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Continuing Coverage of Atlanta Manhunt for Brian Nichols

Aired March 12, 2005 - 08:31   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And from the CNN Center in Atlanta, this is CNN SATURDAY MORNING. It is Saturday, March 12, 8:30 a.m. here at the CNN headquarters.
We are preempting "HOUSECALL" this morning to continue our special coverage of the massive statewide manhunt going on right now for court shooting suspect Brian Nichols.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Betty Nguyen. We want to thank you for joining us for our continuing coverage.

HARRIS: That manhunt for Brian Nichols is said to be the largest ever in Georgia state history. The carnage in the courtroom has left a federal judge, a sheriff's deputy, and a court reporter dead and a lot of people living in this area on edge.

For more, we turn to CNN's Kimberly Osias, who is in downtown Atlanta.

Kimberly, good morning.

KIMBERLY OSIAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And good morning to you, Tony.

Well, this is actually a key area now that investigators have the aid of daylight. They are expected to return here to this parking lot. And the reason that this is critical in the investigation is that this is the last area where police believe that they have a clear sighting of 33-year-old Brian Nichols.

I want to show you some exclusive CNN surveillance video. The last that they have him caught on tape. And he was actually on the second floor here. He was going in there. It's very tight quarters. I looked in there. And he stopped. He paused. He looked up, he looked down, pondered his next move.

Then he walked down from level 2 down to the first level. There was also a camera there, a dome camera. But there's -- it is one that could be evaded if you knew to do that. You could sort of kind of sneak around and avoid it entirely and not have a picture taken.

I want to also, if we can show you, this is a very busy time in Atlanta right now. We are sort of in the downtown area. It is the hub. There is a basketball tournament going on, the SEC basketball tournament. And the reason that's important is there's an arm, a wooden arm, where you can exit this parking lot. That is broken or a little bit bent there on the end.

Now whether or not Nichols actually switched cars and went out that way and broke it, police are going to take a closer look as I mentioned to this whole area and to that today, whether he did it on his own power, whether he hotwired another car. They simply don't know. There are still so many unanswered questions in this search, in this massive manhunt.

But this is the area, it is several miles, where we are located, from Fulton County courthouse. And that is, of course, where all the mayhem ensued on Friday at about 9:00.

And again, it's about two miles from there. He came over here. And it's about 9:30 when that surveillance video was actually shot.

And what's also important to note in that video is that Mr. Nichols had on a black jacket and no shirt underneath. So perhaps he actually took that from somebody else. Obviously, police are going to really search and sift through that video, use it to help aid in their investigation. Hopefully, they'll be getting some new leads today -- Tony.

HARRIS: OK, Kimberly, we appreciate it. Thank you very much.

We just want to remind folks that Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington is on his way to these studios. And we'll talk to him as soon as he gets here.

Let's spend a couple of minutes talking to KC Wildmoon, one of our writers for CNN wires. As you know, the CNN wires are used by news organizations all across the country.

KC, good morning.


HARRIS: As I mentioned, we're going to be talking to Chief Pennington in just a couple of minutes. From your vantage point, first of all, where are you this morning?

WILDMOON: Tony, I'm at the command center at the Fulton County administrative building. And I spoke a little while ago with the deputy director of Fulton County emergency, and she told me that the detectives have some new leads that they got overnight from some tips. And they're working on those. They're not ready yet to divulge any of that information

HARRIS: OK, this is the Fulton County command center?


HARRIS: And is that the area that is coordinating all of the efforts of all of the police organizations that are working on this case?

WILDMOON: Yes, that's right. That's right, Tony. This is the command center. Fulton County sheriff's deputy department is still the lead agency on that. They're working with, of course, the GBI, the FBI, Atlanta police. I think that ATF, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, is also involved in that.

HARRIS: KC, can you talk to us about what it has been like in your conversations with the deputies there? Can you describe for us what it has been like for them? A sense these crimes occurred since the tip line number went up and what kind of volume of calls they've received?

WILDMOON: They're getting calls pretty frequently. They didn't want to go into a lot of details on that. And they're working about as hard as you could imagine that they would be. And they're pretty tired.

They just did a shift change a little while ago. So they've got some fresh people, including people who don't normally work on Saturdays as you would imagine.

I talked to some detectives walking in, mumbling something about I think I just left here. But they're doing as best they can right now.


