Return to Transcripts main page
26 Hours of Terror: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Courthouse Shootings
Aired March 11, 2006 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening once again and here's what's happening right now in the news. Authorities in Evansville, Texas say a house fire has killed at least eight members of one family. Four of the victims were children. One man managed to escape. The cause of today's early morning blaze is under investigation.
Slobodan Milosevic is dead. The former president of Yugoslavia and highest profile defendant in the Balkan war crimes tribunal was found dead in his cell in The Hague earlier today. A full investigation and autopsy are pending.
An American hostage has been killed in Iraq. Tom Fox's body was found in western Baghdad. He had been shot in the head. Fox and three other Christian peace activists were kidnapped in November.
A one-time high-ranking White House aide faces fraud charges. Claude Allen is accused of swindling two department stores out of several thousand dollars in an illegal refund scam. Allen was arrested in Maryland this week. Last month, Allen quit his job as top domestic political adviser to President Bush, who says he is shocked by the charges.
The clean-up continues in Arkansas days after strong storms spawned a tornado. One person was killed in the Thursday storms. Three others were injured. Today, Governor Mike Huckabee (ph) declared a disaster in 10 counties.
Let's check in now with meteorologist Bonnie Schneider for an update on the severe weather this weekend. Bonnie.
BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Carol, we still have two tornado watches in effect. The tornado warnings have now expired. But we are still watching some very strong thunderstorms. And earlier Doppler radar indicated some rotation within these thunderstorms and that's why the warnings had been issued. But now you can see that's expired. We still have some very strong cells that we are watching closely especially into Missouri and on into further north towards Illinois as well.
Just north of St. Louis actually the weather is getting pretty active. Some of these storms have the capability of producing hail as large as penny sized hail. So we are watching for heavy downpours, gusty winds and dangerous lightning. Tomorrow the threat for severe weather stretches even over a more expansive area than it did today. All the way from Illinois, Indiana, southward towards Texas. This area of low pressure is deepening and strengthening. And Carol, things are really going to fire up tomorrow afternoon.
LIN: All right, good to have you around. Thanks Bonnie. Coming up next on CNN PRESENTS, 26 hours of terror, the untold story of the Atlanta courthouse shootings. Kyra Phillips reports on the rampage that cost the lives of a judge, a court reporter, a deputy sheriff and a U.S. customs agent. That's what's happening right now in the news. I'm Carol Lin. Now to CNN PRESENTS.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: On March 11th, 2005 a stunning escape and murderous rampage happened right here in Atlanta's Fulton County courthouse. One man terrorized a city for 26 long hours. It's a drama with an ending that's almost too hard to believe. How did it happen? Why did it happen? And what about those left behind? I'm Kyra Phillips. You are about to find out.
Chaos shatters the early morning calm in Atlanta. Police cars and ambulances race toward the Fulton County courthouse. It's March 11th. 2005. Although details are just beginning to trickle in, it's clear something is terribly wrong. Sunrise brings no hint of what is about to befall this city. For most, it's a typical Friday. People fighting the morning commute and looking forward to the weekend. Prosecutors Gayle Abramson and Ash Joshi are in the final stages of an on-going rape trial. The defendant, Brian Nichols.
GAYLE ABRAMSON, FORMER PROSECUTOR: It was a pretty regular day. What was exciting about it was that that day I was going to cross examine Brian Nichols.
ASH JOSHI, FORMER PROSECUTOR: I had some things I had thought about the night before which I thought would present our closing argument well.
PHILLIPS: In the Atlanta suburb of College Park, Judge Roland Barnes and his wife Claudia are heading out. Married nearly a decade, both work at the Fulton County courthouse. Claudia an administrative assistant, the judge, he's presiding over Brian Nichol's rape trial. However their talk this morning is of much more pleasant things.
CLAUDIA BARNES, WIFE OF JUDGE BARNES: Every Friday was -- you wake up and say is it Friday yet? Because we loved our Fridays. We loved to go to our Mexican place on Friday night. Sometimes you would have a lot of police officers come over to get search warrants signed. I mean you never knew who was going to show up. They knew where we were, so everybody came over.
PHILLIPS: Before she heads off to her job as a paralegal in an Atlanta-area law firm, Judge Barnes daughter Kylie calls her father who offers his usual dose of good advice.
KYLIE BARNES, DAUGHTER OF JUDGE BARNES: We talked about the usual things that dad and I talked about, law school which was his dream, but only because it was my dream. I've wanted to be an attorney since I was a little girl. He showed me that the boys need to be put on the back burner because I tend to focus my priorities elsewhere when it comes to matters of the heart. PHILLIPS: It's a struggle for Sergeant Hoyt Keith Teasley and his wife Deborah (ph) to get up and out this morning from their home in the town of Eastpoint. The Fulton County sheriff's deputy is still feeling the effects from helping his mother with chores the night before.
DEBORAH TEASLEY, WIFE OF SGT. TEASLEY: He got up at like 4:00 that morning and came in the kitchen. But really was kind of stiff, kind of groggy and then just went back and laid down. I was just really trying to get him up to get started with getting the kids together. And then I just said bye and left.
PHILLIPS: Don O'Briant, a veteran reporter for the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution" is also trying to get an early start. He's headed to his downtown office.
DON O'BRIANT, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: It was a typical Friday except I was planning on going to lunch with some friends. And I wanted to get all my work done a little earlier. So I guess I left 15 minutes earlier than I usually do. And I arrived at the parking garage at 9:15. Normally I would have gotten there at 9:30.
PHILLIPS: At the Bridgewater apartment complex about 25 miles from Atlanta, 26-year-old Ashley Smith begins her day faced with the daunting task of trying to piece her life back together. Although she's moving into a new home, she's still battling her old personal demons.
ASHLEY SMITH, HELD HOSTAGE: I was actually moving some of my stuff into the apartment then. I had done drugs that night. I stayed up probably until, I don't know, 5:00 in the morning.
PHILLIPS: You did meth that night?
SMITH: Just to help me move, I guess. Give me energy to keep me going so I could move my stuff.
PHILLIPS: Brian Nichols is also battling a tortured past. Accused of rape, he's on trial for a second time and looking at a life sentence, if convicted. This morning, Nichols starts his day on a prison bus en route to the Fulton County courthouse.
U.S. MARSHAL RICHARD MECUM, CHMN, COURTHOUSE SECURITY COMM: He came in with all the other inmates at the same time. And you are probably looking at anywhere from 250 to 300 inmates coming in at a single time. At that point then they begin to separate the inmates and move them around to where they need to go.
PHILLIPS: It's just before 9:00 a.m. and while nobody knows it yet, dozens of lives are on a deadly collision course. What's about to erupt at this courthouse will strike fear into an entire city.
PHILLIPS: It should have been a day like any other at the Fulton County courthouse, business as usual. It would be anything but.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police are everywhere, sheriff deputies flying around. We know two people have been shot. One is a deputy. The other we believe may be a judge. This is just a chaotic scene with emergency vehicles flying everywhere.
PHILLIPS: In a span of 12 minutes, a brazen jailbreak, a deadly shooting spree. The terror begins, March 11th, 2005, 33-year-old Brian Nichols is transported from jail to the basement of the county courthouse. Nichols is on trial for a second time in as many weeks on charges of rape, burglary, false imprisonment.
JOSHI: I was quite confident Brian Nichols knew the trial was not going well. It was the fourth quarter and we were up by a few touchdowns and I think he was concerned.
PHILLIPS: Faced with the very real prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison, police say Nichols takes matters into his own hands, literally. At 8:49 a.m. he's escorted up to the holding cells on the eighth floor of the new courthouse. There, he assaults and overpowers Deputy Cynthia Hall and quickly changes into street clothes. U.S. Marshal Richard Mecum heads the task force investigating the events of this particular morning.
MECUM: He knocked her out. She had a key on her that unlocked the gun box. And so he unlocked the gun box which is in the holding cell and took her gun out, also got her radio.
PHILLIPS: As Nichols makes his break, Judge Roland Barns is presiding over a civil matter on the eighth floor of the old courthouse. Court reporter Julie Brandau (ph) is next to him. Attorney Richard Robins (ph) is also in the courtroom. He's never given an on-camera interview about the events of the day. But he did agree to speak with CNN off camera.
