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Multi-State Manhunt Under way for Suspect in Courthouse Shootings

Aired March 11, 2005 - 15:30   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to breaking news coverage. Judy Woodruff, we won't be seeing her with INSIDE POLITICS today, but rather the two of us are going to carry on our breaking news coverage here. Judy is in Washington.
Judy, welcome. We're going to continue...


PHILLIPS: ... the coverage here of course. Murder in the court is what we're talking about. And authorities right now say that this man is apparently armed and dangerous and on the loose. And it's all happening right here in Atlanta, Georgia.

The city blocks surrounded by Fulton County police officers all across the Atlanta area, and even outside on the outside highways looking for this man, Brian Nichols. If you've seen, we've been carrying wall-to-wall coverage as an esteemed superior court judge is dead, a court reporter is dead, and a sheriff's deputy is dead. Another deputy wounded. And this man, Brian Nichols, still on the loose.

Our Gary Tuchman is just outside of the courthouse following the coverage for us.

What's the latest, Gary?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, it's fair to say there are many people who live here in the Atlanta metropolitan area, 4.5 million strong, who are very scared at this hour because it has been 6.5 hours since this man shot four people, killing three of them in this courthouse complex behind me, and is now on the loose. He has absolutely nothing to lose.

Here in the state of George, if and when he's captured, he could face the possibility of the death penalty. And police are very worried about it.

The latest details from police tell us that this man was here today for the fifth day of his rape trial. He was being transported inside the building by a sheriff's deputy, a female sheriff's deputy. It appears she was the only one who was with him.

He overpowered her -- he's 6'1", 210 pounds -- took her gun, shot her in the mouth. She is in critical condition. Now, this is a disturbing conclusion you can get from this. He could have escaped at that point. But instead, he made his way to the courtroom where his rape trial was being held and he shot and killed the judge, Rowland Barnes, a respected jurist (ph) here in Fulton County, Georgia. He shot and killed the court reporter inside and then he escaped.

He came down to the street behind me. There was another sheriff's deputy down there. It's not clear if that deputy was giving chase. But that sheriff's deputy was also shot and also killed.

At that point this man carjacked at least two different vehicles and took off. And since then, authorities, the FBI, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, local police, and police in Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina have been looking for 33-year-old Brian Nichols.

Now, some disturbing conclusions you can also raise here. Why was this woman by herself with this man? And here's one thing we asked during this news conference.

This man went back inside the courtroom where his rape trial was to go into its fifth day. Was anyone outside of that courtroom aware of what was going on? After all, he just shot a deputy in the hallway. It appears that no one knew what was going on, that this man was holding people hostage basically in this courtroom before he shot these two people inside.

So people here are still frightened. Six-and-a-half hours, things have gotten back to normal here in downtown Atlanta. But we can tell you, many schools in the Atlanta metropolitan area locked down today. No one was being allowed on the property.

And as we speak, this is the hour school is getting out. Many schools have been very careful as their students go home.

Kyra, back to you.

PHILLIPS: And Gary, what we know about this suspect, Brian Nichols, he's got quite a rap sheet. He was on trial for rape, but that was not the last crime that he's been in trouble for. He's actually been charged with false imprisonment, aggravated sodomy, burglary, aggravated assault with intent to rape, no driver's license, no insurance.

Now this man is a suspect for three additional murders. And police are on an all-out search right now to find him. We are told also, according to the deputy chief, fugitive teams have been gathered. They are involved in the hunt for this man.

Gary, are you still with us just outside the courthouse there?

TUCHMAN: Yes, Kyra. I can tell you that police are telling us there are several locations of interest where they are looking.

What does that mean? Well, that means where he may have lived, where his family lives, where his friends live. They've asked us and the local news media here in Atlanta not to report where those locations are.

We can tell you very generally, though, they have been searching in suburban areas west of the city of Atlanta and north of the city of Atlanta for where this man may be. We asked are there dragnets being set up on highways here in the Southeast to stop him. They didn't answer that question, which leads us to believe that they think this man may have gone somewhere he knows and is hiding out.

PHILLIPS: Gary, I was talking to a couple of detectives with the North Fulton Police Department. That was -- as a matter of fact, a detective from that department was working this case, this rape case with Brian Nichols, and we're told it was the Sandy Springs area where he was living in an apartment with his fiancee say. I know they've been searching that area.

Any other known residences at this time? Do we know about any other family members, where else he could have gone maybe outside of Atlanta?

TUCHMAN: Well, that's right. Sandy Springs is an unincorporated area here in Fulton County. It's about 20 miles north of the city of Atlanta. It is said that he had a residence either in Sandy Springs or the city of Roswell, which is near Sandy Springs. So that area has been searched.

Also an area where there have been police activity is in Cobb County, Georgia, which is west of here, near the city of Vinings. Now, we must point out, that doesn't mean he's there. It means they've gotten tips and they're responding to tips. And that's what you have to do in this case.

But as of now, normally in a situation like this you would expect some sightings of some kind. There have been no sightings that we know about, just tips that have come in. And that's what police are doing right now, feverishly trying to find this man. It's a cliche, armed and dangerous, but it's very accurate. He's armed, he's dangerous.

PHILLIPS: All right. Gary Tuchman just outside the courthouse there. Thank you so much -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Kyra, just an hour ago, we listened as the mayor of Atlanta, Shirley Franklin, talked to reporters. She was accompanied by the deputy police chief, Alan Dreher. And we want to share with our viewers just a little of what the deputy police chief had to say about what they understood happened when Brian Nichols made his way into that courtroom.

Let's listen.


DEPUTY CHIEF ALAN DREHER, ATLANTA POLICE DEPARTMENT: The suspect was on his way to the courtroom. It appears that he was -- he overwhelmed a deputy sheriff on his way to court. And it appears he took possession of her handgun. The deputy sheriff was injured as a result of that struggle.

The suspect made his way into the courtroom and held all the persons inside at bay with a handgun. He then shot and killed the judge, shot and killed the court stenographer, and made his escape from the courtroom.

He managed to get outside of the court building, where he encountered another deputy sheriff. That encounter resulted in the suspect shooting and killing the deputy sheriff. The suspect made good his escape from the general area, and it appears that he committed several other crimes as he was making good his escape.


WOODRUFF: Atlanta, Georgia, Deputy Police Chief Alan Dreher describing the movements that were made by Brian Nichols, the 33-year- old suspect in today's triple shooting, murders at the Fulton County Courthouse. This is a picture of Brian Nichols,. and this is what is believed to be the license tag on the car that he is believed to be driving, although authorities are saying that he could well by now be in a different vehicle or he could be on foot.

They do not know. They are looking in the Atlanta area. They acknowledge he could be hours away from Atlanta by now.

Of course, all this raising many questions about the security inside that courthouse, the security around very dangerous individuals like Brian Nichols.

We're going to have much more on this story. CNN following it throughout this day. We'll be right back after a short break.