WILDMOON: I wish I could give you more on what they were looking on, but they weren't ready to let that out yet.

HARRIS: Well, let me just ask you this. And maybe you know the answer, maybe you don't. And maybe it's something that you can ask a little later.

I talked to an Atlanta police officer before coming in to work this morning. And one of the things that he suggested to me is that the volume of calls that they're being asked to respond to has been overwhelming. And that in a lot of cases, they're running up and down blind alleys.

Is there a sense there, have you detected, that perhaps they've been getting too much information and too many leads to act on, and that that has in fact provided a bit of a hindrance to the investigation?

WILDMOON: I haven't gotten that sense, Tony. It's possible. Everybody seemed pretty calm this morning and ready to go to work.

The word that the public information officer gave me this morning about the leads they are working on right now was sensitive. So I think that perhaps they got something they think might really pan out at this point. I can imagine that there would be a lot of leads that wouldn't, though.

HARRIS: OK. And it's described as sensitive. And they wouldn't give, you know, I want to ask what can you tell us? And I guess I hear you loud and clear. There's not much more. WILDMOON: And I asked, Tony.

HARRIS: Yes, yes. I'm sure you did. OK, KC, we appreciate it. Stay there.

WILDMOON: I'll be here.

HARRIS: And if you get anything, just give us a head's up.

WILDMOON: I will call you back when I get something, Tony.

HARRIS: I appreciate it. KC, thank you.

NGUYEN: We'll have more on this story of the deadly courthouse shootings in Atlanta in just a moment.

But first, we are following another developing story. This one out of Syria. A U.N. envoy says Syrian leader Bashar Assad has committed to pulling all his troops and intelligence agents out of Lebanon. The envoy didn't give any details, but he says that he plans to brief U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan about the timetable. There's been growing U.S. pressure on Syria, as you recall, to leave Lebanon.

Also, relatives of court shooting suspect Brian Nichols speak to the media. Find out their reaction to the events of the last 24 hours. That's just ahead on CNN SATURDAY MORNING.


NGUYEN: Suspected courthouse killer Brian Nichols is still on the run this morning, but police in Atlanta don't know how he is getting around. Police are reviewing surveillance tape like this one taken by CNN/Turner security cameras.

Now it shows Nichols walking in the Atlanta parking garage where police thought he carjacked a green Honda Accord and used it as a getaway car. Well, police have discovered that that car, which apparently never left the garage, still remains there. It has been taken for investigation.

At this hour, police still don't know where Nichols is.

"Dangerous and desperate," that is how Atlanta police describe courthouse shooting suspect Brian Nichols. But his relatives and acquaintances say they knew a very different man.

Reporter Andy Barth has more now. He is from our affiliate WMAR in Baltimore, Maryland, where Nichols grew up.


ANDY BARTH, WMAR NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Reginald Small, Jr. is Brian Nichols' first cousin. When Brian was 5, 6, 7 years old, Reggie Small would babysit for him. REGINALD SMALL, JR., COUSIN: Brian was real laid back, fun- natured type of kid. He was a good kid. Come from a good family, good background. Never no problems. Just shocked.

BARTH: Brian grew up for some of his early years in this house in Waverly.

SMALL: He just was a real normal kid, man. Swinging from trees and just playing with his little toys and stuff. Never, never no problem. I don't even think I heard him raise his voice. You know, I've never seen him get mad.

BARTH: And what do you think when you hear this now?

SMALL: Shock. Unbelievable. Unbelievable. Would not have -- never have thought anything like that -- if what they say is true just -- it just doesn't equate with him.

BARTH: The two would watch TV together, do homework, get snacks.

SMALL: He was fun. He was a kid. He was your normal average kid. No, like I say, smart kid, never no problems.

BARTH: No violent streak?

SMALL: None that I know of, none.

BARTH: The same held true when Brian went to college at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania. One of his classmates was ABC 2 news producer Larry Lewis.

LARRY LEWIS, COLLEGE ACQUAINTANCE: Good guy. He plays football, worked out together sometimes. Fairly popular. Never really got in any trouble. I mean, the guy's a big guy. So no one really gave him any trouble. He's a good kid.

BARTH: Which seems to fit with the boy Reginald Small remembers.

SMALL: The Brian that I know is a very lovable person. I have never seen anything of it until all this mess came up. I've never seen anything violent. Like I say, I never seen him get angry. Stunned, stunned.


