ATLANTA — Television and still cameras will be allowed to broadcast and photograph the murder trial of a rape defendant accused of killing four people after escaping from custody from a courthouse, a judge ruled yesterday.
Citing the prejudicial impact it could have on Brian Nichols' right to a fair trial, defense lawyers had asked the court to bar cameras from broadcasting the trial, which is currently scheduled to begin Jan. 11.
The motion seemed to also ask for the judge to bar still cameras, because it asked that the only camera that be allowed in the courtroom during the trial is one that would provide a closed-circuit feed to another room where reporters could watch. During a hearing, the defense had said its intent was to bar television cameras.
But Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller denied the motion. He did say that the court could adjust the order and attach conditions to commercial broadcast coverage if circumstances warrant that. Radio broadcast equipment also will be allowed in the courtroom during the trial, Fuller ruled. He has allowed cameras during pretrial hearings.
In their request to prohibit cameras at trial, defense lawyers said they had encountered witnesses who expressed reluctance to be interviewed or to testify in court because of the ongoing media coverage in the case.
"Only if such witnesses can be ensured that this trial, and their potential testimony, will not be televised and broadcast for all the world to watch (and dissect) will the defense be able to provide effective representation and the defendant be provided a fair trial," the lawyers argued.
Fuller disagreed, siding with the news media, which had objected to cameras being barred from the courtroom during the trial.
Nichols is charged in a 54-count indictment with murder, kidnapping, carjacking, escape and other offenses. He has pleaded not guilty.
He is accused of grabbing a deputy's gun on March 11, 2005, at the Fulton County Courthouse, where he was being retried on rape charges, and killing a judge, court reporter, a sheriff's deputy and a federal agent he encountered at a home a few miles from the courthouse.
Police said Nichols also took a woman hostage in her suburban Atlanta apartment but surrendered the next day.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.