WOODRUFF: The story we are following this hour, a judge in Atlanta, Georgia, a superior court judge presiding over a rape trial, was shot to death by a suspect who shot two other people, a court reporter, and then outside the courthouse a deputy sheriff. This man, Brian Nichols, is the suspect. He is still at large some six hours later after the murder of Judge Rowland Barnes, as well as a deputy sheriff, and as well as a court reporter.

Nichols is at large. He is believed to be driving a green Honda Accord. But authorities stress that he may not be in that car. He may be in a different car, he may be on foot.

They have a dragnet out around the state of Georgia. And no doubt they are looking at adjacent states as well.

This is a story that has consumed our attention throughout the day. And we are continuing to follow as any breaking developments come along.

Well, for right now, this is normally the hour we do INSIDE POLITICS. And we are going to break away for just a moment to look at some political developments. President Bush's comments today on a shift in U.S. policy toward Iran and that country's purported efforts to get nuclear weapons. Mr. Bush spokes just a short time ago in Louisiana. Our senior White House correspondent John King is traveling with the president. He joins us now with more on what the president had to say.

Hi, John.


This development expected in recent days but still quite significant because differences over how to deal with Iran's nuclear program have divided the United States and some key European allies just as the Iraq war divided them, just as some other issues divided them. There now is an agreement in place.

The United States has agreed to support some economic incentives it had previously opposed. It will now support the Europeans in their negotiations with Iran, saying Iran could get membership in the World Trade Organization, perhaps get some spare parts for some civilian airliners, other economic incentives.

The Bush administration is now prepared to support an exchange for a commitment from the Europeans that if Iran does not come to the table and negotiate an agreement to permanently forswear a nuclear weapons program, that the Europeans and the United States then would have the option of going back to the United Nations Security Council for sanctions. Now, Mr. Bush is here in Shreveport to talk about Social Security, but at the beginning of his remarks he celebrated this new agreement with the Europeans.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As well as we work together on the issue of Iran to make sure that we speak with one voice to the Iranian regime that they should abandon any ambitions for nuclear weapons for the sake of peace in the world, I am pleased that we are speaking with one voice with our European friends. I look forward to working with our European friends to make it abundantly clear to the Iranian regime that free world will not tolerate them having a nuclear weapon.


KING: And as the president spoke here in Louisiana, back in Washington Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying too often the focus on this issue has been the differences between the United States and the Europeans. Now Secretary Rice says the ball is clearly -- the burden is clearly on Iran.

She says Iran now must make a choice. Will it cooperate with the international community and will it give up any ambitions for nuclear weapons, or will it face the possibility of sanctions and isolation -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: The Bush administration in a way, John, coming around to a partial carrot approach, you could say. John, as you mentioned, the main purpose of the president's trip through these four states is to build support for his Social Security proposals. How is that coming along?

KING: Well, Judy, quite an interesting two days. The president in four states the past two days, all four reliably red Republican states in presidential politics.

He was in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, now here in Louisiana. All voted for him in the election. But in all of those states Republicans are nervous because of opposition to the president's Social Security plan.

The main goal right now is not even to sell those private investment accounts, the controversial element of the president's plan, but simply to overcome the opposition of Americans age 55 and older. Mr. Bush says they would not even be touched by his plan, their benefits are safe. But they are generating the largest political opposition right now.

They also are among the most reliable voters in congressional elections. So the president yet again today here in Louisiana and earlier in Memphis, Tennessee, trying to convince those aged 55 and above his plan would do them no harm.


BUSH: For those of you who are receiving a check today, and for those of you like me, near retirement, nothing is going to change for you. You will get your check.

I don't care what the TV ads say. I don't care what the propagandists say. You're going to get your check.


KING: Now, the Memphis event rare because seated right up prominently Democrat Harold Ford. Traditionally Republicans at the president's events. They reached out, though, and invited this Democratic congressman, Harold Ford of Memphis, because he has signaled a willingness to work with the president on this issue.

I talked to Congressman Ford just before the event, and many members of his own party, especially the leadership, are not happy with him at the moment because he has been so open about the possibility of striking a bipartisan deal with President Bush. But Congressman Ford told me in that conversation before the meeting that his first priority is to get something done, and if the president called him tomorrow and said, let's sit down, he'd be there.


REP. HAROLD FORD (D), TENNESSEE: The leadership that I respond to live right here. These are the 600,000 or less people who vote for me or who send me to Congress. And any opportunity to extend the solvency of Social Security, and at the same time give moderate to low-income workers in our country a chance to save and build for their future, I can support it and will support it.

And I have great respect for my leadership in Washington. But I think they would come on board as well. I know the majority of Democratic congressmen would come on board if we -- if the president made that announcement today or tomorrow and said, I'm willing to negotiate, we'll put the private accounts outside of Social Security.

And, as a matter of fact, Senator Reid, the leader in the Senate, has made clear that they're willing to negotiate as long as private accounts are talked out about outside of Social Security.


KING: Now, Judy, the president by no means has closed this sale, and White House officials acknowledge that. They know there's a lot of work to do, especially on the issue of those private accounts. But they do say they have the distinct impression the tide is turning on the question of do the American people view this as a problem.

They believe they are winning that debate right now. And believe if they win that debate they can convince the Democrats to come to the table. So a long way to go, Judy. But the White House would say that they believe the president is starting, starting to make some progress on this one -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: You almost get the sense, John, the president is ready to go voter by voter, citizen by citizen to make the case.

KING: He says he will.

WOODRUFF: We'll see. As he makes his way across the country. All right. John King, who is traveling today with President Bush.

Well, the story that CNN has been following all day long, the tragic shooting in Atlanta, Georgia, of a superior court judge, a deputy sheriff, and a court reporter by a man who was on trial for rape, we are continuing to follow the story. The man you see in this picture, Brian Nichols, he is at large over six hours after the shooting that happened this morning.

We're following the story. We're going to take a short break. We'll have much more.


PHILLIPS: A suspected killer still on the loose. Schools in lockdown mode here in Atlanta, Georgia. And a defendant in a rape trial opens fire in court and escapes.

Three people are dead. And now this man, Brian Nichols, is on the loose. He's the suspect police are looking for at this hour, and they need your help.

He was being retried for a rape trial, and now -- he was being retried for a rape trial, rather. It's the first time he was -- or the first time he was in court, rather. It was hung jury. He was back in court, and that's when everything took place this morning about 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

On the phone with us now is a the jury foreman from the first trial back in August of Brian Nichols, the one that had a hung jury. And we're not going to use your name. I understand you want to remain anonymous. That's fine. I'll go ahead and call you Mr. Foreman.

First of all, what can you tell us about Brian Nichols that we haven't been able to report to this point?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm -- I've kind of not been in touch with most news services this afternoon. But from what I can tell, the key factor to him was he seemed like a pretty logical, intelligent, articulate person.

We learned a lot about him obviously through the course of the trial, but he didn't -- to our exposure we got to him in the courtroom, while he appeared a bit possibly desperate -- that might be a little bit of a strong word -- but his testimony appeared rather desperate, and he was rather eager to tell his version of the story. He never really appeared to be someone who was not at least somewhat grounded, considering the circumstances, and a somewhat intelligent, articulate individual.

