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Defendant overpowers deputy, kills 3
Search under way for suspect in Georgia, surrounding states
Friday, March 11, 2005 Posted: 7:44 PM EST (0044 GMT)

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Three people were killed at a downtown courthouse Friday morning after a defendant overpowered a deputy on the way to court then shot a judge and court reporter before killing another deputy while fleeing the building, Atlanta police said.

A search for the suspect, identified by police as Brian Nichols, 33, was under way in Georgia and the neighboring states of Alabama, Tennessee and the Carolinas. Nichols is described as being a black male, 33 years old, about 6 feet, 1 inch tall and weighing 210 pounds.

"We're not going to rest until we have him in custody," said Atlanta Assistant Chief of Police Alan Dreher.

The shootings occurred about 9 a.m. as Nichols was being led into Fulton County Superior Court Judge Rowland W. Barnes' eighth-floor courtroom, Dreher said. Nichols was being retried on rape, false imprisonment and other charges after a first trial last week ended in a hung jury. The second trial began Monday.

Nichols -- who was in custody but was allowed to change from jail scrubs into street clothes, a normal occurrence when defendants face jurors -- apparently struggled with the deputy for the gun and overpowered her, police said.

Sources told CNN the initial overpowering occurred in an elevator.

There were conflicting reports over whether the deputy whose gun was taken was shot. Dreher said she was not, but Jeffrey Salamone, attending trauma surgeon at Grady Memorial Hospital, said she had a gunshot wound to the head.

Doctors at Grady Memorial Hospital said the deputy had a wound on her head consistent with a graze wound from a gunshot, but the bullet did not penetrate her head.

Salamone said she suffered a small bruise on her brain and some fractures around her face. She was in critical condition, but was expected to survive.

Once inside Barnes' courtroom, Nichols held people in the room at bay briefly before shooting Barnes and his court reporter -- both of whom died at the scene, police said.

Nichols then fled the building, where outside he shot a deputy in the abdomen, officials said. The deputy was pronounced dead at the hospital, Salamone said.

Authorities said Nichols tried to hijack at least three vehicles, ending up in a multilevel parking structure for Atlanta's Underground tourist area.

A witness told CNN Nichols took his tow truck at gunpoint outside the courthouse.

The gunman "told me to get out of the truck. I told him he can have the truck. And I walked away," Deronte Franklin said.

A few blocks away, a reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was beaten and his Honda Accord stolen from a parking garage. Don O'Briant said a man pulled up in an SUV and asked for directions before he pulled a gun, told O'Briant to give up his car keys and get in the trunk of the car.

"I turned to run, and that's when he hit me in the head with his gun," O'Briant said.

Signs over Atlanta highways said police were looking for a green Honda Accord with a Georgia license plate 6584YN.

Atlanta police said they have set up a tip line at 404-730-7983 and 404-730-7984.

Law enforcement officials are offering rewards totaling $60,000 in the case.

Courthouse security
Some said the shooting was predictable given the security lapses at the courthouse.

"The security in the Fulton County Courthouse, the way they deal with prisoners, is absolutely atrocious," attorney Dennis Scheib told CNN. "I said this was going to happen."

Scheib said deputies outside the courthouse told him that a knife-like weapon was discovered in Nichols' boot last week.

Fulton County State Court Judge Craig Schwall, however, described security at the courthouse as "phenomenal." Judges have their own private elevator, accessible only by key card, he said. Their chambers are heavily secured, he said, and they and other court officials have their own secure parking garage.

"I think that, as public servants, we all have to be mindful of these risks," Schwall said.

Well-respected judge
Barnes was "extremely highly thought of in the legal community," attorney B.J. Bernstein told CNN. The judge presided over both civil and criminal cases.

"The only thing I can imagine is that someone would have had to have moved very quickly and suddenly to catch one of the deputies off guard in order to remove his weapon," she said.

Barnes heard the case of Dany Heatley of the Atlanta Thrashers, who lost control of his Ferrari and drove into a brick-and-concrete post while driving in the city in September 2003. His passenger, Dan Snyder, 25, was critically injured and died a few days later. Heatley pleaded guilty to charges including second-degree vehicular homicide and speeding.

Last month, Barnes made headlines when he ordered a 34-year-old woman, who had seven children and pleaded guilty to killing the eighth, a newborn, to undergo sterilization.

He was a vocal advocate of Fulton County's supervised rehabilitation clinics, an alternative for jail for repeat offenders with drug addictions. Barnes touted the program for its cost-effectiveness.

A juror in Nichols' trial told CNN that Barnes was kind, and said Nichols always seemed to be respectful to him.

The juror said Nichols made the jury nervous by staring at them.

CNN's Ninette Sosa and Randi Kaye contributed to this report
 

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Mass should take note of these recent shootings and make major changes to their courtroom security. Those guys should be armed, and as far as my local courthouse goes, they need more manpower too.
 

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I just don't understand how GA can have a law stating that all defendants must not be handcuffed so as not to taint the jury. That's friggin nuts. I suppose that'll be changing now. :roll:
 

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The suspect was released from appropriate restraints in an unsecured environment to change his clothes so that the jury would not see him in prison attire. Political correctness has cost several people their lives in this case. Will we as a society take notice?
 

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Latest Developments
AP Photo
Police Capture Atlanta Slayings Suspect
(AP) - A man accused of killing three people at a courthouse was captured Saturday after taking a woman hostage at an apartment complex, officials said. The man is also a suspect in the fatal shooting of an immigration agent earlier Saturday. "Brian Nichols is in custody. He turned himself in without incident. Everybody is safe," said Officer Darren Moloney of the Gwinnett County Police Department. Moloney said Nichols was armed and had a female hostage when he was caught. The woman was not identified by authorities, and it was unclear what relationship she had with Nichols. More ...

Yahoo News
 

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Reno, Thats right under federal Law it is a capital offense to kill a Government employee. Off to Indiana with him. This dirt bag will probably plead insanity.
 

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It's a damn shame that he didn't resist arrest and get a dirt nap that he so richly deserves! :(

BTW, the news stories are saying that NO guns should be allowed in courthouses to prevent these problems. That will likely end up the result of this tragedy.

I know that the chief justice in any particular courthouse gets to make his own rules. Thus, many don't allow firearms and/or all the court officers are unarmed.
 

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I bet that his next visit to the court he will be in irons.
I just talked to a friend that is a PO in Atlanta and
he said that everyone on and off duty was out looking for the scumbag before he did any more damage.
He said that all of the court people there are looking to be armed dispite what the papers are saying.
I guess that we will have to wait and see.
 

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I read a article that he had two hand made flat stock weapons (shanks) made out of a door handle hidden in his shoes the day before this terrible tragedy. I am not familiar with the security at the Atlanta courts, but they should have had two Deputies and had him in his prison jumpsuit and in full restraints.That is only my opinion. I feel bad for the families of the victims.
 
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