Midtown shooter gets life plus 65 years in prison

by: Marcus K. Garner Updated:

Nkosi Thandiwe takes the oath before taking the witness stand in his murder tial. Thandiwe, 23, is accused of shooting Brittney Watts, Lauren Garcia and Tiffany Ferenczy on July 15, 2011, killing Watts and leaving Garcia paralyzed.

The man found guilty of murdering a woman and wounding two others in a 2011 Midtown shooting spree was sentenced to life without parole plus 65 years in prison Thursday.

Brittney Watts’ husband struggled through tears to speak to the court to ask for the maximum sentence for Nkosi Thandiwe, the former Midtown security guard who shot and killed his wife.

“I’ve mourned Brittney for the last 568 days,” he said. “I realize the worst day of my life is in my past … But I also realize the best days of my life are, too.”

Brian Watts brushed flowing hair from his face and lamented looking forward “to the day that I die so that I can be with Brittney again.”

Thandiwe was convicted Thursday of fatally shooting Watts, paralyzing Lauren Garcia and injuring Tiffany Ferenczy.

His mother, Lynnae Thandiwe, pleaded with the judge for mercy.

“He’s not the ‘Midtown Shooter,’” she said. “He’s not a monster. It’s not consistent with who Nkosi is. Nothing can be gained by putting him in jail for the rest of his life.”

Thandiwe was found guilty of all the counts against him and the sentencing phase of the trial began immediately. He was charged with murder, felony murder – causing a death during the commission of a felony – several counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, armed robbery, carjacking and gun offenses.

A juror was dismissed earlier Thursday on the fourth day of Thandiwe’s murder trial, and prosecutors told the court that his July 15, 2011 shooting spree was the result of racism, not insanity as his attorney claimed.

“He told you he shot Brittney Watts, Lauren Garcia and Tiffany Ferenczy because he had adopted all these racist ideals,” Fulton County assistant district attorney Linda Dunikoski said to the jury, referring to Thandiwe’s testimony on Wednesday. “If race disorder was a [mental illness], then the Ku Klux Klan could murder and kill with impunity.”

Thandiwe, 23, was accused of fatally shooting Watts in the neck in a Midtown parking deck as she left her office for lunch, then taking her car, apparently hitting her body as he pulled away, then firing into a crowd of women walking along Crescent Street as he sped off, striking Ferenczy and Garcia and leaving Garcia paralyzed from the waist down.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kelly A. Lee, in an unusual move on Wednesday, moved to allow Thandiwe’s attorney to file an insanity defense late in the trial by ordering a mental evaluation be made overnight to determine whether the verdict options of “not guilty by reason of insanity” and “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but mentally ill” to the choices the jury had to consider.

Thursday morning, she added both choices to the verdict sheet the jurors would read during deliberation, and recommended to them that “if the jury determines ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ to stop deliberations.”

Public defender Wes Bryant borrowed from the prosecutor’s opening statement to suggest that Thandiwe may have been out of his mind when he shot the women.

“The State got up and said this was a senseless act,” Bryant told the jury. “The State is right, because there is no sense in what happened. In the insane mind of Nkosi Thandiwe, it was the right thing to do.”

Bryant pointed to witnesses – both strangers and acquaintances – who testified seeing Thandiwe while he was committing the shooting, describing his face as “blank,” or “intense” and even saying his client was “driving like a maniac.”

“There’s also the testimony from Mr. Thandiwe describing his out-of-body experience,” Bryant said. “He acted without being able to control what was going on. He said he watched the ‘shooter’ firing senseless shots.”

But while a mental health professional reviewed Thandiwe on Wednesday evening to support adding new verdict choices for the jury, no one evaluated him or testified to his mental well-being.

Dunikoski quickly jumped on this fact.

“Where are the doctors?” she asked the jury. “This is kind of insulting to people who are really suffering under mental health issues. Crazy is not legally insane.”

Before closing arguments, Lee dismissed a juror who, during lunch on Wednesday, approached a TV crew and told them which case he was hearing.

“Based on your contact yesterday, and my concerns with your lack of forthrightness, I am dismissing you,” she said to the man. “Please don’t disrupt this process any more than you already have.”

He was asked to gather all of his things and leave the courthouse. An alternate – there are two who have listened to all of the evidence – was identified to replace the ousted juror.

Please return for updates.

Channel 2 Action News

Delivered To Your Inbox