PHILLIPS: All right. Let's talk about the alleged rape that he was being tried for. He had been in a seven-year relationship with this woman, is that true? And she was a vice president of a Fortune 500 company. He was a security guard when they met, is that right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what we learned in the testimony, yes.

PHILLIPS: What did you learn about their relationship? Was it healthy? Did they get along for seven years? And was this the first time something came -- I guess came forward, or a police report that was filed that alleged this rape?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. From what we could tell, from what we learned in the testimony, it was a lengthy, long-term relationship that had gone well.

It had its ups and downs like most long relationships do, but it was on the verge of kind of coming apart and had been probably for at least six months or so. And, you know, there were a lot of long stories told in testimony about the ups and downs of the relationship. But they were basically going through a breakup, which is never sometimes simple and easy and clear-cut when it's been going on for seven years.

So it was kind of a ugly breakup that included some fights and some counseling and some re -- getting back together, et cetera. But nothing to indicate at least that either an alleged rape or some type of crime was imminent, or that the accused was that violent of a person.

PHILLIPS: So is that why there was a hung jury?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a hung jury because the majority of us on the jury did not believe that the state had proven to us beyond a reasonable doubt that the seven counts against him had occurred. And it was even to the point where a number of us on the jury had intentions of writing letters to the district attorney's office to, you know, kind of express our frustration at how poorly both the police investigation and the district attorney's office had conducted the investigation and the trial because there were probably a majority of jurors who maybe believed he did it.

Well, I can comfortably say there were a majority of the jurors who believed he did it, but just didn't believe in any shape or form the state had proven the case out. And there were lots of holes to the alleged victim's stories. There weren't a lot of things to discredit Brian Nichols' version of the story.

So we were left to believe that, you know, as our charge as a jury, that the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt to us that he was guilty. So we were sort of hung up on that, and there were a few people who felt for various reasons that it was evident to them that he had committed the crime, and therefore we wound up hung.

PHILLIPS: Mr. Foreman, appreciate your time. And you also gave me the perfect segue, mentioning the district attorney. We do expect to hear from the Fulton County district attorney about 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time as a massive manhunt right now is under way for Brian Nichols, the man believed to have shot three people dead inside the Fulton County Courthouse, 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time this morning.

We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.



Stocks broadly lower. The final trade still being counted. The Dow industrials down about 67 points. Nasdaq nearly 1 percent lower.

In the trade gap, imports soared to their highest level ever in January, and that puts the trade gap at $58 billion. That's the second largest on record.

Coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," the story of a soldier who cheated death while fighting against insurgents in Iraq.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had run right past him. That's when it blew up again. The back of the truck blew up.


PILGRIM: Sergeant Sean Ferguson (ph) tells us his story of survival in tonight's edition of "Heroes."

And then, thousands of illegal aliens enter this country every day, even some who could come here legally but the system doesn't make it worth it. We investigate tonight in "Broken Borders."

And then, the flood of Chinese textiles into this country: we talk with Congressman Ben Cardin about China's trade practices, and Augustine Tantillo of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition about the devastation that has brought to the American textile industry.

All that tonight at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, but for now, back to Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Kitty, thanks very much.

And we do want to bring our audience up to date on the story we have been following all day long and that is a terrible shooting in Atlanta, Georgia, this morning.

At the Fulton County courthouse, a man shot dead a judge who was presiding over the man's rape trial. He also shot the court reporter dead. This is the judge, Judge Rowland Barnes, superior court judge. The suspect also shot and killed the court reporter, ran outside the courthouse and shot dead a deputy sheriff. Along the way he critically wounded another deputy sheriff. All this after the suspect grabbed the gun away from a female deputy sheriff who was escorting him just before the trial got under way.

The man you just saw in the picture, Brian Nichols, 33 years old. He -- police believe he has carjacked several vehicles. He may now be driving a green Honda Accord. This is the license plate police have provided to us, but they stress that he may have moved to another car or he may be on foot. They stress he is armed, to be considered armed and dangerous.

Just a short time ago in the city of Atlanta, Mayor Shirley Franklin met with reporters. This is part of what she had to say about what had happened.


SHIRLEY FRANKLIN, ATLANTA MAYOR: We come to express our condolences to the families of the victims. Our prayers are with the deputy, who is still recovering. We recognize that this is a very scary situation. We have witnessed in Atlanta today an act of violence in the criminal justice system that is certainly disconcerting, but we've come to offer our condolences to the families, to announce what we are doing and Deputy Chief Dreher is going to fill you in on the investigation. But it is our intent to continue this search and to bring the resources to bear, so that we can apprehend the perpetrator.

Again, I want to say how sad it is for us that the loss of life, the families who are directly affected, and those who were in the courtroom and in the building, and how terrified they must have been under these circumstances. Deputy Chief Dreher is standing it my right and Chief Reuben (ph), who was among those who responded immediately is to my left. But we're going to start with Deputy Chief Dreher and then take your questions. ALAN DREHER, DEPUTY CHIEF, ATLANTA POLICE DEPT.: Thank you, Mayor. Good afternoon.

I'd like to take a few minutes to give you some preliminary findings of our investigation so far. I'm just keeping in mind we're still interviewing witnesses and we're still processing the crime scene.

Early this morning, shortly after court was convening, at Fulton County Superior Court, the suspect was on his way to the courtroom. It appears that he was -- he overwhelmed a deputy sheriff on his way to court and it appears that he took possession of her handgun. The deputy sheriff was injured as a result of that struggle. The suspect made his way into the courtroom and held all of the persons inside at bay with a handgun. He then shot and killed the judge, shot and killed the court stenographer, and made his escape from the courtroom.

He managed to get outside of the court building where he encountered another deputy sheriff and that encounter resulted in the suspect shooting and killing the deputy sheriff. The suspect made good his escape from the general area. It appears that he committed several other crimes as he was making good his escape.

We're currently manning an emergency command post. I've got a tip line for you. Let me give that to you now. That number is 404- 730-7983 or 84.

We've got units working around the clock and we're going to continue to work around the clock to make sure that we bring the suspect to justice. We're working closely and in conjunction with federal, state, and local agencies. We've identified several locations of interest to us. We've formed fugitive teams. We received help from the GBI, Fulton county, the FBI, ATF, other federal agencies, and we're working as a team, working very diligently to bring the suspect to justice.


WOODRUFF: That is Atlanta, Georgia's Deputy Police Chief Alan Dreher. We heard him -- you just heard him describing as much as they know about what happened. Before that we heard from Atlanta's Mayor Shirley Franklin, reminding us of the human element in all of this. As she said, as we pursue the investigation, she said, let's not forget about those who have suffered a terrible loss.

One can only imagine how this has rocked not only the entire Atlanta community, but, in particularly, the law enforcement community because of the way this happened. The suspect grabbing a gun away from a deputy sheriff who was supposed to be keeping watch over him, and then running into a courtroom, shooting dead a judge, shooting dead a deputy, another deputy sheriff, running outside -- or, I'm sorry, a court reporter -- running outside and shooting dead a deputy sheriff outside the court building. So, the law enforcement community, very much rocked by what has happened.

