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Exclusive Pictures of Court-Shooting Suspect; Suspect Still on the Loose

Aired March 12, 2005 - 08:00   ET


From the CNN Center this is CNN SATURDAY MORNING. It is March 12, 8:00 a.m., here at the CNN Headquarters in Atlanta.

We want to give you some pictures now. You're looking at exclusive pictures of court-shooting suspect Brian Nichols, making his way through an Atlanta parking garage. Where that suspect is right now? Well, police simply don't know.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR, CNN SATURDAY MORNING: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris.

NGUYEN: And I'm Betty Nguyen. We want to talk more about this top story of the day.

HARRIS: It is said to be the largest manhunt in Georgia state history. The search for Brian Nichols, a man who apparently has the blood of a federal judge, a court reporter and a sheriff's deputy, on his hands. Here's the latest on what we know right now.

Police thought Nichols used a 1997 Honda Accord in his get away. But the car was found last night in a parking garage where Nichols had apparently carjacked the vehicle from a newspaper reporter just after the shooting rampage. Nichols is still on the loose and considered extremely dangerous.

NGUYEN: All right, now take a look at this. A real close look at this surveillance tape of a man that appears to be the courthouse shooting suspect, Brian Nichols. This was taken by Turner Security at 9:30 a.m. And this is at the Centennial Parking Garage. This was yesterday morning about 30 minutes after the shooting occurred.

As you can see, the man is stepping into the stairwell. He thinks about going upstairs and then the next frame you see he decides to go downstairs.

HARRIS: OK. He enters on level two. That's what we see here. But if we back it up just a few moments, not the video but the story telling here, what happens is Nichols allegedly enters the parking garage, has this encounter, he enters the garage in an Isuzu Trooper.

He drives in and parks next to Don O'Briant, the reporter from the "Atlanta Journal Constitution", gets out of the Isuzu Trooper, walks over to O'Briant and starts asking for directions to a rather large mall in the Atlanta general area, Lennox Square Mall. O'Briant begins to give him directions. That's when the suspect here, Brian Nichols, pulls a gun and demands the car, and also demands that O'Briant get into the trunk of the car. O'Briant doesn't do that. We told you that part of the story.

He then drives one level down to level two. And this is where we see Nichols walking into the stairwell at level two, takes moment, as you mentioned, Betty, and decides whether to go upstairs or downstairs. Decides to go downstairs.

NGUYEN: Here you see him walking out the door downstairs. We'll show it to you once more in this video because he just casually puts his hands in his pockets almost as to walk out as anyone just walking down from the stairwell into a parking garage, not to bring any attention to himself.

Now, down here, on level one, you can leave the area through a gate that has an arm on it, a wooden arm on it. We don't know if Mr. Nichols took a car in this area, headed through the gate, because there is some damage to the gate. We also don't know if he may have just simply walked out of this level one parking area.

Of course, right now, police are on the lookout for Mr. Nichols. There's a lot of questions to be answered this morning. Of course, we are going to continue to bring you those answers as soon as we get them.

Brian Nichols was last seen, as we just mentioned, on that surveillance camera which was yesterday morning about 30 minutes after the shooting happened at the Atlanta courthouse. It was at a parking deck, which was right across the street from the CNN Center where we are. And that's also where CNN's Kimberly Osias is standing. She is in front of the parking deck. She joins us now with the latest on the manhunt.

Kimberly, what do you know?

KIMBERLY OSIAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Betty, I tell you obviously this story is making headlines through much of the Southeast, and certainly here in Atlanta. I wanted to show you in the "Atlanta Journal Constitution", today's headline, "Killer Alludes Cops; Judge, Two Others Slain".

Now, of course, you all have been mentioning the 33-year-old suspect Mr. Nichols is still on the lam. Police do not know where he is at this juncture. The reason this parking lot is so critical in the investigation is that this is the last place police believe that they can trace him back to.

He -- interestingly, he was in here earlier when he actually pistol whipped, allegedly, an AJC reporter with this paper, in fact. Now it wasn't the reporter that he wanted, it was actually his car. But that wasn't the car he used to get away.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) OSIAS (voice-over): Here you see the suspect caught on surveillance video. Time, 9:30 a.m., Friday morning; 30 minutes after the shooting rampage took place. 33-year-old Brian Nichols, shown here in exclusive CNN video in the second floor stairwell. He stopped, and ponders his next move, where to go, up or down. He heads to ground level out of camera's view and out of police sight.

