodiford ordered the jury, split 9-3, to keep trying. Bodiford did not ask the jurors which way the majority was leaning. The jury had already deliberated for almost 20 hours.

Under Georgia law, a death sentence must be a unanimous jury decision. If at least seven of the 12 jurors vote for death or for life in prison without parole, the judge can impose a life sentence, with or without possibility of parole.

Nichols, 37, was convicted last month of murder and dozens of other counts in the 2005 killings. He was on trial for rape when he grabbed a guard's gun and fatally shot the judge, a court reporter and a sheriff's deputy in the courthouse. He fled and killed a federal agent in an Atlanta neighborhood.

He has 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,' said defense attorney Henderson Hill.

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 and stole her gun. He burst into the courtroom and shot and 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.