We are waiting now for a news conference -- we're told it was to have begun a few minutes ago -- by the District Attorney for Fulton County. It was at the Fulton County courthouse where these shootings took place this morning. The District Attorney due to hold a news conference to talk with reporters. CNN will carry that live just as soon as it gets under way.

And while we're waiting for that, there's another story that we have been following for the last week or ten days. A related but a different story and that is a federal judge -- this, today, the incident around a superior court judge, the other case, a week to ten days ago, a federal judge in Chicago, a woman -- her husband and her mother, both murdered by a man who had business before the court.

And there are some developments in that case, and for the very latest on that, let's go to our Chris Lawrence, CNN's Chris Lawrence in Chicago.

Hi, Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, you have been talking about the situation there in Atlanta. In the last few hours the courtrooms here in Chicago have ramped up their security, forcing everyone, even the lawyers and the judges to go through metal detectors in response to what happened there in Atlanta today. It had already been a very tense situation here over the last couple days and weeks -- just in the last 24 hours or so, investigators had really rushed to put through these DNA tests, and they did get a match between a man named Bart Ross and a cigarette butt that was found in Judge Joan Lefkow's home. Now, that together with all the other evidence, is enough to convince police that Ross is the killer.

Now, on Wednesday in Wisconsin near a suburb of Milwaukee, Ross put a gun to his own head and killed himself after a routine traffic stop. Police searched his car and found a suicide note in which he wrote details about those murders. In a similar note sent to a local TV station and signed Bart Ross, the writer describes how he broke into Judge Lefkow's home, intending to kill her, but when he was surprised by her mother and husband, he murdered them both.

Now police have not found the murder weapon, but did discover a shell casing in Ross' home that matches a casings from the murders. We've learned that Ross lived alone with his dog in Chicago.

For years he suffered with mouth cancer and told people the cancer treatments he received had destroyed his jaw and disfigured him. He tried to sue the practice for malpractice, but not one attorney would take his case, so he wrote his own complaint, a rambling 130 pages that bounced around courts for years until Judge Joan Lefkow dismissed that case last year. People who know Ross say his complaint blamed everyone who had ever been involved in the case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was filled with rhetoric about comparing this to the Holocaust, and the doctors to Nazis, and the system against him, and it was very clear that, over the years, this obsession that he had, which was quite understandable, had become really paranoia. LAWRENCE: And in that letter to the TV station, again, signed by a Bart Ross, the author writes, quote, "Her neighbors may look at Judge Lefkow has a church-going angel, but to me she is a Nazi-style terrorist and criminal." Judy?

WOODRUFF: Chris Lawrence reporting on the latest on that case in Chicago involving the judge's family members, her husband and her mother killed by a man who was angry at the judge, and then today we have a very different, but related situation involving security in a courthouse in Atlanta where you had a superior court judge shot dead by a man who was on trial for rape. You also had the court reporter, as well as a deputy sheriff, shot dead.

Again, we are waiting for a news conference scheduled to get underway any minute now on the part of the Fulton County District Attorney and we are going to take a short break and continue to wait for that. And Chris Lawrence, once again, thanks to you. We'll be right back.


PHILLIPS: I'm Kyra Phillips in Atlanta, Georgia, along with Judy Woodruff in Washington, D.C. We're carrying on with our breaking news coverage. If you're just tuning in, once again, since 9:00 a.m. Eastern time this morning, a suspect is still on the loose after opening fire at the Fulton County courthouse here in Atlanta, Georgia.

Brian Nichols is the man police are looking for right now, on the loose as schools remain in lockdown mode here in Atlanta. This defendant being tried in a rape trial opened fire in the courtroom, escaped, killing three people along the way and now police need your help in finding out where he is. Could be in the Atlanta area, could be outside by now. He has, of course, been on the loose since 9:00 a.m. this morning, Eastern time.

Fulton County District Attorney should be holding a press conference any time now. We were expecting it about 4:00 Eastern. Soon as it happens, we'll let you know. Among the dead, a very prominent superior court judge here in Atlanta, Judge Rowland Barnes, along with another sheriff's deputy who was shot dead after chasing the suspect, in addition to the court reporter that was in Judge Barnes' courtroom.

Now, another update we have for you. An AJC reporter, "Atlanta Journal Constitution," our local paper here, Don O'Briant, he was actually in the parking lot that the suspect fled into. The suspect put his gun to this reporter's head, said, give me your car, I'm going to kill you, then proceeded to tell Don O'Briant to get into the trunk of that car. Well, Don O'Briant said no, ran for his life, of course. And now the suspect took off and his green Honda, 1997 green Honda. Don't know if the suspect is still driving that car, but that is when he was last seen. Don O'Briant was pistol-whipped in that confrontation with the suspect. We're now told he will be getting out of the hospital very soon. Good news to report on that front.

Meanwhile, our Gary Tuchman has been working this story since early this morning. He's outside of the courtroom or the courthouse, rather, here in Atlanta, Georgia. Gary, bring us up to date on any new information that you know about the shooting and the whereabouts of the suspect.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Seven and a quarter hours, Kyra, they've been looking for this guy who shot four people, killing three. And as of now, police know where is. If they have any idea where he is, they're not telling us, because there have been no official sightings, as far as we know.

We have been told by police this is what happened. This man was on trial for rape. Fifth day of a rape trial. He was in a rape trial a week ago, mistrial was called. They started it again this week and here's what happened. Buildings behind me. New building, old building. The old building is part of the courthouse complex. The new building was just built recently. This man, 33-year-old Brian Nichols was being transported to his trial by a sheriff's deputy. He overpowered the sheriff's deputy, took her gun and shot her in the mouth.

At that point he could have escaped or he could have attempted his escape, but that's what's disturbing about the story. He then decided to walk along the public walkway inside the new building behind me, walk into the courthouse, where his case was being tried in the old building. He then held the people inside the courtroom, where the judge was hearing a different case before the trial was supposed to start, held them hostage for several minutes, and then he started firing.

He shot and killed Judge Rowland Barnes. He then shot and killed the court reporter inside. The woman, the sheriff's deputy he originally shot, is in the hospital right now in critical condition. He then walked down the eight flights into a busy street. This is one of the busiest streets in the city of Atlanta, Martin Luther King drive. Lots of people going to work, lots of tourists, because this is right next to the world of Coke, which is a very popular tourist site. It's near the underground, which is a popular underground shopping mall, it's near the state capital.

He walked in this very busy street in rush hour, tried to carjack at least two different cars, ultimately got into one car and took off and hasn't been seen since. We are being told at this point that nobody else in the court courthouse knew what was going on inside that courtroom, despite the fact that this man had already shot the sheriff's deputy in another part of the complex.