Surprisingly it takes authorities until late Friday night to actually find the green '97 Honda Accord -- all the while it's right under their noses in the very same place where Nichols left.

Authorities have issued a nationwide BOLO, that's police parlance for "be on the lookout" for Nichols, who is believed to be armed and dangerous.

VERNON KEEHAN, CGI DIRECTOR: The message for the public is this. We are no longer hunting for the green Honda Accord. We found that with citizens' help. We very much need the continued assistance of the public in reporting any sighting of him, or any information they may have.

OSIAS: The whole nightmare unfolded Friday morning when Nichols was scheduled to appear for a retrial, charges, rape and aggravated sodomy. The 200-pound former linebacker overpowered the sole female deputy, grabbed her gun and could have made a clean break. But Nichols was a man on a mission, walking through a crosswalk into the old courthouse.

It was there where he shot and killed Judge Rowland Barnes and Court Reporter Julie Ann Brandau. Down eight flights of stairs and outside again, Nichols fires, killing another deputy, Hoyt Teasley.

CHIEF RICHARD PENNINGTON, ATLANTA POLICE DEPT.: This manhunt will continue until he is apprehended. He's a very dangerous person in our community, and we want the public to know that.

If anyone has any information about this individual, please call us, because we're not going to stop looking until we apprehend this person.

OSIAS: Until then, Nichols is a marked man -- a man with a $60,000 price tag on his head.


OSIAS: Tony and Betty, I actually used to live in Atlanta, and when I was flying here from the Jackson trial I ran into some friends that actually knew the judge. They said he was incredibly well thought of here, a new superior court judge. And actually his court reporter was also quite gracious.

And Nancy Grace, our Nancy Grace said -- of course, knew them very well, as well -- said that they extended tremendous Southern hospitality. Actually, they made food often for the jurors. She actually baked. So quite a loss here in Atlanta, a sense of mourning. And also sort of an ominous call, because this man is still on the loose and still obviously quite dangerous. It certainly raises the issue of security and of taking jobs like these people do, to support justice. They are oftentimes putting their own lives in peril. Betty, Tony.

NGUYEN: Kimberly, let's go back to that surveillance video, which is the last video that we see of Mr. Nichols, as he is leaving the parking garage. He goes from level two to level one, then out the door. Why don't we see any more? Where are the security cameras?

OSIAS: You know, Betty, it's interesting. I actually went down there myself and there are not a lot of cameras. There is one actually on that first level, it is a dome-shaped camera. But the interesting thing is if you were a bit savvy or spotted it, could you clearly sort of snake around it and not have a picture taken. So that is quite interesting.

All right. CNN's Kimberly Osias in downtown Atlanta. Thanks for that report.

HARRIS: As we have been reporting, police have located a green Honda Accord thought used by Nichols. The vehicle apparently never left the parking deck, where the shooting suspect was last seen. The car was spotted there last night. Police have since towed it away. The director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation made this statement around midnight.


VERNON KEEHAN, DIRECTOR, GBI: The green Honda that we have had the nationwide lookout for was found here. A citizen who had seen the television newscast remembered the tag number. And he was in the parking garage at the -- next to the bottom level. He saw the vehicle remembered the tag number from the television broadcast and contacted law enforcement. The Atlanta Police Department arrived here and confirmed it was the vehicle.

We came to the scene, brought in the GBI crime scene processing team and they have done an initial examination of the vehicle. They will carry it to the Atlanta Homicide Office, where it will be stored and there will be an additional search done.


HARRIS: A 24-hour tip hotline has been activated for information on any Nichols sightings. Those numbers are 404-730-7982, or 1-888-6-FULTON.

NGUYEN: Later it's a question many have been asking, how could this happen in a court of law? Ahead on CNN SATURDAY MORNING we'll look at security inside the courtroom.


NGUYEN: We will have more this morning on the deadly courthouse shootings in Atlanta, but first we are also following another developing story, this one out of Syria.

