ATLANTA – The man awaiting trial for a bloody escape at the Atlanta courthouse in 2005 is suspected of enlisting his pen-pal girlfriend, a paralegal and at least two sheriff's deputies in a scheme to break out again, according to law enforcement documents obtained by The Associated Press.
Brian Nichols allegedly plotted to cut his way through the cinderblock walls of the Fulton County Jail, jump into a waiting van and make his way to his girlfriend up north.
Nichols evidently used his considerable charm to draw his girlfriend into the plot, while some of the other players were bribed with cash and the prospect of romance with the woman, according to the documents, which include statements from the girlfriend and letters she exchanged with Nichols.
The alleged breakout attempt apparently did not get past the planning stages, and Nichols was abruptly moved to another jail in October 2006 for reasons that are not entirely clear.
Special prosecutor Ken Wynne, who has been reviewing the allegations since April, would not discuss the investigation Thursday, and no charges have been filed.
"My God," attorney James E. Voyles, who represents the widow of a sheriff's deputy Nichols is charged with killing in the shooting spree, said of the allegations. "It's shocking. I would be surprised if there were not indictments."
Reached by telephone Friday, one of Nichols' attorneys refused to comment.
Nichols, 36, already faces murder and other charges in the March 11, 2005, escape and shooting rampage that began at a downtown courthouse and left four people dead. He is charged with killing the judge presiding over his rape trial, a court reporter, a sheriff's deputy who chased him outside, and a federal agent he encountered a few miles away.
Authorities said he forced his way into a woman's home and eventually surrendered after spending much of the night talking with her.
Exactly how the latest alleged plot came to authorities' attention is not explained, but they had been monitoring his conversations over a jailhouse phone, and later granted the girlfriend, Lisa Meneguzzo, 38, of Beacon Falls, Conn., immunity from prosecution. The documents obtained by the AP consist largely of what she told investigators.
Meneguzzo said she began writing to Nichols after his arrest in the courthouse shootings, talked with him by phone and visited him a number of times in jail, where they held hands and kissed, and where she once sat in such a way that he could look up her skirt.
She told investigators that Nichols asked her to go to a Home Depot store and buy a masonry saw, a circular saw, a jack and other tools capable of cutting through 11 to 12 inches of cinderblock. It is not clear from the records if the tools were ever bought.
In a letter to Meneguzzo, Nichols said his plan once he got out was to hop into a cargo van driven by a friend who would pose as a Red Cross volunteer. He said there would be boxes in the back he could hide in.
The documents make no mention of any attempts to obtain a gun.
As for the other alleged conspirators, Meneguzzo told investigators that a paralegal who once worked for Nichols' defense team, Tamela Hysten, gave Nichols pages from a book that were about escape and evasion.
Meneguzzo said she also helped recruit a deputy at the jail who was responsible for guarding Nichols, David Ramsey, saying that he made advances toward her in a jail elevator and that she used that to her advantage.
After Ramsey resigned, another deputy who was dating Hysten became their "main man," Meneguzzo said. She said she didn't know the deputy's name.
Meneguzzo said she paid Ramsey $300 to $500 every four to six weeks for an unspecified period of time. She said she also gave money to Hysten, including a blank check, and separately gave Hysten three wire payments of $500 to give to the second deputy. The documents include a canceled check for $500 made out to Hysten and signed by Meneguzzo.
In a letter to Meneguzzo, Nichols said morale among the guards at the jail was low, as was their pay, factors he believed might work to his advantage.
Meneguzzo said she was able to pass Nichols a cell phone, and Ramsey helped keep it charged. Beyond that, what role Ramsey or other deputies were supposed to play in the breakout itself was not clear from the documents.
Prosecutors previously disclosed in court papers a transcript of a June 2006 call between Nichols and Meneguzzo in which the inmate asked her to describe the location of a tower and barbed wire around the jail.
Meneguzzo said Nichols' brother Mark was also in on the plot, but she did not specify his role beyond saying he sent her a package that she forwarded to the paralegal, Hysten.
"Wow. That's all I can say," Hysten said when asked about the allegations. "All this is news to me."
Later, a lawyer who said he represents her called the AP and said his client did nothing wrong.
She "was a dedicated and committed employee-investigator to the Brian Nichols defense team," said Akil Secret. "All of her actions were within those limits, within the limits of a bona-fide defense of a criminal prosecution."
Secret declined to address the specific allegations but said of Meneguzzo: "The stability and credibility of any woman who develops a romantic interest in an inmate under these circumstances has to be questioned."
Meneguzzo declined to comment when reached by phone.
Ramsey told AP he knew about the cell phone and charged it a couple of times. He also said Meneguzzo had approached him about "trying to find somebody to bring some type of tool to help (Nichols) get out of jail."
He said that he didn't tell his superiors and that he maintained the cell phone because he needed the money Meneguzzo gave him. Ramsey denied conspiring to help Nichols escape, saying the cell phone issue is "the only thing I'm guilty of. I don't know what kind of time that's going to bring."
He added: "My life pretty much is over, the way I look at it."
A home telephone line for Nichols' brother was disconnected.
The Fulton County Jail has been plagued over the years by overcrowding and doubts about its security. Nichols is now in neighboring DeKalb County's jail.
His murder trial has been postponed indefinitely because of a lack of money to pay for his state-supported defense. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.