RICHARD ROBINS, ATTORNEY: There was me at the prosecutor's table and three on the other side at the other table. And Julie was the court reporter at the hearing. And the judge was on the bench. So it was sort of a typical day in the courtroom up until that point.
PHILLIPS: Prosecutors Gail Abramson and Ash Joshi are also at the courthouse preparing to head to Judge Barnes' courtroom for what they hope will be the final day of Brian Nichols' rape trial.
JOSHI: It was a few minutes after 9:00. probably about 9:05. I said Gail, I'm going to go up and go ahead up to the courtroom. I'll see you there in a few minutes.
ABRAMSON: Typically I would take the stairs but since I had so much with me, visual aid stuff, I was taking the elevator and I was running late.
PHILLIPS: By now, Brian Nichols armed with Cynthia Hall's handgun is calmly walking away from the holding cells. But instead of easily escaping, he's making his way across this sky bridge to the old courthouse.
MECUM: He had been this route several times. So he knew where to go and how to go. He went from the holding cell up to Judge Barnes' courtroom. He didn't go in the courtroom itself but went into the judge's chambers.
PHILLIPS: Once there, Nichols takes several hostages, including another deputy and his gun. He then walks into the eighth floor courtroom where his rape trial is about to begin.
MECUM: From the chambers room into the courtroom was directly behind the judge's bench. The judge was already on the bench with the court reporter. And when Brian Nichols came through that door, he then shot the judge and the court reporter.
PHILLIPS: Judge Barnes and Julie Brandau are killed instantly. Nichols then turns his attention to the prosecution table. But there were no prosecutors. Instead, he locks his eyes and his gun on attorney Richard Robins.
ROBINS: A lot of thoughts went through my mind. He just killed the judge. Now he's going to kill the prosecutor. Then he's going to kill everybody else. And I'm sitting at the prosecutor's table. So I decided at that point that I needed to get out of that courtroom. And I wasn't going to let him shoot me straight in the chest.
PHILLIPS: Robins, convinced he's about to be shot, breaks for the exit.
ROBINS: I didn't find that out until a couple of days later. That when I turned around and ran, that distracted him and he ran out after me.
PHILLIPS: Robins runs across the sky bridge, while Nichols ducks into a stairwell. But he's spotted by Sergeant Hoyt Teasley reporting to an alarm. Teasley chases Nichols as he dashes down seven floors to Martin Luther King Kr. Drive. Even as Nichols is making his escape, few have any idea of the tragedy unfolding at the courthouse.
JOSHI: People were moving around very fast and I see the judge's case manager and his law clerk hugging each other and crying, sobbing, uncontrollably.
PHILLIPS: Judge Barnes' wife Claudia also works at the courthouse and remembers all too vividly the chaos that followed the shootings. How did you hear that there was a shooting inside the courthouse?
BARNES: I had a marshal friend who used to be assigned to our courtroom. I work for another judge. And he called me and asked me what all the commotion was outside my building? And I said well you tell me because you're the guy with the gun.
PHILLIPS: Claudia Barnes will soon learn that a judge has been shot on the eighth floor of the old courthouse. C. BARNES: One of my good friends came and got me. And at that point I knew something was wrong with Roland. So we went over to his courtroom. And they had already taped it off.
PHILLIPS: They wouldn't even let you in the courtroom?
C. BARNES: Oh, no.
PHILLIPS: In a matter of 12 short minutes, so many lives are changed forever at the Fulton County courthouse and it's about to get worse. Brian Nichols is on the loose.
SHERIFF MYRON FREEMAN, FULTON COUNTY GEORGIA: Mr. Nichols is considered armed and extremely dangerous.
PHILLIPS: Amid the chaos and confusion at the Atlanta courthouse, a portrait of the suspect begins to emerge.
FREEMAN: Mr. Nichols is considered armed and extremely dangerous.
PAUL HOWARD, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: This is the kind of person that does not need to run the streets. This is somebody who should be in police custody.
PHILLIPS: But the same Brian Nichols is remembered quite differently in a quiet Baltimore neighborhood hundreds of miles away.
CHARLES FRANKLIN JR., NICHOLS' CHILDHOOD FRIEND: I was totally shocked. I wasn't near a television screen. So I went online and when I saw his face, it just broke me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I looked at all of the kids that came up in this neighborhood, I can't find one that can really fit with that profile.
PHILLIPS: Their Brian, the one who grew up with them on Windemere Avenue was outgoing and made friends easily.
TRACY BREWER, NICHOLS' CHILDHOOD FRIEND: I remember him as a fun- loving person, laughed a lot, smiled a lot, liked to play, you know, liked to joke, really a typical young guy.
PHILLIPS: Residents of Ednor Gardens, a tight-knit middle class enclave where Nichols grew up, prided themselves on raising well- rounded and well-mannered children.
BREWER: People in this neighborhood have Christian and educational values that usually if the kids come up under this kind of system, they usually become very, you know, good kids.
PHILLIPS: For Brian Nichols, those values were reinforced at Cardinal Gibbons High School, a well-known all boys parochial school that stressed discipline, character and leadership. Cardinal Gibbons was also an athletic powerhouse where Brian Nichols excelled at traditional team sports. But karate was his true passion. Friends say Brian used to talk about how cool it would be to be a ninja when he got older.
CURTIS POPE, NICHOLS' CHILDHOOD FRIEND: He was an athlete, basketball, football, martial arts but never someone who would use martial arts on a negative note.
PHILLIPS: He spent hours practicing and eventually earned a black belt.
FRANKLIN: When we got into the arts, you know that whole lifestyle kind of humbled most of us. And in the tournaments, that's where we pretty much put our aggression.
PHILLIPS: Karate took a backseat to football in 1989. When Nichols left Baltimore for Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, a three-hour drive from his Baltimore home, away from the watchful eyes of his parents and neighbors. That's when the 6'1" linebacker started to get into trouble. Nichols was arrested three times for under aged drinking and disorderly conduct and after three semesters, dropped out of school. In 1995, Nichols moved to Atlanta, his brother Mark says a more mature man.
MARK NICHOLS, BROTHER OF BRIAN: He was living good for a black guy. His age, you know and in that position, an engineer at Hewlett- Packard, making six figures, living comfortable.
PHILLIPS: He had a condo in an up-scale neighborhood, a BMW, a girlfriend and took an active role in his local church.
NICHOLS: He was going every week playing the keyboard. He used to tell me, you need to get into God because I used to be into a lot of thing, you know. He's like, you need to stop. And you need to get into God.
PHILLIPS: The facade was shattered in August, 2004. Brian Nichols was arrested for allegedly raping his ex-girlfriend of seven years. Nichols spent six months in a Fulton County jail without bail while prosecutors Ash Joshi and Gayle Abramson prepared their case against him.
ABRAMSON: I thought he was one of the most dangerous types of defendants that myself as a prosecutor of crimes against women and children prosecutes. On the outside, he was a church-going, working contributing member to society. You know, but then he had this secret life with guns and drugs and the ability to hold a woman hostage for all these hours, you know, psychologically. So, my concern was that if he got out, he would kill her.
PHILLIPS: Jurors described him as calm, smart, and eager to tell his side of the story. But the prosecutors saw something different.
JOSHI: He was manipulative. He did his best to take those facts and put them in a light that was best for him. He would receive the question from me and then turn to the jury, put a smile on his face and respond to them as though he was having a conversation just with them.
PHILLIPS: After a half year behind bars, eight of the 12 jurors voted to acquit him.
JACK LILES, JURY FOREMAN: There absolutely was not enough physical evidence to either support the alleged victim's story or to discredit Brian's story and his version and his sequence of events.
PHILLIPS: The case ended in a hung jury. But within two weeks, a retrial was under way. This time around, it was clear that things were not going smoothly.
BARRY HAZEN, FORMER DEFENSE ATTORNEY: There was a substantial difference between the first and second trials. There was a lot more evidence in the second case, mostly of a corroborative nature.
JOSHI: Brian Nichols walked over to me from his table over to my table, stood across the table from me and remarked to me that we were doing a much better job this time.
PHILLIPS: On the morning of March 11th, Brian Nichols took fate out of the hands of the jurors and into his own. In the course of just 12 minutes, the accused rapist became an accused killer. Ironically, one of his victims, Judge Roland Barnes said if he were judge and jury, Nichols would have gone free.
