ajc.com > Metro > Atlanta ‘There’s a demon inside me’At rape trial, Brian Nichols was portrayed as man on verge of losing controlBy CAMERON McWHIRTER, BILL RANKIN, STEVE VISSERThe Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionPublished on: 03/24/05
When they returned from their date, she noticed her security system had been disabled.
Something was wrong.
Brian Nichols’ booking mugs from his arrest after being accused of rape by his ex-girlfriend.
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Get back in the car, she urged. Let’s go.
But before they could back out of the garage, Brian Nichols materialized, in a rage. His fists were clenched. He was screaming.
Why is he here? Nichols demanded to know. Why was his minister dating his girlfriend?
Swearing, he shoved them and grabbed her keys.
They had never seen this side of Brian Nichols.
They knew him as a man of God who helped found their tight-knit church. He had been devoted to his girlfriend, caring for her after surgery and spending holidays with her family.
Now he seemed to be unraveling.
“There is a demon inside me . . . and it’s getting very powerful,” Nichols allegedly told the minister a week later. “I don’t know what I’m capable of doing.”
The next morning, Nichols broke into the woman’s home. He held her at gunpoint, bound her with duct tape, raped her and warned that he would kill her family if she told police, prosecutors say.
Nichols disputes this account — offered to authorities by the minister and the ex-girlfriend — but he has been on trial twice because of their allegations.
The jury deadlocked late February in the first trial, when jurors couldn’t decide whom to believe. The second trial ended in mayhem when Nichols broke free, setting off a chain of events that would end the lives of four public servants, critically injure a fifth, terrorize a city and rattle the American justice system.
Transcripts of the first trial show glimpses of what led to that morning.
The trial revealed two Brian Nicholses — one an articulate, resolute witness who said his girlfriend made the whole thing up because she was jealous; the other a pot-smoking “gangster” who was controlling, violent and fascinated with guns.
A review of 619 pages of excerpted transcripts sheds light on a man who, before March 11, was one of thousands shuffled through Fulton County’s courts every year.
Now he is Georgia’s most notorious defendant.
Brian Nichols seemed to be living the good life.
The former college linebacker worked out three times a week at the Crunch Fitness gym in Buckhead. He lived in a Sandy Springs condo owned by his girlfriend, and he drove a white BMW she had bought for him.
But in the spring of 2004, another woman he’d been dating became pregnant. And when his longtime girlfriend found out, she broke up with him. Or, according to her testimony, she tried.
Nichols’ former girlfriend took the stand the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 22, in Fulton County Courtroom 8-H. It was the second day of the trial, presided over by Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes.
She told jurors she was 33 years old, a resident of Sandy Springs. She had her undergraduate degree from a college in Virginia and her MBA from a college in Georgia. She was a corporate executive at a credit reporting agency.
She’d met Nichols in December 1996. He was a security guard at her company.
During their seven years together, they came to know each other’s families well — his in Baltimore and South Carolina, hers in West Virginia. They vacationed together. And for six months in 2000, they lived together.
But in April 2004, they separated and agreed to see other people. They began dating again that summer, until she learned Nichols was still seeing a woman he had met during their separation.
She had seen the woman — identified as both Sonja Meredith and Sonya Meredith in court records — at Nichols’ condo one night when she stopped by unexpectedly. Meredith testified the encounter was in June and that she was surprised by the way the woman treated Nichols — she yelled profanities at him while citing the Bible. The girlfriend’s name is being withheld because police believe she is a rape victim.
Nichols assured his girlfriend he was no longer dating Meredith, identified in court records as a dental hygienist from Stockbridge. But before long, she caught him with Meredith again.
This time the two women exchanged stories — about “what had been happening over the past two months that obviously neither of us were aware of” — and phone numbers. “It was not confrontational at all,” the girlfriend said of the conversation.
Even before that chance encounter, Nichols and his longtime girlfriend had sought help from the Southern Christian Counseling Service. She was trying to determine whether there was any way to salvage the relationship.
