- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

From combined dispatches

DULUTH, GA. — The suspect in the shooting deaths of a judge, U.S. Customs agent and two other persons is in custody facing federal and state charges after surrendering to police yesterday.

Brian Nichols, 33, waved a white cloth and surrendered to authorities at an apartment complex in Gwinnett County about 26 hours after he fled the Atlanta courthouse where he is said to have fatally shot the judge presiding over his rape case, a court reporter and a deputy, police said.

Mr. Nichols, who grew up in Baltimore, was being questioned at an undisclosed location.

“He is currently under arrest, and we’re still trying to decipher the charges,” Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington said.

Prosecutors said Mr. Nichols could appear in federal court as early as tomorrow to face a charge of possession of a firearm by a person under indictment, the charge authorities are using to keep him in custody while they investigate the slayings.

Mr. Nichols gave himself up without a struggle after a woman tipped police that he had forced his way into her apartment early yesterday morning, authorities said. The woman, who police said did not know Mr. Nichols, escaped unharmed.

Word of the capture came after Atlanta police disclosed the killing of David Wilhelm, a special agent in charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Chief Pennington said Mr. Nichols fatally shot Mr. Wilhelm at the agent’s home in Atlanta, then took his blue truck, pistol and badge.

Mr. Wilhelm, 40, had served the federal government for 18 years and was honored in 2001 with the Top Blue Eagle Award for his work in dismantling numerous drug-smuggling organizations.

“His death is a loss for the entire law enforcement community in Atlanta and around the country,” said Russ Knocke, director of public affairs for the bureau. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and co-workers.”

According to police, Mr. Nichols grabbed a gun from Deputy Cynthia Hall, 51, on Friday while on the way to court and opened fire in the chambers of Judge Rowland Barnes, 64. The judge and court reporter Julie Ann Brandau, 46, were killed on the spot, and Fulton County Sheriff’s Sgt. Hoyt Teasley, 43, was fatally shot outside the courthouse. Miss Hall remained in critical condition yesterday, but hospital officials said she was expected to survive.

Outside the court building, Mr. Nichols also assaulted a journalist and carjacked several vehicles, according to police and witness reports. Chief Pennington said Mr. Nichols also assaulted two out-of-towners before he approached Mr. Wilhelm.

Mr. Nichols was being retried on rape and other charges involving an ex-girlfriend and faced a possible life sentence if convicted. His first trial ended in a hung jury last week, and prosecutors said Mr. Nichols likely thought the second trial would end with a conviction.

Meanwhile, conflicting pictures emerged about Mr. Nichols from those who know him.

Family members described him as a “good person” who came from a stable home and avoided the temptations of the street. Former classmates and coaches, on the other hand, recall him as a physically intimidating martial arts expert with a knack for trouble.

“We’re trying to understand this whole thing,” Mr. Nichols’ sister-in-law, Felisza Nichols, said from her home in Plantation, Fla. “Why did this happen? His character is completely opposite to what is going on.”

Mr. Nichols’ mother, Clathera, is a retired IRS worker, and his father, Gene, was an entrepreneur, their daughter-in-law said. They raised their sons in Baltimore, sending them to private schools and to college.

Mr. Nichols was briefly a student at Kutztown University in eastern Pennsylvania. He enrolled in the fall of 1989, made it through his freshman year, then left the university in the fall semester of his sophomore year.

Nick Pergine, who played football with the suspect at Kutztown, said Mr. Nichols’ massive physical presence and martial arts skills earned him a reputation as someone to be careful around.

“He was a bad dude,” Mr. Pergine said. “You didn’t mess with him.”

Mr. Nichols was arrested at least three times during his short stay at the university.

In 1990, he was charged with terroristic threats, simple assault, disorderly conduct and harassment, stemming from an incident in a university dining hall, according to court documents. He pleaded guilty to the two lesser charges and the others were dropped.

The next year, Mr. Nichols was arrested twice in a month for criminal trespassing, misdemeanor criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. The charges later were dropped.

After dropping out of school, Mr. Nichols moved to Georgia in 1995. He lived in an apartment complex in Atlanta, where a neighbor described him as a “nuisance” because he would occasionally let his pit bull roam around the complex.

Mr. Nichols’ last known job was working as a computer technician for a subsidiary of Atlanta-based shipping giant UPS.

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