K. BARNES: That morning my dad told me that had Brian Nichols opted to have a bench trial, then my dad would have acquitted him. My dad would have found him not guilty.
PHILLIPS: Next, he's armed and dangerous.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm about to say please don't kill me when all of a sudden I'm hit.
PHILLIPS: A killer is on the loose. Brian Nichols has just eluded a place dragnet, pulling off the perfect escape. How did Brian Nichols slip through to terrorize a city?
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody off the sidewalk!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIPS (voice-over): 9:00 a.m. the halls of justice are now a crime scene -- an area of confusion and fear. Judge Rowland Barnes and court reporter Julie Ann Brandau are dead. The alleged killer, Brian Nichols, is fleeing the courthouse. In pursuit? Sergeant Hoyt Teasley.
Nearby, Renee Rockwell steps off the elevator. She hears screams to get out of the building.
RENEE ROCKWELL, ATTORNEY: And I made a joke. I said, "What's the matter, did somebody escape?"
PHILLIPS: A deputy pulls her back into the elevator. On the way down, she's told the horrifying news.
ROCKWELL: A female deputy just put her hand on the wall and she was crying.
And I said, "What happened?"
She said, "The defendant got the gun and shot the judge."
And I said, "What judge?"
She said, "Judge Barnes."
PHILLIPS: By this time, Brian Nichols is on the street. Witnesses say he turns, firing several shots. Sergeant Teasley falls. Renee exits the courthouse and sees Deputy Teasley.
ROCKWELL: And his eyes were open. He was laying down right here on his side, sort of like this.
PHILLIPS (on camera): Was he moving?
ROCKWELL: No. He was non-responsive. But I think he was alive.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Deputies worked furiously to save Teasley's life.
DEBRA TEASLEY: I just happened to be on break at about 9:00 to 9:15.
PHILLIPS: Sergeant Hoyt Keith Teasley's wife, Debra.
TEASLEY: And I went in the cafeteria. And they have a very large television there. And I said the sheriff department? A shooting? I made a phone call and he didn't answer. But, you know, you just kind of think well, everything is chaotic.
PHILLIPS: Atlanta police responding to an all points bulletin converge on the courthouse. Brian Nichols disappears into a neighboring parking garage, begins a series of five carjackings. One of those was a tow truck driven by Deronta Franklin.
DERONTA FRANKLIN: He come out of the parking there and pointed a gun to me and told me to get out of the truck. And I told him you can have the truck. I bagged up and walked away.
PHILLIPS: Nichols makes his way into another parking garage, where he comes face-to-face with Atlanta newspaper reporter Don O'Briant.
O'BRIANT: And he pulls out a gun and said, "Give me your keys." I hesitate because I'm thinking that it's going to be an awful lot of hassle to get this car back.
Then he said, "Give me the keys or I'll kill you."
So I handed him the keys.
PHILLIPS: Nichols then opens the car trunk and orders O'Briant to get in.
O'BRIANT: I'm about to say please don't kill me when all of a sudden I'm hit. And I hit the concrete and hit my wrist and apparently broke it. Blood is running down my eye. I can't -- I can only see out of one eye. I scrambled to my feet and I head for the nearest exit, expecting him to follow me. And by the time I get outside, I look back and he's -- he's nowhere around.
PHILLIPS: Minutes later, Nichols is seen here, on CNN's security cameras, driving off in Don O'Briant's car. Or so it appears.
What comes next is one of the most extensive manhunts in Georgia history, a dragnet of officers, including multiple state and federal agencies. A lockdown is ordered at several area schools. Police post alerts on busy interstates and converge on Nichols' most recent address. But he's not there.
As precious hours tick by, the manhunt intensifies. News choppers follow police cars as they chase down tip after tip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four of these state troopers just took off at a high rate of speed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Georgia State Patrol just added 100 more police cars.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIPS: 2:00 p.m. about six hours after the courthouse shootings, police and state troopers in neighboring states are warned to be on the lookout for Brian Nichols.
(on camera): Brian Nichols has just eluded a police dragnet, pulling off the perfect escape. He ditched O'Briant's car in the garage here and then walked up and past CNN. No one noticed him. Then he worked his way up to the subway MARTA station, where police say he caught a train.
(voice-over): In the Fulton County Courthouse, Claudia Barnes learns the fate of her husband, Judge Rowland Barnes.
C. BARNES: I kept asking the deputy to tell me something and I'm like well, just tell me yes or no, I mean. And he wouldn't say anything. And I'm like well, you know, we work in this environment, I can handle it. Just -- I can't just sit here and not know something. And so I said, "Is he dead?"
And he finally shook his head yes.
And I said, "What about Julie?"
And he said, "Yes."
PHILLIPS: Kiley Barnes, a paralegal who works at a nearby law firm, is approached by one of the lawyers.
K. BARNES: And he said, "Kiley, just listen to me and don't freak out." He said, "There's been a shooting in your dad's courtroom. Three people have been shot. Your dad was one of them and they don't know if he's going to survive."
PHILLIPS: In a state of panic, Kiley decides to head to the Atlanta Grady Hospital. Her phone rings. On the line? A police officer.
K. BARNES: And he said, "Kiley, what are you doing right now?"
And I said, "I'm trying to find a ride to Grady."
And he said, "There's no need to go to Grady, Kiley. He's gone."
PHILLIPS: Debra Teasley is told by supervisors to call her mother.
TEASLEY: And she just told me that he had been shot and that I need to get to Grady.
PHILLIPS: She rushes to be by her husband's side. But she's too late.
(on camera): You didn't realize that he was dead at this point?
PHILLIPS: Until you walked into that room?
PHILLIPS: Did somebody tell you or you just knew by their faces?
TEASLEY: I knew by their faces and then I just said he didn't make it and his mom just shook her head and said no.
PHILLIPS: He sure died a brave man.
At first, I didn't understand and everybody kept saying he's a hero, because I -- in my mind I'm saying well, yes, but my hero is dead.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Within 12 minutes, a judge, court reporter and deputy are dead.
Deputy Cynthia Hall is found in a holding cell, still unconscious. She's rushed to a nearby hospital.
Brian Nichols, now the most wanted man in America, remains on the loose. Police fear the worst.
ABRAMSON: And I remember looking out the window of my room thinking like he might be the next Eric Rudolph.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
PHILLIPS (voice-over): As police scour the streets, Brian Nichols goes underground. He boards a commuter train, travels about eight miles to the Buckhead area of Atlanta.
It's early afternoon in another Atlanta neighborhood. Twenty- six-year-old Ashley Smith, the widowed mother of a 5-year-old daughter, is on her way to work. It's only her fifth day on the job at this restaurant. Ashley hears the latest developments on the shootings.
(on camera): So you knew there was an alleged killer on the loose somewhere in Georgia, possibly?
SMITH: Um-hmm. But, there again, leaving the restaurant, there were police officers that had been in there that said he's in Alabama now. So, I really took that to heart and thought that he wasn't in Georgia anymore.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Assistant manager Ed Subco (ph) remembers how tired she was that day.
ED SUBCO: She had to move by herself. She had to -- she told me she felt like "Sanford & Son." She said you should have seen me, Ed, going down the road. I had my mattresses strapped onto the roof of my car. I had to carry them in by myself.
PHILLIPS: It's late afternoon and back at the Fulton County Courthouse, Prosecutor Gayle Abramson is fearing for her life. Police place her in protective custody in a nearby hotel.
ABRAMSON: There was a phone call that came in and the person who called made a death threat.
PHILLIPS: Abramson is petrified. She's barely able to get any rest.
ABRAMSON: And I remember looking out the window of my room thinking like he might be like the next Eric Rudolph. You know, I thought am I going to be able to go outside? You know, am I going to be watching my back?
PHILLIPS: Abramson's thoughts turned to her colleague, Prosecutor Ash Joshi.
ABRAMSON: I started to panic when I didn't -- when I didn't really know where he was.
PHILLIPS: Joshi had planned to take his wife and kids to Chattanooga that weekend. But...
JOSHI: And I started to think maybe he feels he's not done. Maybe in his mind there's unfinished business. And I ran through a million scenarios in my head.
PHILLIPS: He packs his family into the car that night.
JOSHI: We could not reach Chattanooga fast enough.