“Emotional feelings that you have for someone that you love, after that amount of time, don’t go away in one day,” she told jurors.
But when Nichols announced that Meredith was going to have his baby, it was “the icing on the cake.”
She called Meredith to make sure it was true. “Yes, I’m pregnant, and I’m keeping it,” Meredith answered.
After that, the woman told Nichols it was over. “We’re done,” she said.
But Nichols didn’t want their relationship to end. “He knew what he had done was wrong but he thought with our mutual faith in God, that we could work through it. . . . He wasn’t going to give up that easily.” She tried to move on, though she was disappointed and hurt. She ran into Nichols occasionally at Word of God Christian Center in Suwanee.
Things grew tense when she began dating a minister at the church, Chris Rowell. One night in mid-August, she and Rowell stopped by her home after a dinner date.
As they got out of the car in her garage, “something really didn’t feel right,” she recalled.
Suddenly, Nichols appeared. He had been upstairs in her condo, hiding in the dark.
Immediately he began questioning Rowell about why he was there.
Nichols shoved Rowell out of the garage and pulled the door down. He grabbed the keys out of the car ignition and the spare set of keys to her house out of the console.
Locked outside, Rowell listened as they argued.
Why is he here? Nichols demanded.
It isn’t our house, she told him. It is my house.
Rowell, called to the stand to testify, supported her version of what happened.
“He was very angry,” Rowell told jurors. “He kind of burst through the door and began screaming, and you know, clenching his fists, and you could tell by the look on his face that he was — he was extremely angry.”
Nichols shoved her out of the way, then knocked some letters and a bag of groceries from Rowell’s hands.
“I was just saying to myself, you know, just reminding myself to remain calm,” Rowell said. “Of course, I was concerned for her safety because I didn’t know — like I said, I had never seen him like that before and I didn’t know if he would cause her any physical harm.”
After arguing for 15 to 20 minutes, Nichols stormed out of her condo, Rowell said. Nichols, a muscular former athlete, appeared to have ripped his shirt off.
Despite the frightening encounter, they did not call police.
Why not? Assistant District Attorney Gayle Abramson asked the woman the question jurors must have wanted to ask. The woman answered that she knew Nichols; he never acted that way. She believed she could talk him down.
“I thought that . . . I could reason with him and that we would be able to have as much of an amicable break as possible,” she told the jury. “I didn’t at the time feel it was necessary to involve the police.”
In some ways the woman felt almost responsible for Nichols’ well-being. Who else could he turn to? His parents were in Africa, his brother was in Florida, other family members in Baltimore.
At one point during this period, Nichols threatened suicide. The woman called 911. She also phoned him, leaving several messages on his voice mail. She went to the condo to search for him.
The next day, she e-mailed his mother in Tanzania.
“I really need your help and to talk to you,” she wrote Claritha Nichols on Aug. 11. Their e-mail exchange was offered into evidence. “Things between Brian and I are spiraling out of control,” she wrote.
She described the confrontation with Rowell. She wrote that Nichols “was definitely out of control.” He’d wanted to convince her, she said, that the woman he had gotten pregnant was going to have an abortion. He seemed to believe that this could save their relationship.
“I told him I really thought things were too far gone,” she e-mailed Nichols’ mother. “I’m unsure that I have the energy that it will take to climb out of this hole; and right now, I just want some space and peace in my life.”
She described his suicide threat and wrote that she prayed for him.
She wanted to make sure he was going to be OK. “Should I force him to go into a hospital for evaluation/monitoring?” she asked. “Can I put him on a plane to Africa for a few months? He’s obviously strong enough to handle this but he doesn’t know/feel it right now.”
Seemingly desperate to stay in contact with her, Nichols unexpectedly showed up one night for choir practice at their church. Nichols hadn’t been involved with the choir for years.