So it's a very disturbing, tragic, confusing story. The fact is, three people are dead, one in the hospital in critical condition and this man who, if and when he's caught, could possibly face the death penalty here in Georgia, is still on the loose -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Our Gary Tuchman outside the courthouse there. Thanks so much, Gary. And once again, we want to remind you, we are waiting for a live news conference from the North Fulton District Attorney's office and we also continue to monitor the manhunt. Now fugitive teams and hundreds of police cars looking for this man, Brian Nichols. Could be in the Atlanta area, could be outside of the Atlanta area. Police just are not sure at this time. There haven't been any solid tips. But if you've seen him or have any information, you're asked to call the Atlanta Police Department. More breaking news coverage right after a quick break.


WOODRUFF: We're continuing to keep a close watch on the breaking news out of Atlanta, and that is the shooting this morning of a sitting superior court judge who was presiding over a rape trial. The man who was on trial shot that judge dead. This is the judge, Rowland Barnes. He shot the judge, he shot the court reporter.

Then this man, Brian Nichols, the suspect, ran outside the Fulton County Courthouse and shot dead a deputy sheriff. Brian Nichols, the suspect, is at large. Police believe he may be driving a green Honda Accord, but they also say he could have moved to another car or he could be on foot.

We're waiting any moment now for a news conference by the Fulton County district attorney. That should be getting under way. It was to have gotten under way earlier this hour and we expect it any moment now.

But for right now, let's listen, attorney Renee Rockwell, she was headed to the superior court judge's -- Rowland Barnes' courtroom this morning and here's what she said she saw.

RENEE ROCKWELL, ATTORNEY: I was about to walk into the courtroom, I was actually on the other side of -- on the Central Avenue side and deputies were running everywhere. There was a deputy's hat that was on the floor, on the ground. And they said, get in the courtroom or come with us!

Anyway, I ran into the elevator and when I was in the elevator one of the deputies told me that the defendant, and I assumed that it was the defendant that was on trial for rape, grabbed the deputy's gun and held the courtroom hostage and shot the judge and shot somebody else in the courtroom. I understand now that it's the court reporter.

And then we were whisked out of the courthouse and when I came around the corner here on the MLK side of Central Avenue -- the big courthouse right here, there was a deputy down and, apparently, he had ran after the defendant and was trying to...

PHILLIPS: We want to take you straight to -- you're looking at a live picture now of Don O'Briant, the AJC, Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter who was pistol-whipped by the suspect and the suspect stole his car. Let's listen to what he has to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just tell us your story, sir.

DON O'BRIANT, ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION REPORTER: Well, I was driving to work this morning and I went to the Centennial Garage to park as I usually do a little after 9:00. An SUV pulled in right beside me and a tall black guy gets out with no shirt on and asks for directions to Lennox (ph) Square. I take it he's in town for the basketball tournament so I start giving him directions and all of a sudden he pulls a gun and says, give me your keys. And I don't give them to him, he says, give me the keys or I'll kill you.

I give him the keys, he opens the trunk and says, get in the trunk. And I say, no. And he said, I'm going to shoot you if you don't get in the trunk. And so I start to move away and he hits me with the gun and I fall down and then I start scrambling up and get to Marietta Street to try to find help. And he's not following me, so I figure I'm in the clear.

And when I get to the next corner, I ran into (UNINTELLIGIBLE), one of our reporters who says there had been -- the same guy hijacked a lady's car at this other garage and the police are asking her questions. So, he takes me down there and I give them my statement and get some medical treatment and they bring me here.


O'BRIANT: No, she was hit first.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was hit first.

O'BRIANT: And I think he got her car and then he got in another car, the SUV, after that before he got to my garage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was your reaction once you found out?

O'BRIANT: What was going through my mind?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was your reaction once you found out the scope of this whole thing?

O'BRIANT: I was even more horrified. I thought this was a routine carjacking. If I gave him the keys, he would take the car and leave. But I had no idea he had already killed somebody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was it your car he has now?

O'BRIANT: Yes. The green Honda, '97 Honda.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What have you told police so far about the car, about your experience?

O'BRIANT: I told just him what had happened and gave as good a description of the car as I could. It's just like every other Honda, unfortunately.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But this Honda is at the center -- is the focus of this huge search that is going on.

O'BRIANT: Yes. I wanted a new car, but this is not the way I wanted to get it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Explain to folks what was kind of going through your mind when was ordering you in the trunk and why you refused to go?

O'BRIANT: Well, first of all, I was lucky, I had so much stuff in the trunk, I couldn't get in anyway. But I knew that it would not be a good outcome if I got in the truck.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you think he did not fire that gun?

O'BRIANT: I think he was out of bullets I hope. But I was just thinking, as the gun is in your face you start thinking, how can I get out of this alive? And finally I decided that I would be better off being shot at on the run than standing there and executed. And so that's what I did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don, have you heard all the events of the day from early on?

O'BRIANT: No, I haven't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About the judge...

O'BRIANT: I did hear about the judge and the deputy and the court reporter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you put all this together (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

O'BRIANT: Well, I think I'm extremely lucky to escape without being shot or thrown in the trunk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said, obviously, reporting on this kind of stuff, not being involved in it...

O'BRIANT: I usually write about books and media. This is kind of out of my beat here. But I am going to have something in the in paper tomorrow about -- first person thing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tell us about your injuries. Obviously we can see the bruises and the cuts on your face.

O'BRIANT: Well, I think the 15 stitches in my -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of my eye where he hit me, and then when I fell I broke my wrist and it's going to have to have surgery maybe next week or so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is your family doing right now?

O'BRIANT: Oh, everybody was very good. Everybody was at the hospital today and I think they can't believe it. It seems like something out of a movie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, we appreciate it.

O'BRIANT: Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don O'Briant, a reporter with the Atlanta Journal Constitution... PHILLIPS: You heard it right there. Don O'Briant, the reporter with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, lucky to be alive today. Pretty incredible story. A suspect now on the loose who shot dead three people, approached Don O'Briant for his car when he was coming to work. He refused to get into the trunk of the car, as the suspect demanded. He put a gun to his head, said, get in the trunk, give me the keys or I'll kill you. Well, he gave him the keys to the car but he said, I'm not getting into the trunk. The suspect fled. Don O'Briant getting pistol-whipped, just released from the hospital a little while.

And this is the man, Brian Nichols, he came face to face with, a man that police want to find because they believe he shot and killed a federal court judge in addition to a deputy and a court reporter who was in the courtroom of Judge Rowland Barnes. We're going to take a quick break. More breaking news coverage straight ahead.


WOODRUFF: Much of our focus this hour on the terrible story from Atlanta this morning, a superior court judge shot dead by a man who was on trial for rape. This is the judge who was murdered, died on the scene. Judge Rowland Barnes. He was shot dead. So was a court reporter and so was a deputy sheriff outside the building.

This is the man who is at large. Police, sheriff's deputies, the FBI are looking for Brian Nichols, age 33, 6'1'' tall. This incident happened almost seven hours ago. So, he's been at large since then. He could be driving a green Honda Accord with that license plate number you just saw. And these are live pictures of Atlanta, the interstate highways in and out of Atlanta, Georgia.

You can imagine what is usually traffic congestion and how much worse it would be under these circumstances, when police are looking everywhere, anywhere they can possibly look for someone who has committed these deadly crimes.

