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Penalty phase for courthouse killer begins

ATLANTA, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- A jury in Atlanta heard victim impact statements Thursday from relatives and friends of those gunned down by convicted courthouse killer Brian Nichols.

Nichols, convicted of the murder of a judge, court reporter and sheriff's deputy in the courthouse where he was on trial for sexual assault, and gunning down a federal agent several hours later, faces either a death sentence or life in prison, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

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Claudia Barnes, widow of Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes, said that she still misses her husband and has lived in "incredible devastation" for the last 3 ½ years. She described holding his hand for the last time just before his body was cremated and running her hand over the place where the bullet entered his skull.

Also Thursday, Superior Court Judge James Bodiford refused a defense request for a mistrial. The judge chastised prosecutors for playing a tape-recording of Nichols allegedly threatening to kill a prosecutor without notifying defense lawyers.

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