“I asked him what he was doing and pretty much that if he had an honest heart about wanting to be in the choir, then that’s one thing; but if he was there to make a scene or if he was there to try to do a kind of a manipulation or control tactic, that he needed to leave and he needed to evaluate why all of a sudden he had an interest in being in the choir,” she testified.
Later, she and Nichols did spend some time together. They met for more than three hours with her mother and the church’s senior pastor and his wife. The pastor tried to help Nichols get through it, but “Brian needed to respect the fact that the relationship was over.”
Nichols seemingly was unable to let it go.
On Aug. 18, the woman planned a night out with friends, a George Benson and Will Downing concert at Chastain Park. She had bought the tickets when she and Nichols were still dating. Now she was going with Rowell.
They went with a group of about 10. Some went over to her place after the concert. After everyone else had left, Rowell noticed Nichols standing outside in the dark. Nichols wanted to talk to the minister alone.
She asked them both to leave. “I didn’t want things to escalate.”
Rowell said she threatened to call the police, but Nichols said he didn’t care.
“He said, ‘Call the police.’ He said, ‘They can come — they can lock me up, they can take me to jail, but eventually I’ll be out and I’ll be back.’ ”
After Nichols raised his hand to show them he was unarmed, Rowell agreed to talk to him in the driveway.
Nichols apologized for pushing Rowell earlier. He said he wanted to get back together with the woman.
“It was kind of funny at the time because he asked me — he asked me if I have ever kissed her, and I said yeah. I said, ‘Yes, I have.’ And he said, ‘Well, have you ever seen her naked?’ And I laughed and I said, ‘We just started dating.’ I said, ‘Even if I did, that would be none of your business.’ ”
Then the conversation turned frightening, Rowell testified.
“He told me that he loved her and he was willing to do whatever he needed to do to show her how much he loved her.
“And then he asked me, he said, ‘Do you love her?’
“I said, ‘Yes, I do.’
“He said, ‘Would you be willing to take a bullet for her?’
“And I said, ‘Yeah.’
“He said, ‘So if the bullet was coming at her, would you stand in front of it?’
“I said, ‘Yes, I would.’ ”
Rowell searched for that other Brian, the one he once knew. But that Brian was gone.
Nichols became more menacing, Rowell testified. ” ‘You don’t want to spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder, do you?’
“And I said, ‘What do you mean?’
“He said, ‘I’m just saying, you don’t want to spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder.’
Nichols made it clear he wanted Rowell to end the relationship. The woman could date anyone else in Atlanta — just not Rowell.
“And he told me, he said, ‘Look, there’s a demon inside me, and knowing that the two of you are together, this demon is growing and it’s getting very powerful, and I don’t know what I’m capable of doing. So you’re moving into a very dangerous situation.’
“And I said, ‘Well’ — I said, ‘Well, what exactly does that mean?’
“. . . ‘I’m just letting you know that you’re moving into a very dangerous situation.’ ”
Rowell offered to pray for Nichols.
“I said, I will pray for the situation and I’ll pray for you as well. And his comment to me was, well, ‘I don’t need no damn prayer.’ Those were his exact words.”
After Nichols stormed off, Rowell urged the woman to lock her door.
Rowell left. Later he called to check on her.
She told him Nichols had returned, ringing her doorbell and pounding on the door.
She didn’t answer.
The alleged rape
She awoke around 5 a.m. on Aug. 19, 2004, to the beeping of her burglar alarm. She heard someone running up the two flights of stairs to her bedroom.
She hadn’t had a chance to change her locks and she knew Nichols had a set of keys, so she had changed the code needed to silence the alarm.
The light flicked on. It was Nichols, holding a semiautomatic handgun.
“I was in complete shock,” she testified. “I thought I was dreaming or something.”
This is her account of what happened, an account Nichols disputed when he took the stand to testify.
“Put in the code,” she recalled him telling her that morning.
She entered the code in a keypad in her bedroom, quieting the alarm.
