November 7, 2008 / 9:13 PM / 11 years ago

Escapee convicted of killing judge in courtroom

Murder suspect Brian Nichols is escorted by law enforcement to make a brief court appearance at the Fulton County jail in Atlanta, Georgia, March 15, 2005. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A jury convicted a man on Friday of murdering a judge in a courtroom and killing three other people during his escape from custody in a spree that gained him instant notoriety, the court said.

Police and the FBI launched a huge manhunt for Brian Nichols in March 2005 after he committed a string of crimes while escaping from the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, where he was being tried for rape.

Prosecutors want the death penalty for Nichols, 36, who was convicted of 54 counts including murder, kidnapping, robbery, aggravated assault and carjacking, a court official said.

He could be sentenced to execution by lethal injection or life in prison. Nichols pleaded not guilty on the basis of insanity.

While being prepared for a court hearing in 2005, Nichols overpowered a security guard, took her gun and entered the courtroom where he shot dead Judge Rowland Barnes and a court reporter in front of several witnesses.

During his escape, he killed a deputy sheriff outside the court. In the manhunt that followed, Nichols killed a federal agent, hijacked several cars and held a woman hostage in her home north of Atlanta before giving himself up.

Writing by Matthew Bigg; editing by Chris Wilson

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