PHILLIPS: Early that evening, the two prosecutors talked by phone.
ABRAMSON: We just kept saying we couldn't -- we couldn't believe it. How did this happen?
JOSHI: There was also some guilt, some consideration of what could we have or should we have done differently in the first trial? If we had convicted him the first time, could we have prevented all of these folks from losing their lives?
ABRAMSON: What if I hadn't been late? What if he didn't have to drop off something else at another courtroom? What if we had been up there?
JOSHI: The thought of not just losing my life, but one of my friends, another friend being seriously hurt by him, was disturbing to both of us.
PHILLIPS: Some time after 8:30, Brian Nichols, still in Buckhead, allegedly kills again. His victim? Immigrations Agent David Wilhelm, who's working late on a home he's building for his family. Wilhelm's body will be discovered the next day. Nichols takes his gun, badge and blue Chevrolet pickup. He's now within 14 miles of a chance encounter with Ashley Smith.
It's 9:30 in the suburb of Duluth. Ashley Smith's shift is over. She's driving home.
SMITH: My step dad called right then. But when I got off and he said, "What are you doing? You're out. That man is still out there."
And I'm like, "I'm just grabbing a few things and then I'm going home and I'm in for the night."
So I grabbed a few things from the old apartment and went to the new apartment and began to unpack my boxes. PHILLIPS: 11:00 p.m. less than two blocks from the Fulton County Courthouse, police realize they've made a huge mistake. The green Honda that every police officer across the nation has been looking for is found, right under their noses.
O'BRIANT: They were -- they were looking for my car for about 10 hours that day nationwide. And it was one level down in the garage. And it made the police department look a little stupid.
PHILLIPS: Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington.
RICHARD PENNINGTON, ATLANTA POLICE CHIEF: Some of the officers received information that a car fitting that description had exited the garage. And so rather than go floor by floor to make sure, we didn't do that. The officers kind of just got in their cars, got on the radio, gave a description of the vehicle and assumed that the person had left.
JOSHI: It wasn't until that car was found and there were some reports coming in that maybe he was still in the city that I really started to become worried.
PHILLIPS: Police have lost their best lead. They have no idea where the suspect is. A city of four million is living in fear. It's getting late and Brian Nichols is calculating his next move.
SMITH: This was my justification. Some people are going to lie and some people are going to cheat and some people are going to steal. I'm going to do drugs.
PHILLIPS: Ashley Smith, a young woman on a collision course with Brian Nichols.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Atlanta -- for many people, it's the capital of the new South, a place of opportunity. For 26-year-old Ashley Smith, it was a place to make a fresh start and a clean break from a troubled past.
SMITH: All my life I've accepted responsibility for the mistakes that I've made. Hey, I did it. But now just wanting to move on and say yes, what can I do now or what can I bring up from the past that will help somebody else?
PHILLIPS: Though her family walked out when she was very young, other family members were happy to step in, especially her aunt Kim.
KIM ROGERS, ASHLEY SMITH'S AUNT: I always felt like she just had far greater potential than what she did. And I had these dreams of her, you know, playing college basketball and, you know, making the dean's list and marrying Mr. Perfect and living happily every after, you know? And thinking, oh, she deserves this so much because she had such an unstable childhood.
PHILLIPS: Her grandfather also had an active hand in Ashley's life. He was the headmaster at Augusta Christian Schools, where Ashley attended. He was also her task master at home.
SMITH: My grandfather is a loving man, but stern all at the same time. He's very disciplined. I mean I used to get wakened up -- when I would stay at his house I would be woken up in the morning by the Marine Corps wakeup, like da-da, da, da, da. And I'm like oh, no, this is terrible.
PHILLIPS: Ashley was a good student and a stellar athlete. She was named Athlete of the Year and was popular with her peers and her teachers.
ROGERS: She gave 110 percent when she played basketball. She was the number one person out there trying to make things happen.
PHILLIPS: But it wasn't enough. Ashley began experimenting with drugs the summer before her senior year.
SMITH: I just thought hey, maybe this will make me cool, too. And I began to smoke marijuana immediately after that, all the time. I mean I went to basketball games high my senior year.
PHILLIPS: It wasn't until 18-year-old Ashley ended up in the county jail that her devoutly Christian family discovered how low she had fallen.
SMITH: And I waited as long as I could to call my grandparents and finally couldn't wait any longer and called them. And they said, "Sit there."
PHILLIPS: But the family's tough love approach didn't stop her for very long. She continued using drugs and was arrested again, this time for underage drinking. Just out of high school, Ashley found her match, someone who liked the night life as much as she did, Daniel McFarland Smith.
SMITH: The first time I saw Mack I said -- from across the hall. We were actually at a pool hall. And I told my friend, "I'm going to marry that guy." And she was like, "You don't even know him."
And I'm like, "I don't care. I want to marry him."
So about a month later I met Mack face-to-face and from that day on we never separated.
PHILLIPS: Despite his own hard partying ways, Mack gave Ashley purpose. A few months into their relationship, Ashley discovered she was pregnant. A wedding quickly followed. SMITH: I didn't have any aspiring dreams to be this or that, you know, career-wise. I just wanted to be a mom and a wife. I wanted to take care of my family. That's where I felt my place was. And so that's what Mack gave me.
PHILLIPS: The premature birth of their daughter Paige brought out Mack's tender side.
SMITH: He was scared to death. I mean it took him about a week before he would hold her. But after he held her, it was like I couldn't hold her anymore. One person could hold Paige a day and he would try to beat me up to the hospital.
PHILLIPS: Over time, their daughter had another effect -- she became the inspiration for Ashley and Mack to stop drugging and drinking.
Still, it was hard for the couple to escape their past. One night in August, 2001, an argument broke out between Mack and some local guys, who accused him of befriending an undercover drug agent. Mack never made it out of the parking lot.
SMITH: The fight went from back out there all the way out here until it got to the grass. I just remember saying, "Honey, what's wrong? What's wrong?"
He had a white t-shirt on and it just started to turn really, really red. So I lifted it up and he had a big slit in his chest right there and his arm. And he just kind of gasped for air and he just closed his eyes and started bleeding out of the mouth.
PHILLIPS: With Mack gone, Ashley Smith lost her anchor.
SMITH: After it happened, I wasn't mad at god. I just asked the question why? Why did this happen to me? Why did it happen to him? I don't even know if I let it sink in that it did happen. I just covered it up with -- with pills and people coming in my house.
PHILLIPS: Ashley drowned her sorrows in whatever substance was available. But she wasn't the only one suffering.
SMITH: There were times when I even thought Paige was after me, that the drug made me in -- it put me in such a state of psychosis and it made me so paranoid that I thought the world, even my child, was after me.
PHILLIPS: And when Ashley's aunt Kim got a frantic call from a stranger warning that Ashley was strung out on meth and endangering her daughter's life, it was the last straw.
ROGERS: And I said well, you know, it's going to be me or it's going to be the authorities. You may get busted, you may end up in jail, and they'll come get your child. And there's no telling where they're going to place her. I said let me keep her until your life is back on track. And she wouldn't agree. And about a week later she called me and she said, "Aunt Kim, I'm -- I'm not stopping. I'm not going to give up this life right now. She can come stay with you and Uncle Stephen until -- until things change."
PHILLIPS: Alone, without her husband, without her child, Ashley was at a crossroads. She had already tried and failed at rehab twice. Out of options, she decided to put her life in the hands of a higher power.
SMITH: I thought I heard god talking to me while I was driving the car. And he said let it go and let god. And I said OK, god, if you're really talking to me, then you're going to take care of me and when I let go of the steering wheel, nothing is going to happen. When I open my eyes, I'll be stopped in the middle of the road and everything will be fine.
Well, I don't remember anything until three days later, waking up in the hospital with two broken arms, a severed pancreas and three broken ribs in ICU.
PHILLIPS: After being released from the hospital, Ashley entered rehab once again. When she got out, she knew she couldn't return to the place where she had experienced and caused so much pain.
SMITH: And I began to scream immediately. There was a gun pointed at my face. And then he said, "Don't scream. If you don't scream, I would hurt you."
And he just told me to walk to the bathroom...
PHILLIPS: Just ahead, Ashley Smith comes face-to-face with Brian Nichols. And for the first time...