Next he ordered her to lie face down on the bed. He bound her wrists and ankles with a roll of duct tape.
He wore green shorts with big pockets — one filled with martial arts nunchaku. He paced, looking out the blinds.
“He told me that there were some demons inside of him that had been awakened as a result of this whole process,” she testified. “And that all I needed to do was to comply with him and this was part of his healing and that he would not harm me.”
He helped her to the bathroom and ordered her to climb into the tub. He taped her hands to the faucet. Then he went downstairs. When he returned, he had another weapon, a machine gun. He pulled a can of lighter fluid from a duffel bag.
He threatened to spray the lighter fluid on her and set her ablaze if she yelled or tried to get away.
Nichols pulled out a cigar, emptied it of tobacco and packed it with marijuana. He’d brought a cooler filled with ice, water, lunch meat and bread.
He said he planned to stay until her birthday — three days later on Aug. 22. He told her he had been at the Chastain Park concert the night before. But not to hear the music.
“He had actually gone to the concert because he was planning to take Chris out,” she testified.
“He had paid somebody $500 to pretty much — I mean, his words were, you know, to take Chris out. I assumed what he meant by that was to harm him or kill him.”
But Nichols also told her he had called it off.
The tape was cutting off the circulation in her hands and feet, she complained. He got a pair of scissors and cut off the tape. He let her out of the bathtub but kept the gun trained on her.
Realizing she would be expected at work, Nichols told her to call her boss and leave a message that she wasn’t going to be in. He listened on the extension.
Then Nichols told her to listen to the whopper he was going to tell his boss. His voice mail: His grandmother had died and then his mother had died of a heart attack after hearing the news. His parents were in Africa, so he had to identify the body, make funeral arrangements. He didn’t know when he’d be in.
As time passed, Nichols burned with anger one moment and cried the next. At one point he said he couldn’t believe what he was doing.
The woman seized on this glimmer of the man she’d known and loved. She opened her Bible. “I read a few passages to him. And I said that we had really experienced too much good things in our relationship to . . . let it end like this.”
She told him he needed professional help. “I grabbed his hands and stood up because I thought I was going to be able to lead him out of the house and, you know, we would go to the hospital.”
“Stop it,” he told her. “I’m in control of this situation. . . . We’re not doing things on your terms.”
He put her back in the tub, bound her again and went back to his car. He returned with a large shopping bag full of marijuana.
Then he became confessional. “He said to me that he had done some very bad things. His words were, he was a gangster.”
He told her he had smoked marijuana all through their relationship and hidden it from her. He called it his Prozac.
When she complained again about the tightness of the tape, he cut it off, this time cutting her finger with the scissors.
“Oh, my gosh, I didn’t want to see your blood and I can’t believe I’m doing this,” he told her. He then ordered her to get out of the tub and to strip. She took off her burgundy and white boxer shorts and white T-shirt.
He ordered her to bend over and said he was videotaping her to have a memory of their relationship.
When he told her to take a shower, she took a long one, spending the time trying to think about what might happen next. Could she escape? Where were her car keys? What might get in her way if she tried to run? Did he park his car in front of the garage door, blocking her exit?
She didn’t get an opportunity to run. He ordered her out of the shower. When she reached for her bathrobe, he told her to remain naked and sit on the toilet seat while he showered. Even though he was in the shower, she said she still feared he would be able to stop her from escaping.
After Nichols finished, he threw a towel at her, ordering her to dry him off. He picked up a container of baby oil. “He told me to rub it on his chest and his shoulders and to act like I loved him pretty much as I was doing that.”
He grabbed a robe, put it on, and they went downstairs to the kitchen, where he took a beer from the freezer and told the woman to clean up a bottle of wine he had spilled earlier. Then he ordered her back to the bedroom.
He asked her to drink some rum. She refused. “You know I don’t drink.”
“Well, smoke this,” he said, lighting up another joint of marijuana.
She put it to her mouth but didn’t inhale.
