Courthouse killer ‘was on a mission’

Johnny Lee Wicks began his last day early.

At about 5 a.m. on Jan. 4, he set fire to his apartment at 571 N. 30th St. About 45 minutes later, he bought a bus ticket.

Shortly after 8 a.m., he entered the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse on Las Vegas Boulevard South, pulled a shotgun out from his trench coat and opened fire.

“He just walked nonchalantly like he didn’t have a care in the world,” court security officer Arthur Gennaro Jr. later testified at a coroner’s inquest.

Gennaro is one of seven officers who fired a total of 85 shots that day.

According to inquest evidence, court security officer Stan Cooper, 72, was sitting in a chair at the courthouse entrance when Wicks shot him through the opening of a metal detector.

A silent surveillance video shows Cooper, a former Las Vegas police officer, rising from the chair and slumping to his right before collapsing on the floor. Shot in the torso, he never had a chance to draw his own weapon.

Other officers returned fire: A medical examiner testified that Wicks, 66, died after being hit 14 times.

Akal Security, a New Mexico company that handles Las Vegas courthouse security under a U.S. Marshals Service contract, has told its personnel not to talk about that day.

“Both the security investigation and the criminal investigation are still ongoing,” Akal President Daya Khalsa said. “That’s what we’ve been told by the government.”

But most of the officers involved in the shooting testified at the February inquest.

Gennaro was stationed by the public entrance X-ray machine when Wicks entered the building. He recounted seeing the gun barrel rise up from under the man’s trench coat.

“That’s when I backed up a few steps, and his weapon went off and shot,” Gennaro testified.

The security officer continued to back up, and heard two more shots before he saw the gunman turn and go back out the door.

Another security officer, William Sherman, then fired five shots from inside the lobby through a window pane at Wicks.

Walking past Cooper, Gennaro went outside. From the top of a stairway connected to a plaza in front of the courthouse, he saw Wicks across Las Vegas Boulevard.

“It looked like he was reloading his weapon, or attempting to,” the security officer testified.

Gennaro said he yelled at Wicks to drop his weapon but then saw the man point it in his direction.

“That’s when I took my first shot,” the witness said.

A Las Vegas police homicide detective said Gennaro fired 12 times.

“In my own mind, I felt that Mr. Wicks was on a mission, and he was looking to take a few people down with him,” Gennaro testified.

Authorities believe Wicks held a grudge against the federal government. He had lost a federal lawsuit over denial of some disability benefits.

Wicks fired his shotgun five times, including three times in the courthouse lobby. All of the officers who fired back had handguns. Although four security officers were stationed inside the courthouse entrance, Sherman was the only one who fired at Wicks from inside the building. He fired four more rounds outside the courthouse.

Deputy U.S. Marshal Richard “Joe” Gardner, 48, testified that he was checking his e-mail on the second floor of the courthouse when he heard the first shotgun blast. He emerged from a door on the west side of the building and encountered Wicks.

“I fired four rounds at Mr. Wicks as he fled from one cover to the next,” testified Gardner, who did not respond to interview requests.

The witness testified that shotgun pellets struck him in the torso, arm, hand and head but missed vital organs. He said he later underwent surgery.

Evidence presented at the inquest revealed that Deputy U.S. Marshal David Diliberti fired 26 rounds during the gun battle with Wicks; court security officer Michael Gerrity III fired 17 rounds; court security officer Leonard Kaufman fired eight rounds; and detention enforcement officer Justin Ford fired nine rounds.

One visible change in security since the shooting is that courthouse security officers now wear bullet-resistant vests.

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at or 702-384-8710.

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