SMITH: The front door was up there and the back steps were here.
PHILLIPS: ... returns to the place where she fed her drug addiction.
SMITH: This is absolutely disgusting.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: The search goes on for Brian Nichols through downtown Atlanta. Anybody who...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is wearing a black suit with no shirt.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I can just remember just (INAUDIBLE), please don't hurt me. KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It is now after midnight. Ashley Smith is in her new apartment unpacking boxes, feeling tired and stressed from a long day of work and moving, it's time run out for cigarettes.
ASHLEY SMITH, ATLANTA COURTHOUSE HOSTAGE, AUTHOR, "UNLIKELY ANGEL": And when I opened up the door, I heard a truck pulling up. And I didn't think much about it. You know, it was backing into a parking space. I thought, whatever. So I just went and got in the car and went to the store and got cigarettes.
PHILLIPS: When she returned, Ashley notices the same man in the same blue truck, but now in a different parking space.
SMITH: So at first I thought, oh, this is kind of weird. But then I also hoped that maybe he had just beeped the horn and was waiting for somebody else to come -- you know, come out and get in the truck with him and leave. I mean, why else would he be waiting there?
As I got out of the car, I heard his door close behind me. And, of course, my heart dropped even more then because I kind of felt him walking up behind me then.
PHILLIPS: For the first time, Ashley Smith returns to her apartment since moving out one year ago.
(on camera): Is it strange being back?
SMITH: Yes, it's very strange being here.
PHILLIPS: What were you thinking when you pulled up?
SMITH: How nervous I was going to be going in here and just how kind of weird it feels.
PHILLIPS: How do you feel right now?
SMITH: OK. I'm a little short of breath.
PHILLIPS: So take me through that day.
SMITH: When I turned around and saw him right there, the door was already open and he just followed me in and shut and locked the door.
PHILLIPS: He had the gun right on your head?
SMITH: Yes, yes. Right at my face.
PHILLIPS: So what happened at that point?
SMITH: Well, he came in and closed the door and locked the door. I can just remember right here just saying, please don't hurt me, I have a little girl who doesn't have a dad.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): It has been two weeks since Ashley last saw her daughter. But she planned to see her later that morning.
SMITH: He just had the gun pointed right at me. And I began to scream immediately with the gun pointed at my face.
PHILLIPS: Fearing someone may have heard her scream, Nichols forces Ashley into the bathroom.
SMITH: I'm sitting here remembering what rug I had on the floor, what shower curtain was up or whatever, and it's just weird.
PHILLIPS (on camera): Are you seeing Brian, can you remember his face?
SMITH: I can see him a little bit, standing, yes. I mean, of course I can. And I can see the gun sitting on the counter and it's very strange.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Brian Nichols asks Ashley if she has been watching the news that day.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Massive manhunt is under way...
SMITH: And he said, you know the whole Brian Nichols thing?
O'BRIEN: ... for that suspect linked to that multiple shooting.
SMITH: And right here he ripped his hat off right there in the doorway, and said, now do you know who I am? And I just went back against the mirror and said, oh my gosh, please don't hurt me.
I know that I started to cry when I -- when he told me who he was. And I just knew that I was going to die. And then he told me to get in the bathtub. And so I walked over and got in the bathtub.
PHILLIPS: Nichols ties Ashley up and tells her he wants to take a shower.
SMITH: He took a regular towel and a wash rag and a hand towel out, and the hand towel he placed over my head. He said, I'm going to put this over your head so you don't have to watch me take a shower.
And I thought, what? You know, that's kind of weird. Why would you care about the way I feel?
PHILLIPS: Sitting with her face covered, Ashley begins opening up to Nichols about her life.
SMITH: And as Brian was taking a shower, I was sitting like right here on the stool. And I began to talk to him and ask him if he had any family or if he had any children and he said that he just had a son born.
And I asked him if -- didn't he want to be a father to that son? And he said, you know, there's no way I can be a father, I have ruined my life now. And that's when I began to talk about Paige (ph). There was a picture of me and Paige from my cousin's wedding sitting here on the counter right here in the bathroom. So I told Brian that I was supposed to see Paige the next day and was I going to be able to?
And he said, I don't think so.
PHILLIPS: Thinking she may never see her daughter, she tries to reason with Nichols.
SMITH: I said, you don't understand, I haven't seen her in two weeks, her daddy's dead, imagine what she's going to feel like when I don't show up. She's going to think that I didn't want to see her.
PHILLIPS: After taking his shower, Brian Nichols asks for something to help him relax.
SMITH: He asked me if had any marijuana. And I was like, what? No. But immediately I said, I have some ice. And thought, oh my gosh, you know, what did I just do? I can't do that. But it was too late, I had already offered it to him.
PHILLIPS (on camera): Why did you have it?
SMITH: Because I was addicted at the time to it.
PHILLIPS: Did you feel a need to do it with him?
SMITH: No way. I knew that that was my last chance. I had been more of a prisoner to that drug for the past few years than I was to Brian Nichols that night in his apartment, really, and took control of my life.
It even made me give custody away of my daughter, the person that I loved the most in the world.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Nichols unties her and tells her to go get the drugs.
SMITH: He said, I don't know how to do it, could you set it up for me? So I can back in the bathroom and laid it out on the counter and set it up for him.
PHILLIPS (on camera): Did you actually chop it up?
PHILLIPS: He just went right for it?
PHILLIPS: Did you watch him? Did you say anything to him?
SMITH: No. I walked out of the room. I didn't want to watch him. I mean, I began -- I asked him to not do it. I said, you shouldn't do that, it will ruin your life. PHILLIPS (voice-over): For the first time in her life, Ashley Smith says she has the strength to refuse crystal meth.
SMITH: I just felt a presence, like a presence of God coming to the house and like everything was going to be OK. And that's when I went and grabbed my "Purpose Driven Life" and asked him if I could read. I went and grabbed it and went and sat on the bed.
PHILLIPS: "Purpose Driven Life" is Rick Warren's best-selling devotional book. Ashley reads a paragraph out loud.
SMITH: "What you are is God's gift to you. What you do with yourself is your gift to God. God deserves your best. He shaped you for a purpose and he expects you to make the most of what you have been given. He doesn't want you to worry about or covet abilities you don't have."
PHILLIPS: Nichols asks her to read it again. It seems to register and he begins to open up.
SMITH: He said he felt like there was a demon inside him and that there was a spiritual warfare going on inside of him. And I asked him if he was a Christian, and he said, yes, he was a born-again Christian and I expressed to him that I was too.
PHILLIPS: At this point, Ashley feels she is gaining Nichol's trust.
SMITH: He says, maybe God has led me here to you. Maybe you are my guardian angel.
PHILLIPS: Ashley feels she is gaining control and tells him...
SMITH: That you have got to turn yourself in.
PHILLIPS (on camera): And what did he say?
SMITH: He sat there. I mean, I think he knew that he had to turn himself in. He couldn't go on forever.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Coming up, the bond between kidnapper and hostage grows stronger. How well did Ashley and Brian know each other?
(on camera): Did you ever feel attracted to him? Did you have sexual relations with him in any way?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is 4:30. Top story this half hour, the massive manhunt this morning going on for Brian Nichols. He killed...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is who police are looking for...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point, they are not sure where...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: GBI says they really have no idea where Nichols is...
PHILLIPS (voice-over): It's now 4:00 a.m. No one knows where Nichols is, except for Ashley Smith, the woman he is holding hostage in her apartment outside Atlanta.
SMITH: In here is pretty much where I began to tell him about just the mistakes that I had made in my life and how my husband was killed.
PHILLIPS (on camera): You knew your life was far from perfect. You obviously saw the situation that he was in. So you figured if he knows I'm not perfect, and I have had awful things happen to me, maybe he will give me a break.
SMITH: Well, I tried to be as honest with him as possible about tons of things that I had done in my life. And one of the first things I said was, if you think what you have done is bad, you know, I have got a 5-year-old who doesn't have a mom because she chose drugs over this precious little child.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Nichols has been in Ashley's apartment for three hours. He turns on the TV and hears the news reports.
AARON BROWN, HOST, NEWSNIGHT: And another deputy, Cynthia Hall, in critical condition tonight.
SMITH: I think the first thing that came up was the deputy's picture.
BROWN: She was shot in the head escorting the man to court. She is expected to survive.