“You didn’t smoke it,” he said. “So take it back and inhale.”
She did and started coughing. “If you vomit, you’re going to clean it up,” he told her.
Several hours into the ordeal, she knew he would eventually force her to have sex with him.
She told jurors that their relationship had been celibate since April 2003. They had been intimate before then. But it was around that time that they’d been baptized together and made a pledge to each other to remain celibate until they married.
That trust must have seemed a distant memory. To her horror, Nichols told her another secret he had kept from her. During the last 16 months of their celibate relationship, he had paid for sex with about 100 women, and spent about $4,000 over the last eight years on prostitutes.
This detail, from a statement she’d made to police, was not discussed in court. On the witness stand, she described pleading with him not to rape her. She told Nichols she was worried about sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV.
He was deaf to her pleas. He opened up his robe and ordered her to perform oral sex.
She complied, but not completely. In frustration, he ordered her onto the bed.
“Please don’t,” she pleaded. “Please don’t.”
After more argument, Nichols agreed to put on a condom. Then he began raping her.
At one point, realizing he had taken off the condom, she jumped up and ran, begging him to stop.
Nichols, sweating profusely, was no longer saying he was staying until her birthday. Now he told her he could leave when he was finished.
“How long did that particular — did the intercourse last?” the prosecutor asked.
“About 40 or 45 minutes.”
When it was finally over, she got up and put on some shorts and a shirt.
“You said you would let me go. So can I go now?”
“Hold on,” Nichols answered.
He ordered her to take another shower. Afterward, he put her to work gathering up the duct tape and other trash strewn about the room. Around 1 p.m., he packed and prepared to leave.
“Now, if you escalate this situation and you report it to the police,” he told her, “I’ll be back to get you. And I won’t stop with just you. I really don’t want your mom and dad involved in this, but . . . I will.”
She also recalled his telling her, “I won’t bother you anymore. I’m out of your life. This is over for me as well. This has put closure to us.”
Nichols walked out the door.
She immediately got into her car and began driving out of the complex. He turned one way down the closest road; she turned the other.
At this point in the woman’s testimony, Judge Barnes told jurors it was time for a break.
“Let’s stop,” he said, indicating that the witness needed time to compose herself.
“Take a midafternoon break,” he said, “go get a Coca-Cola, step outside, support your local habit, whatever you might do.”
After the recess, Abramson showed photographs to the jurors. They were of the woman’s bed, nightstand, a water jug and the white BMW she had bought for Nichols. One photo showed the car Nichols drove the day of the alleged attack: his parents’ green Cadillac Eldorado.
The prosecutor resumed her questions: What, she asked, happened next?
The woman testified she was driving around “really in kind of a state of paranoia,” worried that Nichols somehow could tap into her telephone calls. So she drove to the SuperTarget in Stone Mountain and bought a pre-paid cellphone so she could call her parents and Rowell to warn them.
“How were you feeling?” Abramson asked.
“Scared and just very nervous about what would happen once I reported it,” she testified.
She reached her mother but didn’t tell her what had happened, only that she was coming over. She also got through to Rowell and told him to be careful because she was not sure what Nichols would do next.
She told him Nichols had held her hostage and raped her.
Rowell agreed to meet her near her parents’ house and follow her home. Once inside, she told her mother what had happened. Her mother left the living room to find Nichols’ cellphone number. “She wanted to call him and basically just let him know that he wasn’t going to be able to get away . . . with this.”
She stopped her mother, telling her of Nichols’ threat to hurt her parents, too.
Instead they called 911, and a dispatcher instructed her to go to a hospital in Fulton County. They chose Northside Hospital. They arrived around 6:30 p.m. She was examined and gave a statement to police. She left the hospital about 10 or 11 p.m.
Brian Nichols took the stand in his defense Feb. 24 and spoke confidently.
