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Feds could take Nichols to trial

ATLANTA - Courthouse gunman Brian Nichols avoided a death penalty when a Fulton County jury failed to return a unanimous sentence, but local prosecutors are encouraging their federal counterparts to bring additional charges in hopes that Nichols could still face lethal injection.

Federal prosecutors would face higher legal standards to pursue death charges against Nichols based on the fact that one of his four victims was a federal agent. And the U.S. Attorney must first begin the lengthy process of getting approval from the Justice Department.

Still, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said he will speak with U.S. Attorney David Nahmias this week about federal charges after a judge was forced to sentence Nichols to life in prison because a deadlocked state jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict on the death penalty.

Nichols, 37, was found guilty last month of murdering Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes, court reporter Julie Ann Brandau, Deputy Hoyt Teasley and federal agent David Wilhelm in a 2005 spree that began in a downtown Atlanta courthouse.

He was spared the death penalty when a Fulton County jury failed to reach a unanimous death penalty verdict, as required by Georgia law. The jury split 9-3, with nine in favor of death penalty and three in favor of life without parole.

Minutes after Nichols was sentenced to life without parole on Saturday, Howard said he could face two more trials - one in Gwinnett County for kidnapping and the federal death penalty case.