SMITH: He said, no, I didn't shoot her. I just hit her over the head with the gun.
PHILLIPS (on camera): And what did you say to him when he reacted?
SMITH: I was like, whoa. You know, I didn't say anything.
PHILLIPS: So it was the first time he showed a lot of emotion.
SMITH: Yes. That he was being accused of something that he didn't do. And he was not happy about it.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Then, Nichols does something surprising.
SMITH: He looked up at the ceiling and said, God, please forgive me and please let her live.
PHILLIPS (on camera): So he actually felt some remorse at that moment?
PHILLIPS: And then what happened? SMITH: We kept watching TV and they showed him going down the stairs. He sat right down on the couch and said, I can't believe that's me. And I went and sat down on the couch and I said, that is you on TV. And you have to pay for what you did.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is a statewide, and for that matter, a nationwide search in order for the murder suspect...
PHILLIPS (voice-over): There is a look of defeat on Nichols' face.
SMITH: He told me to look at him. And he said, look at me, I'm already dead. He said, I would rather you go in there right now and get the guns and shoot me than them.
PHILLIPS (on camera): Did you think for a moment, maybe I should?
SMITH: No way. I wasn't taking that man's life. No way. I didn't want his blood on my hands.
PHILLIPS: And you didn't think he was going to hurt you at this point.
SMITH: At that point, no, I didn't.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): While a bond is clearly formed between kidnapper and hostage, Nichols is still anxious.
SMITH: I remember being back in the kitchen and he said he wanted to get rid of the truck.
PHILLIPS: Agent David Wilhelm's truck, the man Nichols allegedly killed hours earlier.
SMITH: He shows Agent Wilhelm's wallet. He flips it open with his ID card, and he says, I didn't want to kill him, but he just wouldn't listen to me.
PHILLIPS (on camera): What do you mean, he wouldn't listen to him?
SMITH: He wouldn't cooperate with him.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Just before sunrise, Nichols wants to get rid of the truck. Ashley agrees to follow him in her car.
(on camera): Why didn't you call 911 at that point? You could have taken off. Why did you still want to help him?
SMITH: It wasn't necessarily so much to help him. I just wanted to get him back to this apartment.
PHILLIPS: So he could be contained?
SMITH: So he could be contained, yes. PHILLIPS (voice-over): At a nearby industrial complex, Nichols abandons Agent Wilhelm's truck.
SMITH: He got in the car and he just kind of looked at me like, whoa, you didn't drive off. And immediately when he got in the car, I said, are you ready to turn yourself in now? And he said, no, I just want to wait a few more days.
PHILLIPS (on camera): What were you thinking on that drive back to your apartment?
SMITH: That I had to get back here and that it was almost 9:00, that's what time I was supposed to meet Paige. I think in my head, no matter what happened, whether he said yes or no by 9:00, I was going to make a run for it anyways.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Back in the apartment, Ashley prepares breakfast.
SMITH: I had planned on cooking before we left anyway, that I was hungry and I guess maybe in an attempt to gain his trust a little more and so I could definitely leave.
PHILLIPS: That's when Nichols comes into the kitchen and picks up a photo of Ashley's family.
SMITH: He was totally a different person at that point than he was when he first entered the apartment. What changed, I don't know what changed, except for, you know, he just began to trust me a little more.
PHILLIPS: Over a breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and fruit punch, the bond is complete. Brian tells Ashley:
SMITH: I wish I would have met you at a different time under different circumstances, because I think we could have been friends.
PHILLIPS (on camera): What were you thinking when he said that?
SMITH: Maybe so, I don't know. I was just kind of shocked that he said that.
PHILLIPS: Did you worry about what was going to happen to him?
SMITH: I didn't want him to hurt himself and I didn't want anybody else to hurt him because he is a human being.
PHILLIPS: I'm sure you have heard the theory that people think you knew Brian Nichols and that he knew where you lived and that's why he was there. What do you say to those people?
SMITH: I did not know Brian Nichols before that time.
PHILLIPS: Did you ever feel attracted to him? Did you have sexual relations with him in any way?
SMITH: No. Not at all. I never felt any attraction towards him, no, never had any kind of relations with him at all either.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): After breakfast, Ashley washes her face, preparing to leave the apartment and Brian Nichols to see her daughter, Paige.
SMITH: I started to leave out the door and on the way out the door he said, will you tell Paige hello for me?
PHILLIPS: It's around 9:30 a.m., Ashley Smith has just survived seven hours with Brian Nichols, the most wanted and dangerous man in Georgia.
SMITH: Thank God I was alive, closed the door.
I think my knees were shaking so bad that I didn't know if I was going to make it to the car or not. I immediately looked up and said, thank you, God, for getting me out of there.
PHILLIPS: Coming up, Brian Nichols is surrounded. Will he come out peacefully?
SMITH: I thought either he was going to kill himself or he was going to let them kill him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is March 12th, good morning...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With this man...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... area where Mr. Brian Nichols...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the story behind the fugitive from justice?
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: ... the largest manhunt in Georgia history
PHILLIPS: It's 9:30 a.m., Saturday morning, a murderous rampage enters its 24th hour. For Ashley Smith, her seven-hour nightmare is ending. Brian Nichols allows his hostage to leave.
SMITH: I got to the first stop sign, actually, down there, and dialed 911 the first time and it was busy. So I got to the second stop sign, dialed it again, it was busy again. And then I got to the light (INAUDIBLE), and sure enough they answered.
OFFICER: 5-10 radio, what's the complainant's 10-20 at this time?
DISPATCHER: She is advising that she is 10-12 in front of the leasing office in a blue Bonneville, advising that he has three guns, mace, and has changed clothes.
PHILLIPS: Police meet Ashley, and she takes them to the industrial complex where Nichols left the truck. SMITH: As soon as they saw the truck, they knew that I was telling the truth. They went crazy, they were like, oh my gosh, he's in our county, I can't believe it. Then they immediately brought me back here and asked me which apartment was mine and how they should get there.
OFFICER: Have our zone cars go ahead and start doing a perimeter and closing that apartment complex down.
PHILLIPS: Major Bart Holsey (ph) is SWAT commander for the Gwinnett County Police.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have got the apartment sealed off -- or the building where he was at sealed off. They have got the complex shut down.
SMITH: Major Holsey's SWAT team gets in position, preparing for the worst.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get down on the ground! Get down on the ground! Get down on the ground!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody in Atlanta thought that he was going to -- that it would be a shootout. And we prepared with that in mind. It's not what we wanted.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do standing drops and kneeling.
PHILLIPS: SWAT team leader, Corporal Jason Teague (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I showed up on the command scene. It was very hectic, myself and three or four other officers moved up with some shields and things like ballistic protection.
PHILLIPS: After the murder of four innocent people, as a nationwide manhunt is about to come to an end, perhaps the most bizarre event is about to happen. The door to Ashley Smith's apartment slowly opens.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When he came out, he waved a white towel to indicate that he was wanting to surrender. We saw that his hands were clear. We started advising him to get on the ground. He kind of looked around, wanted to see if he had a possible escape route. I believe it took him several seconds to comply with our commands.
So even up until the very end he still was looking for a way to get out of the situation. He was laying face down. I told him put his hands behind his back. He still was a little bit defiant. He did not want to do it initially. So we got his hands behind his back, used a set of flex cuffs, got him handcuffed. At that point we began asking him, what is your name, tell us what your name is.
His first reply was, you know who I am. We continued to ask him, what is your name, and didn't say anything for a few seconds, and then he finally said, Brian Nichols.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can confirm that Brian Nichols is in the custody of the Gwinnett County SWAT team.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are hearing from Gwinnett Police that the suspect is in custody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About that time in the country, if not in the world, it was a little surreal, there is no denying that. It's not every day that we get a call out to take into custody a quadruple homicide perp. It was not the outcome we were expecting. We do not expect them to come out so peacefully. But it turned out that he was ready to give up at that point.
SMITH: I thought either he was going to kill himself or he was going to let them kill him. I was relieved to see that everybody was still alive, that he didn't take anymore lives and then just came out with his hands up.
PHILLIPS: The terror Brian Nichols had inflicted for 26 hours was now over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This armored car right here, we put him in that because again, our thinking at the scene was that he was not only a threat, but people were threatening him because he was notorious at that point.
