By Talia Mollett
"Jim, they need you."
Those words from his wife, Nancy, helped Cobb Superior Court Judge Jim Bodiford agree to take over the case of Brian Nichols last year in Atlanta. Nichols was convicted in November of killing four people in a Fulton County rampage in March 2005, and is now serving life without parole.
Judge Bodiford shared some of his experiences in the trial with members of the Smyrna Optimists Club during a breakfast Friday at American Legion Post 160.
He also gave an update on Nichols, who is now a resident of the maximum-security prison in Jackson, southeast of Atlanta in Butts County. Bodiford said Nichols' cell is so small that he can touch both walls from his cot. There is not enough room for him to exercise in his cell. He is allowed out only to shower.
"All he has to look forward to is his shower three times a week," Bodiford said. "Brian Nichols is not a celebrity at Jackson prison. He's just another person in a hellhole prison."
And although it was Bodiford who sentenced Nichols to spend the rest of his life in prison - four life sentences without parole, plus seven life sentences, plus 485 years - he told Nichols at sentencing that "if I could give you more, I would."
The road to the sentencing was a long one.
After the killings in March 2005, prosecutors brought 54 charges against Nichols and sought the death penalty. Pre-trial motions dragged the case out for more than two years. In early 2008, Hilton Fuller, a senior judge of the DeKalb Superior Court, stepped off the Nichols case after a magazine reported him saying "everyone in the world knows (Nichols) did it."
That's where Bodiford came in. He officially took over the case on Feb. 4, 2008. By summer, he was seating the jury, which took six weeks. Bodiford and the lawyers selected 12 jurors and six alternates.
On the first day of trial, September 22, one juror sent Bodiford a note asking to be excused.
"The letter said, 'I have dental problems, I have medical problems, I have mental problems and I hate Brian Nichols,'" Bodiford recalled.
The juror was promptly excused - sort of. Bodiford made the man attend the trial every day and sit at the back of the courtroom. He had to be in court at the same time as the jury, and he couldn't leave until the end of the day's proceedings.
"I told him he would still get paid $25. He asked me if I could really do this to him and I said, 'try me,'" Bodiford said with a smile. "I hate to say this, but it really made my day."
On Nov. 7, the jury found Nichols guilty on all counts. Jurors deadlocked on the death penalty, forcing the life sentences.
Bodiford, who has been a Superior Court judge since 1994 and has presided over several high-profile trials, earned accolades all around for getting the trial back on track.
"I thought whichever judge took the trial, it could be a career breaker for them. I knew whoever was assigned to the case, it would take up their whole year," Bodiford said.
But with the encouragement of his wife, Nancy, who is an assistant to Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren, Bodiford knew he had to take the case.
"It was the right thing to do," he said.
(Judge James Bodiford and his wife Nancy are both personal friends and I am so proud of the job he did presiding over the Brian Nichols case and the sentencing phase! Way to go Jim, again you proved what our justice system is all about, "fairness". You went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that "prejudice" would not be part of Nichols' appeal process! Godspeed! VN8)