Guest: Clint Van Zandt, Bo Dietl, Drew Findling, Paul Howard, John McKillop
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, a massive manhunt in Atlanta is on as police search for a defendant who killed a judge and others at a downtown courthouse.
ABRAMS (voice-over): Brian Nichols wrestled a gun from a sheriff‘s deputy as she removed his shackles, then ran into a busy courtroom, shot the judge and court reporter and later a deputy. The attorney prosecuting Nichols who narrowly escaped death at the courthouse today joins me live.
And police say the DNA is a match. It seems Bart Ross killed federal Judge Joan Lefkow‘s family. I talk to an attorney who may have been next on his hit list.
Plus, Jay Leno getting some comic relief—the Michael Jackson judge says he‘s free to poke fun at Jackson in his nightly monologues. And on Monday, the accuser‘s back on the stand. We ask how many discrepancies exist in his testimony and are they important?
The program about justice starts now.
ABRAMS: Hi everyone. First up on the docket tonight, the massive manhunt for a courthouse killer. The shots allegedly fired by this man, Brian Nichols, a suspect being retried for a brutal rape. And while this is the latest picture of Nichols—can we put up that picture? He‘s purportedly shaved his head. So far, three victims are dead, including the judge presiding over his trial, Rowland Barnes, his court reporter and a courtroom deputy. A second courtroom deputy is in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the face. Police in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, the Carolinas now on the lookout for Nichols.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Nichols is considered armed and extremely dangerous and should not be approached. How Mr. Nichols allegedly came into possession of the weapon and the circumstances surrounding the shooting are still under investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Police believe that shortly after Judge Barnes convened his courtroom at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time, Nichols overpowered a deputy sheriff and took her gun.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALAN DREHER, ATLANTA DEPUTY POLICE CHIEF: The suspect made his way into the courtroom and held all the persons inside at bay with the handgun. He then shot and killed the judge, shot and killed the court stenographer and made his escape from the courtroom. He managed to get outside of the court building where he encountered another deputy sheriff. That encounter resulted in the suspect shooting and killing the deputy sheriff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Nichols then fled the courthouse, went on a carjacking spree that included a tow truck before he apparently pistol whipped “Atlanta Journal-Constitution” reporter Don O‘Briant and escaped in O‘Briant‘s green Honda Accord. The car has a Georgia license tag 6584-YN.
Now let me tell you what is going on here. We are supposed to be speaking at any moment to the D.A., Paul Howard. We were supposed to have his assistant district attorney on the program, Gayle Abramson. Apparently some sort of threat was called in against her. Don‘t know if it was authentic or not, but they are taking it very seriously.
As a result, she is not able to come on the program, being taken to some secure location. We are expecting the D.A., Mr. Howard, to be calling in at any moment to give us the very latest on what is going on and whether it‘s actually possible that Nichols himself called in some sort of threat. We‘re going to have to figure that out.
But in the meantime, Martin Savidge joins us live. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
Martin, what do we know about the manhunt for this guy?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, good evening to you, Dan. And it‘s an extensive manhunt. It‘s now spread beyond just the state limits of Georgia. It has gone throughout the South. Let me tell you what is concerning and what is growing in the thinking of law enforcement right now in the city of Atlanta and that is this may not have been simply, you can call it a crime of opportunity on the part of Mr. Nichols, but maybe something much more methodical, something in which he was targeting the judge specifically.
Some have even suggested he was hunting for the judge. It began this morning at 9:15. At that time, Brian Nichols, 33 years of age, was a rape suspect in a case that was going through a second trial after a mistrial last week. He was being escorted from one portion of the courthouse to the courtroom of Mr. Barnes, Judge Barnes, I should say. And it was at that time, apparently, that the suspect managed to break free from a single deputy, a female that was guarding him as they were being escorted through the halls.
He then took the deputy‘s weapon and in the same process, apparently, critically injured her. She is in the hospital tonight. She is the only deputy to survive (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And then from there made his way specifically to the courtroom of Rowland Barnes and this is what is distressing to much in the law enforcement field. Got into that courtroom, took the whole courtroom captive and then, for reasons still unclear, opened fire, killing the judge, killing the court reporter, and then fleeing the courtroom, heading down eight flights of stairs, pursued by a deputy and out on the street in the open public, turns and fires five shots at the deputy, striking the deputy once. He dies a short time later in the hospital. The brazenness of all of this is what has got law enforcement tonight very concerned about trying to track down the suspect, Brian Nichols, because he could be a great threat to someone else.