PHILLIPS: Brian Nichols is transported to an Atlanta jail.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People were pulling over, getting out, and cheering us and clapping. I mean, literally standing on the side of the median wall on a major interstate, stopping to congratulate us. So it was very amazing.
PHILLIPS: After 26 long hours, Brian Nichols is back in custody. But how did he get away in the first place?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Within the sheriff's department, there had developed a culture. The culture was not formed around the policies and procedures.
PHILLIPS: Next, the investigation's startling conclusions.
PHILLIPS: Three days after the rampage at the Fulton County Courthouse, Brian Nichols appears at a preliminary hearing. Needless to say, security is extreme.
Fulton County Sheriff Myron Freeman is the man responsible for courthouse security. And in the court of public opinion, it is Freeman who is taking the heat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... 0750, and let's go to the phones and...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why would you not search him?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Never should she have been transporting this inmate by herself, as unstable as he was. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There has got some accountability for the City of Atlanta, Fulton County.
PHILLIPS: Sheriff Freeman set up his own commission to find out just what went wrong.
SHERIFF MYRON FREEMAN, FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA: Yes. Some people were lackadaisical and nonchalant and, of course, the investigation revealed that, that they were not where they were supposed to be and doing what they were supposed to do.
PHILLIPS: Freeman had been on the job just 10 weeks when Brian Nichols made his escape. With an overcrowded jail and a financial scandal that the sheriff inherited, courthouse security just wasn't his top priority.
CHIEF JUDGE DORIS DOWNS, FULTON COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT: We were all very much focused on the jail. We really did not realize the extent to which the courthouse might be in jeopardy with regard to that sort of situation.
PHILLIPS: On any given morning, hundreds of people enter the Fulton County Courthouse, lawyers, witnesses, citizens, and according to U.S. Marshal Richard Meachum (ph), who chaired the sheriff's commission, as many as 300 defendants from a nearby jail.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many of them are murderers, rapists, robbers, violent criminals. And they may turn violent at any minute.
PHILLIPS: According to Meachum, only 235 deputies were assigned to the courthouse that day. But the sheriff's commission says 314 are required for optimum security.
DOWNS: There are 30-plus judges having court every day. And we just need sufficient personnel to make sure each one of those courtrooms is safe.
PHILLIPS: And it's not just the quantity of personnel, but the quality.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Within the sheriff's department there had developed a culture, the culture was not formed around the policies and procedures. There were a lot of people in the Fulton County Sheriff's Department who were far more interested in drawing a check and a whole lot less interested in doing a whole lot of the job.
PHILLIPS: The report also cites the lack of communication as a major problem. For example, the commission reports a sheriff deputy who was a deacon at the Nichols' family church, received e-mails from Nichols' mother, e-mails that expressed her worry that Brian would shoot his way out of the court. That information was not passed up the chain of command.
Another example, two days before the rampage, deputies found shanks, metals weapons which can be used as knives, hidden in Nichols' shoes. That information also not passed up the chain of command. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The information was not being passed on all the way, as far as we could tell, to the top supervisors. And the top supervisors in turn weren't advising the sheriff.
PHILLIPS: The report also cites the questionable policy on escorting prisoners in the courthouse, one deputy per four inmates.
FREEMAN: A deputy is trained to secure the inmate. He is trained to transport the inmate. He is trained to move the inmate safely.
PHILLIPS: But it was a 51-year-old five-foot tall deputy named Cynthia Hall who escorted Nichols that morning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brian Nichols is around six-foot, six-foot- one. He probably weighs 210, 215 pounds. He basically overcame Deputy Hall by just pushing and shoving her. And he would throw her from one cell to the other.
The committee strongly advised that in the future, any inmates that they mildly suspected of violence have at least two deputies on them at all times.
PHILLIPS: Then there is the issue of officers not paying attention. Within a period of 12 minutes, Nichols had escaped his cell and ran to Judge Barnes' courtroom where witnesses say he shot the judge and court reporter, most of it captured on security cameras.
But the report cites the negligence of two deputies who were not at their posts monitoring those cameras. One was administering First Aid to an inmate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The second individual that was in the command center, apparently he was called by his superior officer and said, can you come up here, I need to get some breakfast.
CHIEF RICHARD PENNINGTON, COURTHOUSE SECURITY COMMITTEE MEMBER: I understand that this was somewhat a common practice where you could send someone out to get you breakfast or coffee, but at the time, they didn't have deputy sitting at the monitor.
PHILLIPS: A deputy who could have also seen the alarm light activated from Judge Barnes' courtroom.
Claudia Barnes, Judge Barnes' widow, who works at the courthouse, is filing a suit against the sheriff's department.
CLAUDIA BARNES, WIDOW OF JUDGE ROWLAND BARNES: And I know there are a lot of good deputies, and maybe there are good people, they just -- they get lazy sometimes, just like a lot of people do with their jobs.
PHILLIPS: Adam Malone is Claudia Barnes' attorney.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The surveillance equipment, the closed circuit television, all of these things were there and available, and had they been utilized in the way that they were intended to be, all of this could have been prevented.
PHILLIPS: In the year since the shooting, Sheriff Freeman has made changes. He fired eight employees. High risk inmates are now escorted by more than one deputy. And he has made physical improvements throughout the courthouse, like these slots in holding cell doors, so handcuffs can be removed without physical contact, contact that on March 11th proved deadly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happened in Fulton County could happen at almost any other courthouse in the country. And that's what is scary.
PHILLIPS: When we return, an unlikely hero deals with the demons of her past.
SMITH: I was high as a kite and miserable with myself.
PHILLIPS: Ashley Smith, recovering and rebuilding.
SMITH: I'm just now ready for Paige. I'm just now ready to be her mom.
SMITH: He said he thought that I was an angel sent from God, and that I was his sister and he was my brother in Christ.
PHILLIPS: The day after Brian Nichols is captured, a shaken Ashley Smith tells her story for the first time.
SMITH: And I told him that if he hurt me, my little girl wouldn't have a mommy or a daddy.
PHILLIPS: A year ago, Ashley had been trying desperately to escape a life of drugs. But the night she talked Brian Nichols into letting her see her daughter again was when she finally found the will to quit.
SMITH: I think the only thing that scared me straight was Brian Nichols, because I saw my life in front of me. I was -- I mean, I shouldn't be sitting here right now. I should have been the fifth person, but God had a bigger plan for my life.
PHILLIPS: Ashley is now back in her hometown of Augusta, Georgia.
SMITH: I have often told people that I'm very good at everything I do as long as I set my mind to it, even when I was doing drugs, I wanted to be the best drughead there was in the world.
PHILLIPS: As she pieces together her new life, landmarks from her troubled past still remind her how easily it can all fall apart.
SMITH: We used to burn a lot of wood out here and stand around the fire and just think that people are in the woods watching us. PHILLIPS: Ashley takes us to the house in Augusta where she fed her crystal meth addiction, retracing for the first time those dark days following her husband's fatal stabbing.
SMITH: This is absolutely disgusting.
This is shocking to me, to see this table here. When I moved out of the house that Mack (ph) and I lived in, that was when all of this started for my life. And that was something that I gave to somebody and it ended up here.
This chair was mine, too. Very weird.
These marks right here from people throwing knives. That was one of the things that one of the boys did, was he threw knives a lot when he got high.
This point in my life I almost lost my life because I was just in such a state of psychosis and mentally, physically just unhealthy.
PHILLIPS: Clean now, she is well aware of how she has come.
SMITH: I thought my life was so far gone and that God turned his nose up to me and he wanted nothing to do with me anymore. But I know so different now. You know, God took a very miserable drug addict who had really nothing in her life at the time, and he has used me in a way that has helped hundreds, maybe thousands of people.
No matter what you have done in your life, God is waiting on you to turn your life around.
PHILLIPS: Speaking to people across the country...
SMITH: For four years this stuff ran my life.
PHILLIPS: ... Ashley's story is an inspiration to many.
SMITH: That was the last chance that God was going to give me to never ever do it again.
PHILLIPS: Ashley lives with her aunt in Augusta and is rebuilding her relationship with her six-year-old daughter, Paige.
SMITH: Once I realized what I had done and once I had given her to Aunt Kim, I knew it was going for me to get her back, because my Aunt Kim is a tough woman and even towards the Brian Nichols thing, I mean, even towards that, I knew that I wasn't ready for Paige.
