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Killing of Vegas courthouse gunman 'justified'

Officers fatally shot Johnny Lee Wicks, who had opened fire in a Las Vegas courthouse and killed a federal court guard

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — A coroner's jury determined Friday that authorities were justified in killing a shotgun-wielding assailant who opened fire and mortally wounded a security guard during a furious gunbattle at a federal courthouse in Las Vegas.

The jury of three women and four men deliberated about an hour before making its finding.

The decision came after the panel viewed a graphic video of the shootout in which 66-year-old gunman Johnny Lee Wicks fired five times and authorities retaliated with 85 shots.

Authorities said Wicks was angry after losing a lawsuit challenging a cut in his Social Security benefits.

In the Jan. 4 security footage, Wicks was first seen in silent black-and-white profile against the light of glass entry doors. He pulled a long-barrel, 12-gauge shotgun from beneath his lengthy coat and fired three times before retreating just outside the building.

Court security guard Stanley Cooper, 72, hunched over after the first shot. He died a short time later.

Another security officer returned fire, and a tall window turned opaque as it broke but remained in place.

During the shooting, Wicks poked his head and the barrel of the shotgun around a courthouse wall several times.

"Every time he peeks out, the security officer was firing," Las Vegas police Detective Dean Raetz testified in monotone as he followed the action on the video. "It was a pretty chaotic scene."

Seven deputy U.S. marshals and security guards finally forced Wicks away from the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse. Deputy U.S. Marshal Richard Gardner, 48, was wounded in the head and face by a blast of birdshot pellets and later recovered.

Wicks died in the desert landscaping of a historic schoolhouse across Las Vegas Boulevard. He had one empty shotgun shell and one live round still in the gun. Another was on the ground and 16 more in a pack around his waist.

Court records showed Wicks, an ex-convict from Memphis, was angry after losing a lawsuit challenging a cut in his Social Security benefits following a move from California to Nevada.

Raetz said Wicks set fire to his apartment in North Las Vegas about three hours before the downtown shooting.

The inquest was a fact-finding presentation that does not involve cross-examination of witnesses. After the presentation by prosecutors, the jury of seven people will decide whether the use of lethal force against Wicks was justified, excusable or criminal.

No one from Wicks' family attended the inquest.

Prosecutor Christopher Laurent said he believed earlier tallies of 81 shots fired by authorities failed to account for shots through the window of the courthouse rotunda.

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