We are waiting, by the way, still waiting for a news conference by the Fulton County District Attorney's Office. And we expect that to happen any moment.

Well, as we know, the deadly shooting in Atlanta is serving as a wakeup call to courthouses across the country. We just heard about Chicago. But we know this is not the first time that something like this has happened.

CNN's Sean Callebs has the dramatic story of a gunman who was stopped dead in his tracks from committing a similar crime in a Tyler, Texas, courthouse.


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Smith County Courthouse surveillance tape, deputies rushing to confront a gunman who has already killed. While the shoot-out played out in the town square, chaos on the second floor. A capital murder trial interrupted by the unmistakable pop of weapons firing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get down. Stay down.

CALLEBS: Deputies, guns drawn, prepare for the worst. In the back of the courtroom, Judge Cynthia Stevens Kent is ushered to safety. For the first time in recent years, the judge realizes she has left something important in her car.

JUDGE CYNTHIA STEVENS KENT: I carry a Smith and Wesson .38 revolver. A lot of the judges do carry personal protection. Of course, this is Texas, OK? And in Texas, I'm a Second Amendment gal. I like the revolver.

CALLEBS: On this day, Stevens Kent says it's probably a blessing she chose not to exercise the right to bear arms. She wasn't tempted to get involved.

The judge and sheriff's deputies believe a wealth of officers and building security kept David Arroyo at bay.

LT. CHARLIE BAKER, SMITH COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: As officers taking up positions here, if we did not have these measures in place, I believe that Mr. Arroyo would have came inside the courthouse to carry out his plan. And his plan was to inflict as much damage and pain as possible.

CALLEBS: Arroyo killed two and wounded several outside. Bad, and, of course, tragic. But officers say it would have developed into a...


WOODRUFF: We're interrupting to take you live to a district attorney news conference, Fulton County district attorney. This is Atlanta.


PAUL HOWARD, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: .... listening to this broadcast, if you've got any idea where this man is, that you would please call the Atlanta Police Department and turn him in. He is a dangerous individual. And we ask that you take no risks, that you would call the police department as soon as possible.

Now, one of the questions that we have been asked is about the case that took place that was about to be tried. We tried him two weeks ago and we had a hung jury. It involved a case that involved his ex-girlfriend. He broke into the ex-girlfriend's house. She was bound with duct tape. Once she was bound with duct tape, he actually brought a cooler into her place. And the cooler was stocked with food. And he told her that he was going to be there and assault her for three days until her birthday.

One of the things that he also brought in with him was a loaded machine gun. He -- he did, in fact, assault her. He repeatedly threatened her family. He repeatedly threatened her. And he repeatedly threatened her new boyfriend. So, we have no doubt that he is dangerous. During this last incident, it was four of his own friends who assisted the police in turning him over.

They actually went to the effort of locating him on one day and then his own friends located him on a second day. And so we're asking people, if you are a friend, I think, by the mere that that his own friends turned him in, it should say that this is the kind of person that does not need to run the streets. This is somebody who should be in police custody.

This is Gayle Abramson. Gayle was the lawyer who was about to try the case and who was not in the courtroom at the time, thankfully. She was about to go in. But before Gayle and the victim and the victim's family had an opportunity to come in, this defendant had already struck and already left the courtroom.


QUESTION: Just to clarify what you just said, you said that, as far as the rape case, that he went into her home, bound her, and over the course of three days, he sexually assaulted her.

HOWARD: That's correct.

QUESTION: Then he brought in a cooler of food?

HOWARD: That's correct.

QUESTION: You said that he ate while he laid in wait or whatever?

HOWARD: That's correct.

QUESTION: Had he tried to take weapons into this courtroom before. We understand he tried to take some homemade weapons in.

HOWARD: Yes, he did. On the day before, he -- they discovered what's commonly called a shank and it was located in his sock.

QUESTION: On Thursday?

HOWARD: Yes. Yesterday.


QUESTION: And what is that?

HOWARD: It is -- it was a weapon that's commonly called a shank. But it is something that was made from -- we understand from a doorknob.


HOWARD: And -- but it's something that can be filed down, filed against the wall of a brick and a weapon be made out of it. QUESTION: In light of -- in light of that, was security adequate -- was security adequate in light of that discovery?

HOWARD: Well, we asked the sheriff's department to increase the security.

Now, we don't know exactly what the sheriff did. But we did let them know that we were somewhat concerned about this guy, the defendant. And whatever arrangements they made, we don't know. But...

QUESTION: Was there only one deputy with him?

HOWARD: Now, that is what we understand at the time, but we don't know yet, because they're still working out those details.


QUESTION: Mr. Howard, how long had Mr. Nichols been in custody?


QUESTION: Did the judge also ask for more security, in addition to you folks?

HOWARD: We understand that.

But I do want to -- I do want to point this out. And I think it's important for the public to understand. These Fulton County deputies on a daily basis handle about 450 jailed inmates. And, you know, over the years, we have never had an incident like this.


HOWARD: So, they have done a good job. And I think that, no matter what your training is, no matter what your equipment, no matter what your policies might be, there's always room for that human error.

And I think now is probably not the time. I hope that we would use our time to catch this defendant, rather than to look at the skills of the deputies that were involved.


QUESTION: Any idea where he is, sir? You started off by saying, anyone who has any idea? Do you guys have any idea? Have you heard anything?

HOWARD: Well, I don't want to disclose that, because he might be listening.


QUESTION: ... transporting of this prisoner, and, in the courtroom procedures, were all procedures followed, as your knowledge?

HOWARD: We don't know yet. We don't know.

QUESTION: Do we need to maybe increase security? Is this a warning sign -- obviously, you can't get more of a warning sign -- that maybe we need to beef things up even more than they already are?

HOWARD: Well, I tell you, one of the things that we say in our office to people all of the time is that we deal with a different kind of defendant. And some of the defendants are very determined.

They are not just sitting there waiting for somebody to send them to jail. So, it makes our task a lot more difficult. It makes the judge's task and the deputy's task. So, I think that we would be neglect if we did not review this issue. But I don't think that -- at this point, I don't think that we could say that the sheriff's department did something that might have been improper.


QUESTION: ... state court Judge Craig Schwall came out and gave us some details from his courtroom deputy, who drove the suspect from the jail over to the courthouse earlier today. And he said that, as far as a sequence of events, after taking the deputy's, female deputy's gun, keys and ammunition, that he walked first into Judge Barnes' chambers, locked the deputy -- or handcuffed the deputy to the chair, then came into the courtroom and did what he did. Is that your understanding...


HOWARD: Well, let me just tell you now, of course, we -- hopefully, when we get this person tonight, we're going to prosecute the case. And we're going to be asking him about what happened. So, we don't want to talk about any of the details as of yet.

QUESTION: But is that your understanding of the scene?

HOWARD: And so I just don't want to make any comment about it.


HOWARD: One of the things that...

QUESTION: Can you tell us what was it like when the -- when the weapon was confiscated yesterday? What happened? Who found that?

