Nichols sentenced to two concurrent life terms

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Joseph Edward &uot;Joey&uot; Nichols of Georgiana was sentenced to two consecutive life terms Monday after pleading guilty to charges of kidnapping, second degree, and murder, first.

Nichols was accused of the murder of Walter Sebastian Booker, 25, and kidnapping Booker's four-year-old daughter Abigail Lucinda Booker in McKenzie on the night of November 9, 2001.

Reports indicate that, on Friday night, Nov. 9, Nichols had a warrant out for his arrest for domestic violence, signed by Shonda McIntyre of McKenzie on Oct. 31. He allegedly called the murder victim, Sebastian Booker, and asked him to meet him and bring his daughter, four-year-old Abigail Booker.

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The victim did so and Nichols allegedly shot and killed Booker, dragged his body into the woods and kidnapped Abigail &uot;Abby.&uot; Reports indicate that Nichols shot Booker point-blank in the chest while Abby Booker watched, then dragged the body into the woods, concealed the victim's car and kidnapped the young girl. He then went to a nearby home to use the phone to call McIntyre.

Nichols then called McIntyre at her workplace in Andalusia and said he needed to talk to her. When she said she had nothing to say to him, he told her that, yes, she did, because he had her four-year-old daughter.

McIntyre asked where Booker was and Nichols informed her that he was tied in the trunk of his car. She then agreed to meet Nichols at Whittle Bridge.

According to former Butler County Chief Sheriff's Deputy Kenny Harden, McIntyre went to the Andalusia Police Department and informed officers of the situation. Harden said that the Butler County Sheriff's Department was then notified and began their investigation.

Nichols had allegedly told McIntyre to meet him at Whittle Bridge and that she needed to hurry and not bring anyone with her. Harden said that deputies hid in the trunk of McIntyre's car, but Nichols was not at the bridge when McIntyre arrived.

Hunters located Booker's car abandoned on Tram Road and deputies were called to the scene.

&uot;We (deputies) got the car and then, approximately less than 200 feet from the car, we found Sebastian's body, where it had been dragged off into the woods,&uot; Harden said.

Deputies and McKenzie police officers set up security at McIntyre's residence in McKenzie that night as a manhunt ensued for Nichols and four-year-old Abby Booker. Officers, including officials from the Alabama Bureau of Investigation (ABI), searched the area for nearly 24 hours until Nichols was located at his grandfather's residence in Friendship with the child on Saturday afternoon at approximately 5:15 p.m.

Harden said that he was called to the grandfather's residence and deputies arrested Nichols and Harden returned Abby to her mother. Nichols then was transported to the Butler County Jail where he was placed under an $80,000 bond.

Deputies located the murder weapon, a Springfield Model 940E 20-guage single shot shotgun, on a trailer behind a pickup truck in Nichols' brother's yard.

Nichols' probation was revoked on Nov. 16 by Circuit Judge Ed McFerrin and Nichols was placed in the Covington County jail for added security measures. Nichols escaped from Covington on Nov. 25 and was taken back into custody on the night of Nov. 26. The escape led to more charges against the suspect.

Nichols appeared before Judge McFerrin last week for arraignment and plead not guilty to the charges of murder and kidnapping, second degree. He changed his plea Monday after agreeing to a plea which entails two life sentences to be served concurrently and the sentence from the escape charge, to be served consecutively with the life sentences. He also must pay restitution fees to the Booker family and to McIntyre as well as court costs in the case.

Nichols was sentenced as a habitual offender, after being sentenced in 1999 on charges of murder and rape. He was arrested on Dec. 25, 1998, in the shooting death of his ex-mother-in-law, Dorothy Reno, and the rape of her daughter, Nichols' wife. Records indicate that an during an argument between Nichols and his wife, Reno stepped in to defend her daughter. Nichols then allegedly shot Reno in the head, chest and right breast with a .12-guage shotgun.

Records further indicate that Nichols forced his wife into his van and drove down County Road 45 where he pulled off on a dirt drive and forced his wife to have sex with him by threatening her life. He was allegedly still armed with the shotgun as well as a knife. Greenville police stopped Nichols' vehicle later that night and held him because they had been alerted of the murder and kidnapping situation. The victim then led deputies to the alleged location of the rape and to the location of the shotgun, which Nichols had discarded.

He was charged with murder and the family worked out a plea agreement where he plead guilty, 15 years, split one year, according to Harden. &uot;He did the one year in the penitentiary and came back,&uot; he said.

Harden said he feels the case was handled very well by all those involved and that if it had not been handled well, Nichols would not have pled guilty.

&uot;We worked all night long and all day,&uot; Harden said of the investigation into the kidnapping of Abby Booker and murder of her father, Sebastian Booker.

ABI, State Troopers, Covington County Sheriff's Department, Red Level Police Department, Georgiana Police Department and McKenzie Police Department assisted in the investigation.

&uot;It was a well-worked case,&uot; Harden said. &uot;If not, he would not have pled guilty and accepted two life sentences.&uot;

Shonda McIntyre, mother of Abby Booker, said she feels the sentence is &uot;fair in some ways and in some, not.&uot;

She said she feels that Nichols not having to go to trial will be easier on young Abby. &uot;It's better on my daughter not having to go through a trial.&uot;

McIntyre said the families were hoping Nichols would receive the death penalty, but, according to Harden, the murder did not fit the criteria of capitol murder.

McIntyre said that she, Booker and Nichols were close friends and that &uot;I don't think I'll ever know why he did it.&uot;

Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor said he feels the sentences are fitting for Nichols after the crimes he admitted to.

&uot;It is appropriate that life sentences were imposed on this defendant for crimes of despicable cruelty,&uot; he said. &uot;He persuaded the victim to meet him and to bring his daughter, then viciously killed the father before the young girl's eyes, and abducted the terrified child, taking her prisoner. It is heartbreaking to contemplate the trauma this child suffered as she watched her father's murder and then was used in an attempt by the killer to lure her mother. I hope that this child and the father's family will receive a measure of peace that the murderer has been brought to justice.&uot;

The Attorney General's office prosecuted this case at the request of Butler County District Attorney John Andrews, due to a potential conflict of interest. Records indicate that Andrews was asked by the Booker family to recuse himself from the case &uot;due to the prior relationship when he murdered his ex-mother-in-law.&uot; Andrews served as Nichols' defense attorney in the 1999 murder case against Nichols.

Pryor commended Assistant Attorney General William Dill of the Violent Crimes Division; and former Butler County Chief Sheriff's Deputy Kenny Harden, who is now an investigator with the Georgiana Police Department, &uot;for their outstanding work in the successful prosecution&uot; of Nichols.