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Widow of Slain Fulton County Judge Settles Lawsuit for $5.2 Million

By David M. Reutter

Georgia’s Fulton County has agreed to pay the widow of slain judge Rowland Barnes $5.2 million. Barnes was killed by Brian Nichols, who went on a killing rampage in March 2005 at the Fulton County Courthouse.

Nichols, who was on trial for rape in Barnes’ courtroom, overpowered the single guard who was overseeing him change from jail clothes to street clothes in a holding cell. He then beat that female guard and took her service revolver.

From that point, Nichols proceeded to Barnes’ chambers. When he entered the courtroom, he shot Barnes and court reporter Julie Anne Brandau. Nichols then fled the courthouse, where he shot sheriff’s Sgt. Hoyt Teasley. A few hours later, Nichols killed the federal agent David Wilhelm.

The survivors of all killed have sued. Barnes’s widow, Claudia, was the first to settle. That settlement came weeks after a judge had decided her case was ready to proceed to trial. The $5.2 million settlement will be paid by the county’s insurer, Clarendon America.

Separately, the County will pay Claudia Barnes a one-time annuity of $246,999 to settle claims related to benefits for being a former Fulton County employee. She was a judicial assistant to Fulton County Court Judge John R. Mather.

Claudia Barnes was pleased to resolve the legal matters. “I miss my husband every day, and this won’t take that away,” she said. “Now I can focus all my attention on the criminal trial.”

Jury selection began in Nichols’s trial in August 2008. PLN will report on the outcome of that trial.

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