ABRAMSON: Well, actually, a deputy, when the suspect was being transported back to the jail, they do a full search of him. And they located in his shoes two of the metal shanks that Mr. Howard was talking about.

Subsequent to that, they confiscated those. And they sent a report. And Judge Barnes and all the attorneys involved in the case had a meeting. More security was requested and provided by the Fulton County Sheriff's Department.

(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: Were you fearful of Mr. Nichols?


QUESTION: You know this guy's mind better than anybody else, having worked on this case. Given what you know about this guy, what is your reaction to what happened this morning and your concern that something like this might have happened?

ABRAMSON: I really believe that this was a random situation. This is not -- this is not a defendant who has demonstrated violence in the past. I do not believe that it's something that we could have predicted.

His violence was specifically targeted to -- in this case, to a particular victim. And that is someone who had relations with before. Outside of that, there is no other evidence that this particular defendant has demonstrated violence. Obviously, there is now.

QUESTION: A juror in the previous case said most of the jurors wanted to acquit him. Was there never any thought not to try this case again?

ABRAMSON: Never. Never.

HOWARD: And let me tell you, one the things that we -- get experienced in our office is that many people find it difficult to believe that an ex-boyfriend or someone with the relationship with a female can commit a crime upon a person.

We have had this to -- happen over again. But what we do is, we will pick it up and immediately try it, because part of what we have to do is to educate the community. You cannot get an exemption. You cannot be exempted from assaulting someone simply because you have had a prior relationship. And one of the other things that we wanted to mention -- we were asked this question, whether or not Judge Barnes had done anything to this defendant that might have been out of the way or something that might have been inappropriate.

As Gayle was explaining, even when the defendant was reported to have those weapons, Judge Barnes never even addressed the defendant. He addressed his lawyer and the sheriff's department. During the whole trial, the two trials, he was very nice to him, even when the defendant sort of acted up in the courtroom. But he never said anything that would be considered as out of the way. And I think, for the people that know Judge Barnes, that represents his character.


QUESTION: You said there were two shanks. There were two shanks found in his shoes?

ABRAMSON: One in each shoe.

(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: Mr. Howard, should a woman -- female deputy be transporting a 200-pound, 6-foot defendant who is being tried for a violent sex crime?

HOWARD: Yes. I think that women are capable of doing anything that men are capable of doing. And I don't think it's the weight. I think it's the heart, the training and ability. I don't think the weight has a whole lot to do with it.


QUESTION: ... can you tell us about how he acted up in court?


QUESTION: Do you know what set him off? Do you have any idea what set him off today?

HOWARD: Well, we think what set him off is, is that he was coming back a second time. I think he probably realized. In fact, he actually said to Gayle, oh, you're doing a better job this time. I think that he realized that he might be convicted this time, that he night not get a chance to walk out.

And we believe that he came with the intent of making sure that that didn't happen.


QUESTION: Could you tell us -- could you tell us how he acted up in court?


QUESTION: Another court reporter said that he was not going to go lying down. Another court reporter in an adjacent courtroom said that there was information that he -- circulating through the courthouse that he was not going to go lying down.

HOWARD: Well, if that's true, now, we -- unfortunately, we hear that from a lot of people. I mean, it's something that inmates are -- are spouting. So, it's not unusual that we've heard that we might hear something like that.


QUESTION: ... clarification. Did he ever get into the courthouse...


QUESTION: What specifically did you tell the sheriff's department about this guy? What specifically did you ask them to do about him?

HOWARD: Well, you -- as you know, the deputies actually work in close contact with the district attorney's office. And so, what we had just said to them, we were somewhat concerned, because he had acted up in court, because of the two weapons that were found in his possession. And we let them know that we were concerned about him maybe escalating to some greater conduct.

And, as I said, the deputies were very professional. They were very friendly in receiving that information. But what they did about it, I couldn't tell you at this time.


QUESTION: Did he ever get into the courthouse with these other weapons? I need that clarified. How far -- where were they discovered? Where did he go with them?

ABRAMSON: He did not come in with the other weapons. There was suspicion before he was brought back to the jail that, you know, because of his awkward, odd behavior, that they needed to do an extra search of him. As far as right now...

QUESTION: This was after...


ABRAMSON: That's right.

QUESTION: Thursday.

ABRAMSON: As of right now, we don't know where he returned those -- where he got those weapons from.

QUESTION: He may have had them in the court, though?


QUESTION: Yesterday?

ABRAMSON: As of this time, there is no evidence that he got them in the courthouse. We're -- we're not quite sure where he got those.


QUESTION: ... had them in the courthouse?


ABRAMSON: We don't know if he had them in the courthouse or not. They were found when he was on his way back to the jail.


QUESTION: Gayle, where were you at this time? You were in the courtroom or outside the courtroom?

ABRAMSON: I was actually preparing to cross-examine the defendant at about 9:30 this morning. So, I was just a few feet, just getting into the elevator to go into the courtroom when a colleague of mine suggested that I turn around and go back into my office.

QUESTION: Did he say anything at all during this whole ordeal?

ABRAMSON: I didn't see anything today, obviously.

Yesterday, as Mr. Howard said, he did look at me and say, you're doing a much better job. He's always come across as very cocky. But, again, there was no evidence of any -- of any outward violence.

More sheriff's deputies did come into the courtroom, always stood by the defendant and by us, by the victims in the case. And so this is something that I don't think we could have -- we could have predicted was going to happen.

QUESTION: Are you concerned for your safety?


QUESTION: What was the extra security that was...

ABRAMSON: The extra security was Judge Barnes -- you know, the sheriff's department is in charge of courtroom security. And they were immediately receptive to our requests and to Judge Barnes' request to put more deputies in there. And they did. They put two additional deputies in there during the entire proceeding after the shanks were found. And that would have been one day.


QUESTION: ... extra protection now based on the fact that he is out there? Have you put extra protection for her?

HOWARD: Well, what we do, we have -- we have an investigator who works directly with her. And we have always instructed her.

In fact, one of the things that we were talking about in our staff meeting just two weeks ago, we spent a lot of time talking about security. And the reason is, I had recently read an article and it addressed the increasing assaults upon district attorneys. And so what we ask our investigators to do is to always remain with the lawyers at all times, because we want to make sure that they're safe.

So, of course, we'll go back now. We'll look at what we do, because we want to make sure that the lawyers are safe.


QUESTION: Anything that you plan to do immediately?

HOWARD: Well, we're going to wait until we get the facts, and I think that's important.

I think that we ought to be very deliberate about it, to look at what went on. We have to look at the track record of the jail over all these years. And I think we ought to make a judgment based upon that and not based upon emotion.

QUESTION: Gayle, you said that there was some -- there was some activity going on and he was acting up. What was he doing during the course of the trial?

ABRAMSON: It was more in terms of remarks.

This defendant has been in custody since the date of his arrest last August. And he was walking around the courtroom kind of in a free manner. He was requesting food and cigarettes and things of that nature, again, nothing that was outwardly violent, not making any threats, but just behaving in an inappropriate, kind of sarcastic way.