I'm just now ready for Paige. I'm just now ready to be her mom.
Now duck your head.
And not ready in a selfish way, but, I'm just now good enough for Paige. I'm what Paige needs now.
KIM ROGERS, ASHLEY SMITH'S AUNT: She is healed spiritually, physically, mentally, and she seeks guidance. OK, Kim, what do I do with this situation with Paige and what do you think I should do here? And you know, I slowly turned over the parenting role and saw her as now. She's doing a great job. I think sometimes she's like, ah, Aunt Kim, I just can't handle this. And I said, it's normal.
PHILLIPS: Ashley is fixing up a home of her own to move into with Paige. But regaining custody is the next hurtle.
SMITH: The way we all want it is I go and live with Paige for a little bit on my own and make sure that everything is OK so we don't play with Paige's head. I mean, there is really no doubt about that, but it's just for precaution. That's the way we all want it.
This is Paige's room.
Obviously I have completed a program and my aunt knows that I'm ready. It's all up to her.
PHILLIPS: Aunt Kim agrees. The time has come.
ROGERS: Hallelujah. Yes, and it has been just a great gift to watch this past year. I never gave up, and I think of all the things that she appreciates that I just kept pushing her and pushing her, because I knew it was there.
SMITH: Sometimes I just wanted to smack her and say, you know, I'm not listening to you. But I had to listen to her, you know? She has not ever given up on me. And I really believe that I would be dead if she didn't continue to challenge me. I would have just given up on my life.
PHILLIPS: Ashley is now involved in her church and has a whole new circle of friends. She has enrolled in college and plans to study psychology this fall.
CHUCK ROGERS, PASTOR: In many ways I don't know that a rehab program or other things could have done, had the same impact the way this did. We have seen through it just incredible transformation.
PHILLIPS: And at the center of that transformation is Ashley's deep faith.
SMITH: Yes, I know people are looking at me, going, oh, is she going to mess up again? Is she going to mess up again? I can't live my life in fear that I'm going to mess up, because I know I'm going to mess up.
But I have learned from a lot the mistakes that I have before and I won't make the same ones.
Do you want to spin around?
I have another chance to prove to my daughter that I do love her, by my actions. And I do that every day.
PHILLIPS: Next, shatter lives looking for answers. BARNES: I needed to ask her if she was involved in any of this to see if he had an accomplice.
PHILLIPS: Coping with the loss.
DEBORAH TEASLEY, WIDOW OF SGT. HOYT TEASLEY: People kept telling me in the beginning, oh, it will get better with time. No, I think it's getting worse.
PHILLIPS: The week after the shootings, Atlanta mourned, a series of vigils and funerals.
At the memorial service for Judge Rowland Barnes, 3,000 people remembered him as a man of honor, a man with a sense of humor. A quartet sang one of his favorite songs, a tune he and his wife performed in a charity skit.
Today, Claudia Barnes is having a difficult time, especially when she thinks about her husband's killer.
(on camera): If you come face to face with him, what would you say to him?
BARNES: I wouldn't want to come face to face with him. You know, I know everybody has a soul that you hope that they get soul right with God before they die, in the flesh I don't like him.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): As part of her grieving process, Claudia wanted to talk to Brian Nichols' parents. They had a tearful meeting in November, outside the courtroom where Nichols' pre-trial motions were heard.
BARNES: I feel sorry for his parents because anybody that has children knows that you can't do anything but raise them the way that you want them to come out. And if they do something different, embarrass you, there is nothing you can do about that. And my heart goes out to them because they can't help what he has done. And I had to let them know that.
PHILLIPS: Barnes doesn't blame Nichols' parents, but she had her doubts about Ashley Smith. Ashley agreed to meet just before Christmas.
BARNES: I felt like I needed to ask her if she was involved in any of this, to see if he had an accomplice. I needed to know personally whether or not she helped him get away from the courthouse.
At this point in time I do believe that she is for real on her story.
PHILLIPS: But believing Ashley Smith doesn't remove the hurt, and it hurts most after work.
BARNES: During the day when I have to go to my job and do normal things and have the stress of the day of everything that I have on me right now, at night when I lay down and he's not there.
PHILLIPS: To help deal with it, a new puppy.
Everyone touched by the tragedy has different questions they are trying to answer. For former prosecutor Gail Abramson (ph), the main one is, what if she had been in the courtroom on time?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know that he pointed the gun right at where I would have been sitting. But it's hard to think -- you know, in what might have happened. Sometimes I -- sometimes it kind of scares me, you know, like, that I escaped death.
PHILLIPS: The past year has also been rough for Judge Barnes' 28-year-old daughter Kylie (ph). To honor her father, she wants to become a lawyer, but her dream is on hold.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now I'm unemployed, looking for a paralegal job, trying to get back on my feet mentally. It hasn't been easy. But I wear my scales of justice around my neck to remind me of my dream. I will persevere and I will be an attorney.
PHILLIPS (on camera): I think your dad would be pretty proud.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope so, I was proud of him.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): After 32 years as an Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter, Don O'Briant has left his job. Some people thought he was a hero for standing up to Brian Nichols.
DON O'BRIANT, FORMER ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION REPORTER, RESISTED BRIAN NICHOLS: I never have agreed to put that label on it. I don't think I was a hero, I think I was just a lucky survivor. What happened on March the 11th last year was the beginning of my second life.
And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wanted to do what I wanted to do. And although I enjoyed what I was doing at the newspaper, there were other things that I wanted to do outside of that.
PHILLIPS: Now he's playing guitar, writing, and spending more time with his children and grandson.
O'BRIANT: Warren Zevon, who was a singer who died of cancer, told Dave Letterman what he had learned from his terminal illness. He said, enjoy every sandwich. And I think that is what people need to do. It's just the small things in life that are important. It's not your job, and it's not how much money you have, it's being able to look at a sunset and realize that you are going to be able to see another one tomorrow.
PHILLIPS: Brian Nichols' attack on Deputy Cynthia Hall left her brain-damaged.
CYNTHIA HALL, VICTIM OF BRIAN NICHOLS: That last thing I remember was like going downstairs, picking up the prisoner, riding on the elevator back upstairs with him.
PHILLIPS: Until now, Hall has not spoken publicly about what happened that day. This interview was videotaped by her attorney and released in conjunction with a lawsuit she is filing against Fulton County.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you could say anything to your friends at the sheriff's department, what would you say to them?
HALL: Make sure you watch over one another while you are working together. Keep each other safe until you go home for the evening.
PHILLIPS: A single mother of two, Cynthia Hall still needs medical treatment, unfortunately she has lost her health insurance.
Thirty-five hundred people attended the funeral of Fulton County Sheriff's Deputy Sergeant Hoyt Keith Teasley. He was remembered as a brave public servant who died trying to stop a killer.
His widow, Deborah Teasley, is still struggling.
TEASLEY: People kept telling me in the beginning, oh, it will get better with time. No, I think it's getting worse than better for me, because I guess everything is like settling down and, you know, you get more time to think. Now I'm more emotional than I have ever been. .
PHILLIPS: Today, Deborah's life revolves around her daughters, Dianna (ph) and Dikeisha (ph).
(on camera): What did you pick up from your dad?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Math.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He used to like math.
PHILLIPS: He was good at math?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, always.
PHILLIPS: So is there a word in there that best describes your dad?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Clever.
(voice-over): And memories of her husband are never far away.
TEASLEY: And this is the area where I come and I pray with him and I just feel closer with him by setting this up and displaying all his medals and awards.
PHILLIPS (on camera): Is that his badge? TEASLEY: Yes, that is his badge here.
PHILLIPS: I noticed the medal right here, was that given to you, it's the killed in the line of duty medal, is that right?
So everything I have decided just to keep, because I didn't want to put it in a box.
PHILLIPS: I don't blame you.
TEASLEY: Especially looking at this picture here, right there, I just -- that makes me cry sometimes because, you know, it's just unbelievable. I just can't believe it that it happened that day.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): And what about the alleged killer, Brian Nichols? Nichols has pleaded not guilty to all charges. He is scheduled to go on trial in October, ironically, in the same Fulton County Courthouse where it all began.
If Nichols is convicted, prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com