He described his seven-year relationship with his accuser as “wonderful.” He had been devoted to her. When, two years ago, doctors discovered she had fibroid tumors in her uterus and performed surgery, Nichols cared for her during the day and worked at night. For a time they refrained from having sex.
He said the relationship ran into trouble in late April or early May 2004, when he asked the woman to marry him.
“We had some good times, and we had some bad times. But I thought that at that point it was time to either move on in our relationship or it was time to separate ourselves. . . . She said that she wasn’t ready to get married yet. So my response was, that’s fine. We need to take some time apart and figure out exactly what to do.”
But Nichols said they continued to keep in touch.
“We still talked every day,” he said. “We still e-mailed every day. And in fact, I could understand how she could have considered it one of the small breakups that we had throughout the relationship. I mean, we might argue and say that we were broken up, but we really weren’t broken up.”
He said the woman begged him to get back together once she saw him with Meredith, so they agreed to work on the relationship. Nichols acknowledged to jurors, however, that he continued to see Meredith until the second time the woman confronted Meredith and him at his apartment.
“It was wrong on my behalf,” he said. “I dated them both to try to figure out exactly where I wanted to be, which is wrong.”
Then the woman learned Meredith was pregnant. Nichols said he wanted to work out his relationship with the woman, but he kept in touch with Meredith only regarding the pregnancy. He said he thought he might go to stay with Meredith to help her when she took maternity leave — an idea that infuriated the alleged rape victim.
Nichols acknowledged he became upset in August when she began dating Rowell. But Nichols insisted he never became violent or threatening toward them.
“There’s a section of the Bible that talks about qualifications for a pastor,” Nichols testified. “First Timothy, third chapter. . . . It says that a pastor should be blameless, you know. A person not covetous, merciful.”
It particularly irked him that Rowell was the minister who had baptized them. He “was standing in the water with us pulling us down in the water and pulling us back out of the water. I mean, that church was a spiritual home for me.”
Nichols also had a different take on his encounter with the woman and Rowell in her garage.
He said he was not lying in wait, but simply getting some of his possessions from her place when he saw them pull in.
“I looked at Chris,” Nichols testified. “I couldn’t believe what he was doing. . . . I told him I felt it was wrong for him to be in a minister position and dating [the woman]. I told him that I thought he was a false prophet, a false teacher. I mean, we just had — I mean, we just had an argument.”
Nichols said that on the night of Aug. 18 he again confronted the couple and spoke with Rowell in the driveway, repeating his opposition to the couple’s dating.
“It just ended,” Nichols said of the conversation. “He had his position, and I had my position.”
Nichols testified that she called him about 45 minutes later, asking him to bring food over. She wanted to talk.
He said they made up, at least initially, and had consensual sex.
“We ended up being intimate,” Nichols told the court. “It was with her consent, you know, which is why we’re here. And you know, let me say this: As a man, I’ve never put my hands on a woman.”
When the woman brought up Meredith and the pregnancy, he said, they soon found themselves in the midst of another fight.
“We had just made love, and now we’re right back where we were,” he said. “Nothing was resolved. You know, we were right back to Square One.”
Nichols said the woman then hit him.
“When I told her that I was still probably going to move in with Sonja, she smacked me,” he said. “And you know, since I never put my hands on a woman in any way that she doesn’t ask me to, I was mad.”
He said he told her, “You only know about two of the women that I’ve been with. If you multiplied that times 50 or 75, you would have a more accurate number of the number of women I’ve been with throughout our seven-year relationship. And a stupid thing to say, not true; but you know, she was upset nonetheless and I left.”
Nichols admitted that he had two guns in the trunk of his car, but he said he did not bring them into the house. They were in the trunk because he did not trust his current roommate.
He said he had shown the woman his machine gun — which he had just purchased — before they had broken up.
“I like guns,” he said. “[She] liked guns. [She] and I had been to the shooting range before to shoot guns.”
Throughout his testimony Nichols maintained that the woman was lying. In staccato fashion, he denied every allegation when Assistant District Attorney Ash Joshi cross-examined him.
