ATHENS - A prison inmate killed in an escape attempt at a northeast Georgia courthouse had taken to calling himself ``Brian Nichols,'' after the man accused of a shooting rampage during an escape from an Atlanta courthouse 17 months earlier, according to an investigative report.
Interviews included in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation report on Timothy Lamar Jones' Aug. 21 attempt to flee from the Jackson County Courthouse indicated that Jones sought to impersonate Nichols and shoot his way to freedom, the Athens Banner-Herald reported.
Jones took a deputy's unsecured gun and commandeered a van, but was killed in a hail of gunfire.
Nichols is accused of killing four people, including a judge, during and after his escape from the Fulton County Courthouse on March 11, 2005, after overpowering a deputy and taking her gun.
Three inmates who were with the 28-year-old Jones at the time of his shooting were later charged with conspiring in an escape attempt. Attorneys involved in the case say the charge is unjust.
``In Georgia, unless you have an affirmative act which helps or encourages the commission of a crime, then you're not guilty of a crime,'' Athens lawyer Doug Lenhardt said.
Deputy Kimsey Gray was leading Jones and prisoners Mark McCarthy, Joshua Marlow and Bobby Martin from the courthouse to a jail transport van. Jones took the deputy's unsecured gun from the van, attacked the officer and snatched a set of keys from him, according to investigators.
Leading up to the shooting, Jones called himself ``Brian Nichols'' or ``Mr. Nichols,'' inmates told the GBI. He even wrote the name on his prison garb and a cup he had in the courthouse.
Jail officials apparently didn't take notice.
``I don't think anyone would look at anything written on a uniform,'' said Terry Norris, executive vice president of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association.
Investigators say the four inmates conspired to escape from jail.
As they walked toward the sally port, the inmates ``seemed to be very spread out,'' according to the GBI.
``I think most of that plan was hatched that day, maybe there in the courthouse while they were in the holding area,'' sheriff's Maj. David Cochran said. ``I think the surveillance tape shows there was participation by all of those inmates that were being transported at that time.''
Lenhardt, who represents McCarthy, questions how the men could have conspired. He says they happened to be in the courthouse about the same time simply because their names fall together in the alphabet, and once the shooting began, the other three inmates sought cover.
``They didn't plan it, they had no control over who was brought over to the courthouse,'' Lenhardt said. ``They had absolutely nothing to do with it.''
Winder attorney Bill Healan, who represents Martin, said, ``When they take you to the courthouse, they don't ask which bus you want to take.''