NGUYEN: And that was Andy Barth from our Baltimore, Maryland affiliate, WMAR.

HARRIS: Once Nichols is caught, he'll have to find a new attorney. Barry Hazen is distancing himself from the suspected killer. You can see Brian Nichols in surveillance video taken by security cameras just moments after the shootings in a parking garage very near CNN.

Hazen, who started representing Nichols back in December, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer he was not that surprised by the rampage. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARRY HAZEN, NICHOLS' FMR. ATTORNEY: It wasn't really a surprise because there had been an incident a couple of days ago, where a deputy reported to the judge that Mr. Nichols had two metal objects, one in each shoe, when he went from the courthouse back to the Fulton County jail.

The object looked to be like heavy hinges. And one of them had a piece of material, cloth, strung through a hole in the object. And the judge brought it to my attention and the attention of the assistant district attorneys, who were also trying the case yesterday morning. And everyone expressed concern about security.

And Judge Barnes indicated to us that he was going to have security in the courtroom beefed up for the remainder of the trial. We were most concerned what reaction we would get if a jury were to convict him.


HARRIS: Hazen also said that Nichols is intelligent, athletic and usually laid back.

NGUYEN: Well, it is being called the biggest manhunt in Georgia's history. You'll want to stay with CNN for a special live coverage of the search for courthouse shooting suspect Brian Nichols.


HARRIS: As often happens after these kinds of crimes, officials will probably do an extensive review of courthouse security.

CNN's Randi Kaye has that story.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Judge Henry Newkirk has been working at the Fulton County courthouse for more than two decades. He was a friend of Judge Rowland Barnes. The two were sworn in together.

Do you feel like security here is enough?

HENRY NEWKIRK, JUDGE, FULTON COUNTY STATE COURT: I feel that in the last 23 years that I've been here, security has been adequate. You know, it's not the best and the tightest. I'm not saying we couldn't do a better job, but I think it's a balancing act.

KAYE: Judge Newkirk would not go into detail about what he thinks needs to be improved here, but he did talk about security measures now in place.

NEWKIRK: For a citizen, a juror, courthouse employees, they enter one of three entrances, and go through a metal detector. And all baggage, all personal belongs that are in briefcases are examined through an x-ray machine, much like at the airports.

KAYE: There are two sides to the courthouse, old and new. For all courtrooms, judges access secure parking underground and a private elevator to their floor. Judge Barnes' courtroom in the old court building has emergency alarm button and all the other security measures of the new court building, except one.

NEWKIRK: Our chamber doors are wired to be electronically controlled.

KAYE: Judge Barnes had no electronic keypad. The suspect allegedly went through the judge's chambers to get into the courtroom.

DENNIS SCHEIB, ATTORNEY: Bad security. Just terrible, terrible security. And it's been going on for years.

KAYE: Police officer-turned-attorney Dennis Scheib was in the courtroom next to Judge Barnes when the shooting happened. Fulton County court was one of many around the country to beef up security after the Oklahoma City bombing. Still, on a scale of one to ten, Scheib gives security here a one.

SCHEIB: This defendant, he took a gun, he shoots a deputy, he shoots a judge, he shoots a court reporter, and he goes outside and he shoots a deputy sheriff walking in the building. This should never have happened. But it just -- security has just been lax for years.

KAYE: But the head of the Fulton County Commission says judges feel safe, adding there will be a thorough review of security.

Judge Newkirk says there is always at least one armed sheriff's deputy present during criminal cases. Fulton County deputies are the only law enforcement officers allowed to carry weapons in the courthouse.

NEWKIRK: I've always enjoyed having armed deputies in the courtroom with me.

KAYE: But should deputies carry guns in the courthouse? After all, that's how police say this suspect got his weapon. And where were deputies when the suspect fled down eight flights of stairs and out the building?

Judge Newkirk hopes his friend's death will expose the security flaws and get them fixed, fast.

NEWKIRK: It's always something in the back of my mind. You see it happening in other venues around the country. And I'm aware of it. I'm aware of the possibility of something like this happening. This is a worst-case scenario.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Atlanta.


NGUYEN: Now yesterday's drama in downtown Atlanta unfolded at several different locations, with lots of people caught in the middle.

CNN's Miles O'Brien talked about it this morning with our senior investigative producer Henry Schuster.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: This is the older facility. And this is the newer buildings, which are built around here. Am I correct on that one?


