- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2005

ATLANTA (AP) — Nervous workers and visitors lined up yesterday as the Fulton County Courthouse reopened under heightened security after the slayings of a judge, deputy and court reporter three days earlier.

As the courthouse reopened at 8:30 a.m. — almost exactly 72 hours after the shootings — at least 80 persons waited to pass a security checkpoint set up inside the building. The line snaked down a hallway near the entrance.

No jurors were going to be called to the courthouse this week, said Erik Friedly, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported yesterday that a courthouse surveillance camera recorded the initial surprise attack by the gunman, identified as Brian Nichols, on Deputy Cynthia Hall but that no one in the control center noticed the assault. Deputy Hall was escorting Nichols to the resumption of his trial on rape and other charges.

“It’s not just horrible; it was preventable,” Senior Superior Court Judge Philip Etheridge told the newspaper.

A video camera that is supposed to be monitored by two guards in a command post shows Nichols lunging at Deputy Hall and knocking her backward, said a law-enforcement official who saw the tape.

Judge Etheridge said Deputy Hall, a petite 51-year-old, should not have been alone with Nichols, a former college football linebacker who had been found with two sharpened door hinges in his socks earlier in the week.

Deputy Hall remained in critical condition Sunday, Grady Memorial Hospital officials said.

Nichols was taken into custody Saturday morning after holding a woman hostage for several hours, then freeing her, police said. The woman, Ashley Smith, came forward Sunday to give an account of her ordeal, saying he let her go after they bonded while discussing God, family, pancakes and the massive manhunt going on outside her apartment.

Officials declared a mistrial in the rape case yesterday, and federal officials dropped a firearms charge that had been used to keep Nichols in custody while officials sorted out charges in the slayings.

Those who stepped off the elevators in front of the courtroom of Judge Rowland Barnes saw crime-scene tape and flowers where Judge Barnes and his court reporter, Julie Brandau, were killed. Both victims had been working on Nichols’ trial. Sheriff’s Sgt. Hoyt Teasley was killed outside the courthouse, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent David Wilhelm was killed later.

Mrs. Smith was hailed as a hero for the way she handled herself after Nichols confronted her in the parking lot of her apartment when she returned from a store at about 2 a.m. Saturday.

Over the course of the night, Nichols untied Mrs. Smith and some of the fear lessened as they talked. Nichols told Mrs. Smith that he felt like “he was already dead,” but Mrs. Smith urged him to consider the fact that he was still alive a “miracle.”

“You’re here in my apartment for some reason,” she told him, saying he might be destined to be caught so he could spread the word of God to fellow prisoners.

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