ATLANTA – The Atlanta courthouse gunman said in letters that he escaped from guards and then killed four people in a shooting rampage to fight back against what he believed was a racist justice system, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
In the letters, which were among thousands of Georgia Bureau of Investigation documents reviewed exclusively by the AP, Brian Nichols lays out his motive for the March 2005 slayings in stark racial terms.
"Certain dogs you can kick and they tuck their tail between their legs and run," he wrote in a July 2005 letter to a man who criticized him. "Others if kicked will turn and bite the individual responsible. I hate to say it, but it's the truth that black men have done way too much tail tuckin."
While awaiting trial on rape charges, Nichols overpowered a guard at the Fulton County Courthouse and fatally shot a judge, court reporter, deputy and federal agent. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole in December 2008.
Trudy Brandau, the sister of slain court reporter Julie Ann Brandau, said the letters show Nichols is delusional.
"If you want changes made, make smart, intelligent choices that would actually wind up causing improvement," she said. "What he wound up doing was extremely selfish and hasn't changed a thing for anybody."
Nichols said he was infuriated that the judge, Rowland Barnes, was holding him without bond on rape charges while other inmates awaiting trial were set free.
He compared himself to Dany Heatley, a former Atlanta Thrashers star, whom Barnes allowed to remain free on bail after he was charged with vehicular homicide in a 2003 crash that killed a teammate.
"White boy, driving crazy killed somebody. Was he not a threat to the community having killed a person as a result of his reckless behavior?" he wrote.
He said "no black man has ever made a stand such as mine" and insisted the shootings sent a message.
"Perhaps my children of another generation won't find their back against the wall, subjected to unequal treatment under the law. Unfortunately, my sacrifice is not enough to prevent that from happening, but perhaps it's a start."
The gunman also described a perverse legal strategy. Writing to his prison pen-pal girlfriend Lisa Meneguzzo, Nichols said he was going on a letter-writing campaign to try to influence the jury pool and avoid a guilty verdict.
"And believe me, in Fulton County, where there are a large number of people pissed off at the way the criminal justice system treats people, it can happen," he wrote. "All I need is the right people on the jury, and I go home. I've got to put in the grass-roots effort it takes to pull something like that off."
In other letters to Meneguzzo, a Connecticut woman who contacted him shortly after his arrest, he called himself a "computer nerd" and a "full-time clown." Prosecutors this week decided not to charge Meneguzzo and three other people who investigators say were involved in a separate, bizarre plot to help him escape from the Fulton County Jail while he was awaiting trial.
But he also flashed a darker side in the dispatches. He wrote about his efforts to make life miserable for an inmate he believed had snitched on him by banging on the walls at all hours of the night. He also wrote about how he was willing to escape custody again — no matter the risk.
"The one factor that will always give me an edge is the fact that I'm willing to die for my freedom. Are they willing to do the same to keep me in a cage?" he wrote to Meneguzzo in an undated letter, adding: "I am patient and as per our conversation, when the opportunity presents itself, I'll be ready."
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