- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 12, 2005

ATLANTA (AP) — A man being escorted into court for his trial on rape charges yesterday stole a deputy’s gun, killed the judge and two other persons and carjacked a reporter’s vehicle to escape, setting off a massive manhunt and creating widespread chaos across Atlanta, police said.

Hundreds of officers in cruisers and helicopters swarmed the area in search of the suspect, identified as Brian Nichols, 33. He had been on trial for rape, burglary and other charges stemming from an August incident involving an ex-girlfriend.

The rampage led to chaos across the city, with schools, restaurants and office buildings locking down amid fears the gunman might strike again.

Late last night, police reported that the car had been found in a downtown Atlanta parking lot, not far from where it was stolen.

“Mr. Nichols is considered armed and extremely dangerous and should not be approached,” Fulton County Sheriff Myron Freeman said. “We are not going to rest until we find him.”

The defendant got the semiautomatic pistol by overpowering Deputy Cynthia Hall while he was being led down a corridor in the Fulton County Courthouse, Assistant Police Chief Alan Dreher said.

After shooting the deputy in the face, he went to the courtroom, held about a dozen people at bay for a short time, then fatally shot Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes and his court reporter, Julie Brandau.

The female deputy was in critical condition but is expected to survive, said a doctor at Grady Hospital.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Hoyt Teasley was fatally shot outside the courthouse when he confronted the suspect, Chief Dreher said.

Authorities said Mr. Nichols then pistol-whipped a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, stole his green 1997 Honda Accord and sped away.

“When he had the gun in my face, you start to think, ‘How can I stay alive.’ I thought this was a routine carjack. I didn’t know … other people were killed,” said Don O’Briant, a features writer for the paper.

The shootings occurred on the fourth day of Mr. Nichols’ trial. He had been facing a retrial on charges of rape, sodomy, burglary and false imprisonment, among others, after his earlier trial ended in a hung jury a week ago.

The judge and prosecutors had requested extra security for deputies following the discovery of the sharp objects in Mr. Nichols’ shoes, prosecutor Gayle Abramson said. She said the objects apparently were fashioned by sharpening pieces of a door knob assembly.

“I think he probably realized … he might be convicted this time, he might not have a chance to walk out,” Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said.

In the rape case, Mr. Nichols was accused of bursting into his ex-girlfriend’s home, binding her with duct tape and sexually assaulting her over three days.

Mr. Nichols had faced a possible life-imprisonment sentence if convicted.

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