A U.S. envoy says Syrian leader Bashar Assad has committed to pulling all of his troops and intelligence agents out of Lebanon. The envoy didn't give any details but he says he plans to brief U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan about the timetable. There's been growing U.S. pressure on Syria to leave Lebanon.

HARRIS: Brian Nichols was just another defendant in the criminal justice system. A shooting spree that killed three people in an Atlanta courthouse has changed all of that. Here's what I've been able to find out of Nichols from the people who have been dealing with him the most recently.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not going to rest until we have him in custody.

HARRIS (voice over): He's talking about Brian Nichols. Take a close look at this mug shot. Then listen to two jurors from the two Nichols trials describe his eyes. First a juror from this week's retrial.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every time he was looked up we saw him looking at our reaction. Made us a little nervous and we looked the other way.

HARRIS: Then this from a jury member in Nichols first trial, which ended in a hung jury.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brian Nichols was desperate to not be convicted of these crimes. So he ignored his own defense attorney and sat there and looked us all in the eye, and told his story.

HARRIS: What was he on trial for?

PAUL HOWARD, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: It involved a case that involved his ex-girlfriend. He broke into the ex-girlfriend's house. She was bound with duct tape.

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. And he repeatedly threatened her new boyfriend. So, we have no doubt that he is dangerous.

HARRIS: Nichols' own defense attorney saw how things were going for his client.

BARRY HAZEN, ATTORNEY FOR NICHOLS: I don't think it was going very well. And I thought they had -- they were presenting a much more muscular case than they had presented the first time.

GAYLE ABRAMSON, FULTON COUNTY ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY: 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. HARRIS: It was, for Brian Nichols, his first serious brush with the law. The charges had been brought by the woman with whom he had a seven-year relationship. She had even bought a condo for him to live in. 33-years-old, Nichols is a big man, once a linebacker for his college football team. He had worked most recently as a computer technician for a division of UPS.

HAZEN: I didn't get the sense he could be violent until Thursday morning, when we were told by Judge Barnes that Mr. Nichols had secreted two metal objects in his shoes.

HARRIS: But Barry Hazen, who was late to court this morning, says the talk of security was apparently, just that.

HAZEN: After Judge Barnes said there would be beefed up security in the courtroom, there was one additional female deputy in the courtroom. That was all.

HARRIS: And what about the judge? Was there anything that could have provoked Nichols? Barry Hazen says Nichols is very, very smart. And one more thing -

HAZEN: He's not my client anymore.


HARRIS: Once again a 24-hour tip line has been activated. For information on any Nichols sightings those numbers right there on the screen -- 404-730-7982 or 1-888-6-FULTON.

NGUYEN: How do you make a courtroom safe when there's a potentially violent suspect in the room? Ahead on CNN SATURDAY MORNING we will ask our legal experts. Does a suspect have certain rights that outweigh the need for courtroom safety?


NGUYEN: Yesterday's triple murder in downtown Atlanta forces the issue of courtroom safety to the forefront this morning -- bringing with it some intriguing questions. What should take priority? The rights of the suspect, or the safety of everybody else? Also, how much security is enough? Those are some tough topics this morning in our legal briefs. Joining us with their insights into these issues are civil rights attorney Lida Rodriguez Taseff and former prosecutor Nelda Blair.

Good morning to both of you ladies.



NGUYEN: Both have served as trial attorneys. Nelda, let's start with you. Is courthouse security up to par? BLAIR: Oh, it's a difficult, difficult thing to even measure, because you know courthouse is not only house a lot of criminals people who are accused of crimes, and who committed terrible crimes, but they also house people that are at a very bad emotional, sometimes a very bad financial time of their lives, and don't think straight.

Divorce lawyers get shot as well as criminal lawyers. It's a very difficult place to keep secure. Obviously, it wasn't up to par at this particular time in Atlanta. It's a very difficult measurement to make.

NGUYEN: Lida, you're a trial attorney. Are you ever fearful when in the courtroom? What needs to be put in place so that security layer is there so people feel safe, whether it's the judge, the attorney, or the jury?

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: As a trial lawyer, I can tell you it really boils down to money. You need to have security measures at the front of the courthouse when people enter so they can be checked and they can be screened. They can go through metal detectors. You also need to have enough bodies in the courtroom and in the courthouse in case something happens.

