Ten years after three children were burned alive in a Colorado Springs arson blaze, the father convicted of plotting their deaths wants a new trial.
Timothy Nicholls, 43, is back in 4th Judicial District Court this week for a multi-day hearing to explore claims he was poorly served by his defense attorney at a 2007 trial that resulted in murder convictions for the deaths of his children.
Prosecutors tied the March 2003 house fire in the Village Seven neighborhood to a meth-addled scheme by Nicholls and then-wife Deborah to score an insurance payoff they never received. Killed were 11-year-old Jay, 5-year-old Sophia and 3-year-old Sierra Nicholls. Deborah Nicholls, 46, was convicted of murder at a separate trial in 2008, and she is serving her life sentence at the Denver Women's Correctional Facility.
Now an inmate at the Sterling Correctional Facility, Timothy Nicholls took the stand on Monday and Tuesday, dryly answering questions about trial preparation in the same courtroom where he was handed a life sentence without parole.
The hearing continues Thursday, but 4th Judicial District Judge G. David Miller, who presided over Timothy Nicholls' two-week trial, said he will not rule on the request for a new trial until after receiving written arguments due Jan. 21.
In court pleadings, an attorney for Nicholls argues that his defense counsel, Dennis Hartley, failed to prepare and made a variety of critical errors during a two-week trial - allegations the veteran litigator disputed on the stand.
"I was extremely effective - it's just that the outcome was adverse," Hartley told The Gazette during a break in the proceedings. He added that the emotional nature of the case was "too much to overcome." "I don't blame the guy for taking a shot. He's doing life without parole."
Nicholls' effort also includes a claim that a fire investigator who testified for the prosecution used "junk science" in concluding the fire was set intentionally at the Nicholls' home on Undimmed Circle.
The expert, John DeHaan, is expected to testify about his work Thursday.
To win a new trial, Nicholls' attorney must show not only that his defense was "below the standard of care" expected of defense attorneys, but that it also affected the trial's outcome.
The request is among the last legal challenges available to Nicholls in the state courts. His appeal was rejected in 2010, and the Colorado Supreme Court denied a request to review the case shortly thereafter, court records show.
Timothy and Deborah Nicholls have since divorced.