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Jury spares Nichols a death sentence

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  • Jury split 9-3 in favor of death, but decision must be unanimous
  • Judge will sentence him to life with or without parole Saturday
  • Brian Nichols faced death penalty for killing four people in 2005 shooting rampage
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Atlanta courthouse shooter Brian Nichols was spared a death sentence Friday after the jury deliberating his fate announced that it could not agree on a sentence.

Brian Nichols was spared a death sentence after the jury in his trial announced it was deadlocked.

Jurors told Superior Court Judge James Bodiford on Friday night that they were deadlocked, with nine in favor of death and three in favor of life without parole.

Under Georgia law, the jurors must reach a unanimous decision in order to impose a death sentence. In the absence of a unanimous jury verdict, the decision falls in the hands of Bodiford, who will decide Saturday between a life sentence with or without the possibility of parole.

Nichols, 37, was convicted last month of 54 counts for a deadly shooting rampage that began in the same courthouse where he is standing trial. Nichols shot three people at the downtown courthouse and a federal agent in Atlanta's Buckhead district before being captured in neighboring Gwinnett County.

Defense lawyers said Nichols, who confessed to the killings, suffers from a mental disorder.

The jurors unanimously found the necessary aggravating circumstances in the four murders, but they were split over the death penalty. If at least seven of the 12 jurors vote for death or for life in prison without parole, the judge can impose a life sentence, with or without possibility of parole.

Bodiford dismissed the jury Friday night after polling each panelist and told the court to return at 8:40 a.m. ET Saturday for his sentence.

After nine weeks of testimony, the jury found Nichols guilty of 54 counts, which included the four murders plus numerous aggravated assaults, carjackings and kidnappings.

The shootings began in the Fulton County Courthouse, where Nichols was set to stand trial for rape. He overpowered a sheriff's deputy and took her gun before proceeding to the courtroom of Judge Rowland Barnes, killing him and court reporter Julie Ann Brandau.

Sgt. Hoyt Teasley chased Nichols to outside the courthouse, where Nichols fatally shot him.

Nichols killed U.S. Customs Agent David Wilhelm before he was captured about 26 hours later in a standoff with police in the apartment of a woman he took hostage in Gwinnett County.

The case drew nationwide attention, in part because of the cost of Nichols' representation: about $2 million at last accounting.

Nichols had attempted to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, but the Fulton County District Attorney's Office would not take the death penalty off the table.

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