One of the measures that I think is the most workable -- and I've been in the courtroom a lot when this happens -- is that once you bring in criminal defendants, you shut down the courtroom. Nobody inside the courtroom has a weapon. The people with the weapons stay outside. You close the courtroom. If anything happens they can come in. Nobody else can come out.

Those are the kind of measures that are missing in Georgia. Have yout look at Georgia and think this is true throughout the country. You have 135 counties in Georgia, all of which need to provide security at the same time they are worrying about providing roads for their communities. And you have some very old courthouses that don't lend themselves to very good security.

NGUYEN: OK. So you're saying, keep the weapons outside the courtroom. The deputies in the courtroom do not need to have weapons on them.

Is that your argument there?

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: Absolutely. Keep the weapons outside, close off the courtroom when you're having proceedings, close off the courtroom when you are bringing in defendants for arraignment, when you are bringing in a lot of defendants especially. And when people are in the courtroom, in trial and the like, you can have defendants uncuffed when they are simply coming for simple procedures. Where it's only the lawyers in the courtroom, there is no need for them to be uncuffed.

NGUYEN: But, Nelda, I have to ask you -- that's a big debate whether deputies should have guns on them inside the courtroom? Apparently this deputy, in this case, was escorting Mr. Nichols into the courtroom. And he overpowered her, took her gun. Should they have guns? BLAIR: Absolutely. I want the deputies to have guns in the courtroom where I'm participating. I absolutely want that safety. The problem in this particular case was one deputy was guarding this man. He's a former linebacker. This is a smaller-than-him female deputy. And he over powered her. They already knew the man had some makeshift weapons. They knew he could have been a danger. He obviously should have had more security on him than this one.

That's what happened here. Not the fact she happened to have a gun on her. They need to have them inside the courtroom. I don't want them outside if something starts happening inside.

NGUYEN: You are saying you want the guns inside the courtroom?

BLAIR: Absolutely.

NGUYEN: But in this case that gun was used to kill three people.

BLAIR: In this case there were not enough security on the man to keep him from getting the gun. He absolutely should have been shackled. He should have been handcuffed. There's no question that if he had been more secure he would not have been able to get to that gun. It belongs inside the courtroom.

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: But, Nelda, you know as well as I do the Supreme Court has said people who are facing trial when they are in front of that jury they cannot be shackled and they cannot be handcuffed because that creates an unfair prejudice that points to guilt.

What needs to happen -- and this is what was happening in this incident -- what needs to happen is that defendants need to get dressed for court before they leave the jail. They need to come dressed for court. And if you want to hold their belts, if you want to hold their shoes, that's fine. Once they are in court, you need to surround them with people who are not armed, but at the same time you need to have enough secure backup with weapons, so that if something does occur they can be brought in.

You are absolutely right about this female deputy. There is no way this small woman would have been able to defend herself against a man that is over 6 feet tall and over 200 pounds.

NGUYEN: Very good point there. Of course, courthouse security is going to be a big issue within the coming weeks.

Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, Nelda Blair, we appreciate your time today. Thank you, ladies.


BLAIR: Thank you, Betty.

HARRIS: All right. We just want to give you a quick update of where we stand: 33-year-old Brian Nichols is still on the loose. He, as you can see here in this surveillance video taken from yesterday morning, these are the most recent pictures that we have of Brian Nichols.

He is wanted in the brutal murders of three people, three Fulton County Court employees yesterday morning at about 9 a.m.

These are pictures, exclusive to CNN, of Brian Nichols entering a stairwell of a parking garage have very close to the CNN World Headquarters, the Centennial Garage, and also across the street from Centennial Olympic Park -- a park that many of you may be familiar with from the 1996 Summer Olympics, that were held here in Atlanta.

I just want to give you a head's up. Chief Richard Pennington of the Atlanta Police Department, the man at the center of the investigation, who is corralling all of the law enforcement officials working on this case, will be here on our set, in our studios in just a couple of minutes.

We'll be back with more of our special edition of CNN SATURDAY MORNING as we continue to cover the manhunt for 33-year-old Brian Nichols.

There is the tip line. If you have any information on the where about of 33-year-old Brian Nichols, call either of the numbers on your screen right now.



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