QUESTION: ... how does he get out of the courthouse? How does he get down from eight floors out an emergency exit and outside?

HOWARD: Well, again, that's one of the details that we don't want to comment on at this time. But that's something that we're going to have to handle later on.


QUESTION: A little alarming.

QUESTION: Gayle, he could have escaped without going into the courtroom? Sir?


QUESTION: ... Wednesday. Wednesday night, on his way back to the jail. And you had the meeting with Judge Barnes and his attorneys on that same night?

ABRAMSON: Yesterday morning.

QUESTION: Yesterday morning.

ABRAMSON: The morning of the 10th.

QUESTION: Gayle, he could have escaped without going back into the courtroom. I hate to ask it like this, but do you think he was looking for you when he went inside the courtroom?

ABRAMSON: I don't know. Again, I think this was a random act. I do think that....

QUESTION: It wasn't random, because he went back to the courtroom. He could have just escaped. He made a trip to the courtroom.

ABRAMSON: That's true. I do think that, in his mind, he knew he was going to be convicted this time. And, so, I think that he was just seeking revenge to the criminal justice system in general. As far as my safety, I can't speculate on that. I know that, since 9:00 this morning, I have been protected by my office, my boss and all -- all law enforcement agencies. So...


QUESTION: Did he say anything in the courtroom?

QUESTION: Talk a little about how this trial has been going.

ABRAMSON: This trial has been going extraordinarily well for the state. Again, we had to put this particular victim through another trial. And she did -- she was on the stand for a day and a half and underwent vigorous cross-examination.

But, ultimately, the truth comes out. The Fulton County Police Department did a phenomenal job investigating this case, recovered many -- all of the -- almost all of the evidence that the defendant used, the duct tape, the weapons, drugs and things of that nature. So, they did a phenomenal job.

QUESTION: It was not looking good for him, then, you're saying?

ABRAMSON: It was not looking good for him.

QUESTION: Why wasn't he convicted the first time if it wasn't looking good to him?

ABRAMSON: We did speak to the jury. And they had some problems with the evidence.

They wanted more evidence, as sometimes jurors do. And like Mr. Howard said, it's very difficult when you have a victim and a defendant who have been in a prior relationship. Also, sexual assaults are usually private offenses. They're not committed out in public. So, a lot of times, we rely on eyewitness or just witness testimony from the defendant, if he testifies, or the victim.

QUESTION: Did you ever get an indication that he knew it wasn't going well and that he wasn't going to take that?

ABRAMSON: Absolutely.

He approached my colleague who was sitting with me during the trial yesterday and told him he thought it was going better, in a sarcastic way. And he approached me yesterday as well. And he said that he thought I was doing a better job.

QUESTION: What was going better?


QUESTION: ... because it wasn't going his way that he might do something violent or something like this?


That was, you know, that was something that we can never predict, like Mr. Howard said. It's a random comment. You know, it's just something that we can't predict.


QUESTION: What was his possible penalty if he was found guilty on these charges?

ABRAMSON: His possible penalty, he had -- he was accused of two seven deadlines. May carry a potential life imprisonment. He was also charged with possessing a firearm during a felony, which would have been an additional five years.

QUESTION: Who could he also possibly want revenge on? He's still out there. Who else could he possibly be looking for?

ABRAMSON: That's...

HOWARD: Well, it's -- I'd say this. Judge Barnes did nothing, in our estimation, to insult this man. The court reporter did nothing. This deputy who was shot at the end was just somebody he shot while he was leaving. So, it's hard to say.

And that's why I ask the public to really be careful with this guy, because he doesn't seem to have to have some rationale to do it. One more question.


QUESTION: ... the names?

HOWARD: No. We'll let the police release the names.


QUESTION: Do you know if anyone talked to any of the inmates he was incarcerated with?


QUESTION: Did he indicate anything last night?


HOWARD: No, I don't know what (INAUDIBLE)

Thank you all very much.


WOODRUFF: We've been listening to district attorney, Fulton County district attorney Paul Howard and the prosecutor in the case, Gayle Abramson.

We've heard more information from the two of them about this incident, about the case than we have all day long. Probably the most startling piece of information was that they had no reason to suspect that the man who they are looking for, Brian Nichols, would try to do something violent, even though he had held a former girlfriend hostage, had bound her up with duct tape, had a machine gun, had assaulted her repeatedly.

Despite all that, despite finding what they call shanks -- these are shaved-off pieces of metal that come from doorknobs. They found those in his socks yesterday. Despite all that, they said they had no reason to believe he would do what he did today, which is shoot dead a judge, a court reporter and a deputy sheriff.

We're following this story. We'll be right back with much more.


PHILLIPS: I'm Kyra Phillips here in Atlanta, Georgia.

Judy Woodruff in Washington, D.C.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Been quite a day. Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: It has been. What an awful story. What an awful story, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, we'll see you back on Monday for "INSIDE POLITICS"?

WOODRUFF: You will.

PHILLIPS: Terrific. Thanks, Judy.


PHILLIPS: And just a quick update, as we wrap up here and get ready for "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Turner Security actually got this shot of the car. This is the car that is the suspect took off in. If you're just tuning in, a quick update. The man driving this green Honda is the man police are on a multi -- manhunt for right now. He opened fire inside the North Fulton Courthouse, or the Fulton County Courthouse today here in Atlanta, Georgia.

This car actually belonged to an AJC reporter, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter, Don O'Briant. The suspect had pistol- whipped him after fleeing the courthouse, shooting dead three other individuals, asked the -- or told the AJC reporter to give him his keys, get into the trunk. The reporter refused to do that. The suspect fled in the car, as you see captured by our Turner Security. He was actually in the car there in an area where a lot of us park. And just not long ago, we heard from Don O'Briant, when he was released from the hospital. This is what he had to say.


O'BRIANT: Well, I was driving to work this morning. I went to the Centennial Garage to park, as I usually do, a little after 9:00.

And an SUV pulled in right beside me. And a tall black guy gets out with no shirt on and asked for directions to Lenox Square. I figure he's in town for the basketball tournament, so I start giving him directions. And, all of a sudden, he pulls a gun and says, give me your keys. And I don't give them to him. And he said, give me your keys or I'll key you.

I give him the keys. He opens the keys. He said, get in the trunk. And I said, no. And he said, I'm going to shoot you if you don't get in the trunk. And so I start to move away and he hits me with the gun. And I fall down. And then I start scrambling up to my feet and get to Marietta Street to try to find help.

And he's not following me, so I figure I'm in the clear. And when I get to the next corner, I ran into Drew Jubera, one of our reporters, who says there has been a -- the same guy hijacked -- hijacked a lady's car in this other garage. And the police are asking her questions. So, he takes me down there and I give them my statement.


PHILLIPS: AJC reporter Don O'Briant, lucky to be alive.

But, right now, the multistate manhunt continues for this suspect, Brian Nichols, three people shot dead today inside the North County Courthouse in Atlanta, Georgia. This man, who was on trial for rape, now could now be charged for murder, if he's found alive.

Stay tuned for "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." More on this story and other news straight ahead.


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