When District Judge Barbara Jung asked, via a closed-circuit video link between the Baltimore County courthouse and the detention center, whether the 15-year-old Boy Scout understood the charges he was facing for the deaths of his father, mother and two brothers, Browning answered "Yes, I do," and "Yes, ma'am" in a strong, clear voice.
Not much else is understood about the killings of four members of what seemed to be a normal, well-to-do family.
Browning had good grades, played golf and lacrosse, was close to becoming an Eagle Scout, and "I don't even think he's even been suspended from school," attorney Steven Silverman said after bail was denied Monday. "Quite frankly, it's really quite shocking."
Authorities said Nicholas Browning shot his sleeping family with one of his father's handguns Friday, then tossed the weapon in some bushes and left. They said he returned a day later to stage the discovery of their deaths.
Police said he confessed to the slayings Sunday and was charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of John, 45; Tamara, 44; Gregory, 13, and Benjamin, 11.
Browning's attorney had cited his strong academic background and lack of a criminal record in seeking to have bail set at $1 million. Browning was being held at the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson in a special section for juveniles.
Cynthia and Mark Warnecki of Sterling, Va., were appointed guardians later Monday for Browning and had arranged for other attorneys, said Silverman, who added that he was removing himself from the case. Browning had hired Silverman from jail Sunday, the attorney said.
Police said the shootings followed a dispute but provided few details.
Nicholas Browning, who turns 16 on Saturday, told police he spent Friday night with friends and called 911 after he was brought home Saturday night. Officers found the four bodies inside the house. The father was found downstairs and the others upstairs, all dead from gunshot wounds, police said.
Silverman asked people not to jump to conclusions about his client, noting he had repeatedly denied killing his family during hours of police interrogation before the alleged confession. At the hearing, Silverman reminded the court that a study by the Innocence Project found that about 25 percent of exonerated individuals had made confessions later found to be false.
Jennifer Welsh, who lived across the street from the family and whose son played lacrosse with Nicholas, described him as "a very polite, well mannered, average teenage boy." She said her son was upset and confused by the killings.
"He's wondering ... how? why? He's trying to digest the whole thing," Welsh said.
Associated Press writer Kristen Wyatt contributed to this report.