O'BRIEN: OK. So basically the new facility is where most of the superior courtrooms are. And I don't know where that catwalk is, whether it was here or there.

In any case, what happened was he was brought into the new facility as all the prisoners are, and then made his way into the older facility where Judge Barnes' courtroom was.

SCHUSTER: That's right.

O'BRIEN: OK. Now subsequent to -- am I correct so far, Henry?

SCHUSTER: Right. About 9:00 a.m..

O'BRIEN: Give us a time hack on this one.


O'BRIEN: This is 9:00 in the morning, right?

SCHUSTER: About 9:00 in the morning.

O'BRIEN: So he know he was there.

SCHUSTER: This is where the gunshot - you know, when the incident occurs in the courtroom.

O'BRIEN: All right.

So now after that, he makes his way to the street. Which street did he come out on? Does he come out on this street or that one? Do we know?

SCHUSTER: I think he's coming out on that street to a parking lot across the street.

O'BRIEN: OK. Is this - there's a parking lot here.


O'BRIEN: There's a parking lot there. In any case, that's where the first -- carjacking number one occurs, right?

SCHUSTER: He tries - well he tries to get one car...


SCHUSTER: the courthouse. Goes across the street.


SCHUSTER: Gets a tow truck.

O'BRIEN: A tow truck, that's right.

SCHUSTER: Gets the tow truck.


SCHUSTER: OK, and then...

O'BRIEN: And then makes his way to where?

SCHUSTER: He makes his way to an office building called Inforum.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's go to the Inforum now and show people where we're going. We're just talking about a few city blocks here. Of course, fair amount of traffic at this time. As we make our way across there.

This is the Inforum, that kind of is -- looks like it's got a cross on top of it right here. And that's a facility that is used for tradeshows and the like.

Here you see, by the way for folks who aren't familiar with the Atlanta, this is the Centennial Olympic park. A lot of people would remember that just for the bombing, which was ultimately linked to Eric Rudolph, who Henry Schuster works so long and hard on.

All right, what happened at the Inforum, then? Did he get out of the tow truck?

SCHUSTER: Gets out of the tow truck.

O'BRIEN: Which was he, on this road or that road?

SCHUSTER: No. He's over on the left side of the screen.

O'BRIEN: OK. So he was -- this is Spring Street, isn't it?

SCHUSTER: Yes, yes.

O'BRIEN: Or Techwood.

SCHUSTER: Techwood.

O'BRIEN: OK, it's Techwood.

SCHUSTER: Techwood.

O'BRIEN: Excuse me.

SCHUSTER: He abandons the tow truck.

O'BRIEN: OK. Carjacking number two occurs here, right?


O'BRIEN: OK, Isuzu. And that makes its way...

SCHUSTER: Just up the street.

O'BRIEN: We follow up the street. Let's go to the Centennial parking deck. And you have to -- as you look back on this, you have to wonder why he didn't just head for Interstate 85 and get out of town. But maybe there were officers. There's any number of things that could have occurred.

OK, I believe this is the Centennial deck right here.

SCHUSTER: Right there.

O'BRIEN: And by the way, this is right where we are right now, CNN Center.

Into the Centennial -- he goes into the parking deck. That seems counterintuitive to me. Why would a suspect do that?

SCHUSTER: Well, obviously, to switch cars.


SCHUSTER: So he's trying to lay down some false flags. He's moving, he's changing, he's trying to throw people off the scent.

And remember, the focus right then is still at the courthouse. They're trying to figure out what's happening at the courthouse. They're trying to figure out whether there's somebody still inside with a weapon.

O'BRIEN: Inforum there. CNN Center is number two. And down here in this area, I don't think it's showing right now. The courthouse, I believe, that's i,t number 3.

Of course, I'm doing in the opposite order. Probably should do it the proper order. 1, 2, and then 3 for the Centennial parking deck. That is all within just, you know, walking distance.

SCHUSTER: He's had -- well, yes, he's halfway back to where he started from. And he's laying down a series of confusing tactics here.


SCHUSTER: And the question is, when he leaves the -- when he's going down the stairwell, when he comes out on to the ground level, what happens next? (END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: So that is how it unfolded from the shootout to the carjackings. And of course, a manhunt still underway for Brian Nichols at this hour. We will continue our coverage right after a short break.


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