“So when she said you were smoking marijuana that night, that’s not true?” Joshi asked.
“About 90 percent of the things that [the woman] has said about that night are not true,” Nichols replied.
“Including the part about the marijuana?”
“Including the part about the marijuana.”
“Including the part about you forcing her at gunpoint to turn the alarm off, correct?”
“Including the part about me forcing her at gunpoint to turn the alarm off.”
” . . . When she says that you forced her to have intercourse against her will, that wasn’t true; is that correct?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
“That you duct-taped her? And you’ve heard the police found duct tape. So that wasn’t true, is that right?”
“What are you asking me?” Nichols said. “I didn’t duct-tape her. No, I did not duct-tape her. Where that duct tape came from I have no idea.”
“She made it up?”
Nichols said that he had nothing to do with tape marks doctors later found on his ex-girlfriend.
“So either she did it to herself or someone else did it to her, is that what you’re telling us, Mr. Nichols?” Joshi asked.
“I would hope that the good reverend . . . didn’t have anything to do with it,” Nichols replied. “I would hope that it is not [she] that lied to Chris, that lied to her parents and is lying to us here today. I would hope that it stops there, yes.”
Joshi also asked Nichols whether he remembered any of the good things the woman did for him in their seven years together. Nichols said the rape accusation had colored everything.
“It’s been — it’s been a long six months for me,” he said. “It’s kind of hard for me to think about the nice things that she’s done for me and at the same time I’m sitting on the stand being accused of raping her.”
At the close of his testimony, he again denied it all.
“I cannot tell you why [she] is doing what she’s doing,” Nichols said. “I cannot tell you why [she] has me sitting here facing two life sentences plus 55 years for these accusations.”
Joshi immediately objected to Nichols’ discussing a possible sentence in front of the jury. Barnes cleared the jury from the courtroom. After they returned, the judge told them to disregard Nichols’ talk about a potential sentence.
Nichols answered four more questions, then stepped down from the stand. Jurors would soon receive Barnes’ instructions and begin their deliberations. But they never reached a verdict; they split 8-4 in favor of acquittal. Some jurors later said the accuser’s story seemed so outrageous that they wanted more physical proof.
Barnes ordered a retrial. Prosecutors lined up more witnesses, including Nichols’ pastor and boss, to support the accuser’s story. They prepared more physical evidence, including blood tests of the crime scene.
A chilling warning
Two days into Nichols’ second rape trial, two door hinges modified into weapons were found in his socks by deputies leading him back to the jail. Barnes met with lawyers and discussed the need for more security. Whatever measures they considered were either inadequate or came too late. On Friday morning, Nichols broke free from the lone deputy guarding him. With her gun in his hand, he began his deadly march through the courthouse.
On the Monday after the shootings and the capture of Nichols, Superior Court Judge Stephanie Manis declared a mistrial in Nichols’ second rape trial. Memorial services would soon be held for the judge and court reporter who had heard days of testimony in both trials.
Given the events of March 11, testimony from Nichols’ first rape trial carries special resonance.
Ashley Smith, the woman hailed as a hero for talking Nichols into surrendering, had shared her religious faith with him during the seven hours he held her hostage. He had bound her hands and legs with tape and ordered her into the bathtub. She said he also told her he planned to stay in her home for several days.
And like Judge Barnes, the woman who accused Nichols of rape had decided to seek greater protection from him. Her new boyfriend, Rowell, testified that after Nichols spoke about his growing rage, they planned to go the next morning and seek a protective order against him. That morning, Aug. 19, was the day of the alleged rape.
His accuser has not spoken publicly since the trial. But one warning from Nichols echoes chillingly.
He told her not to report the crime. And even if she did, he told her, she would never be safe from his reach.
“He made the comment that even if they were to lock him up for 20 years, that he would be the model prisoner and he would spend that 20 years trying to figure out how to come back after me.”
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