PELL CITY – A man charged with making terrorist threats told St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Bill Weathington on Thursday he only confessed to the crimes to protect another person.
“I was covering for someone else,” Danny Ray Nichols Jr., 38, of Springville, testified during the short motion hearing.
Nichols, who has been held in the St. Clair County Jail since his September 2018 arrest, appeared in court Thursday after his attorney, Fred Teague, filed a motion to suppress his client’s statements to investigators and to request a change of venue for Nichols’ upcoming trial, which is slated to begin next week.
Nichols is accused of making terrorist threats by email.
Authorities said the threats implied explosive devices would cause damage to the St. Clair County courthouses, and to Pell City and Ashville schools. The threats forced the temporary closure and search of all the facilities in question.
St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Wayne Layton testified Thursday that his agency’s investigation resulted in Nichols being identified, questioned and arrested.
Shortly after Nichols’ arrest, authorities said the suspect was scheduled to appear in court for a charge of third-degree burglary.
Teague told the judge Thursday this case has received widespread media attention.
“His side was not presented in those articles,” Teague said.
He said the media coverage could possibly taint the pool of St. Clair County jurors.
Teague said it was reported his client allegedly made threats against two schools, which would have a large population of parents who could have formed a prejudicial view against his client, undercutting his chance for a fair trial.
He also noted there could be a conflict of interest because the mater involved the St. Clair County Court System.
“A change of venue is in the best interest of my client and in the best interest of justice,” Teague said.
At Thursday’s hearing, St. Clair County District Attorney Lyle Harmon admitted the bomb threat did receive media attention.
“It was newsworthy because of the nature of the alleged crime,” Harmon told the judge. “But we have no indications that he (Nichols) could not get a fair trial (here in St. Clair County).”
Weathington denied the defense’s motion to move the trial outside of St. Clair County.
Teague also asked the judge to throw out the alleged written statements his client made to authorities shortly after his arrest. He said Nichols was on drugs and alcohol, and was protecting someone else.
“I was really messed up when they came and arrested me,” Nichols told the judge Thursday.
Harmon said his office completely disagrees, and Layton testified Nichols did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time he provided written statements to authorities.
In court Thursday, Nichols denied he signed a Miranda warning waiver, which waved certain rights, before providing written statements to investigators.
Weathington was given the signed Miranda form and two written statements Layton said Nichols signed and wrote. Weathington silently read the written statements from the bench.
“Yes, I did write this, but I was covering for someone else,” Nichols told the judge.
Weathington denied the motion to suppress the written statements.