ABRAMS: All right. As we continue to wait for what we still expect to be our exclusive interview with the district attorney about some late-breaking developments regarding some sort of call that they have received to the D.A.‘s office, some sort of threat—again whether it is authentic, whether it was actually Nichols calling them or not, we‘ll have to wait and see.
ABRAMS: We‘re waiting for him to get on the phone with us at any moment. We‘ll bring that to you. In the meantime, Gayle Abramson is the assistant district attorney who was supposed to be on the program initially. She was the one who‘s allegedly the target of whatever this call was and she talked about how this man, Brian Nichols, had actually tried to sneak a weapon into the courthouse only days earlier. Here‘s what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GAYLE ABRAMSON, D.A. IN HIDING FROM DEATH THREAT: When the suspect was being transported back to the jail, they do a full search of him and they located in his shoes two of the metal shanks that Mr. Howard was talking about. Subsequent to that, they confiscated those and they sent a report and Judge Barnes and all the attorneys involved in the case had a meeting, more security was requested and provided by the Fulton County Sheriff‘s Department.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: All right, let me play one more piece of sound from Gayle Abramson. Remember, she was the one who‘s trying him for rape. All right. It was a hung jury the first time. They‘re beginning the case for this—for the re-trial when he, again, overpowers this deputy back behind the courthouse. He then comes back and goes into the courtroom. Now here‘s what Gayle Abramson was saying about what she thinks the motive may have been.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMSON: I think this was a random act. I do think that...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn‘t random because he went back to the courtroom. He could have just escaped. He made a trip to the courtroom.
ABRAMSON: That‘s true. I do think that in his mind he knew he was going to be convicted this time and so I think that he was just seeking revenge to the criminal justice system in general.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: All right. Again, we‘re waiting for the district attorney. We expect to be speaking to him at any moment about the very latest and about a call that the District Attorney‘s Office received from someone who apparently claimed to be Mr. Nichols himself, making a threat against the woman you just saw. We‘re going to bring that to you as soon as we get them. You can understand this is a tough time for them. There is a lot going on.
Clint Van Zandt, let me bring you in, former FBI profiler. Look, what makes this so dangerous is at this point, this guy‘s got nothing to lose.
CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER: Nothing to lose.
ABRAMS: Right? I mean he‘s got three counts of murder, possible death penalty facing him, with all the people that he killed. Forget about the rape charge.
VAN ZANDT: Yes. Yes. You know, this smacks of what we saw in Chicago a week and a half ago. It‘s the same type of execution, as I‘m sure you‘re going to report later in your program. The shooter in Chicago didn‘t have to take that action against Judge Lefkow‘s husband and her mother. I think the guy did it to, you know notwithstanding his letter that says you know I had nothing else to do. He did it to punish the judge.
VAN ZANDT: He wanted to get at her. In this same case again, this shooter could have just run out of the courtroom. I mean whether he overpowered a woman or not, that‘s not the issue. The issue is a guy that big, there should have been two deputies on him to make sure that he couldn‘t do this and, number two, as the D.A. said in an earlier press conference, this guy, if he had two shanks in his shoe the day before, I mean, Dan, those aren‘t chop sticks. That guy wasn‘t just scratching his foot with it.
ABRAMS: Right and so Bo Dietl joins us now, the famed former New York City detective. Bo, you know you got this guy out there, right? If you‘re telling the people on the street how to deal with a case like this, and this guy goes beyond armed and dangerous.
BO DIETL, FORMER NEW YORK CITY DETECTIVE: You know, as far as what happened there, again, we keep reiterating the facts that when you listen to the district attorney before, he said they made a call to the Sheriff‘s Department. They told them about the two shanks. This should have been—security should have been beefed up. Whatever it was, one female, one male, that‘s not enough when you have a guy 6‘1...
DIETL: ... 200 pounds. Now you have a guy who overpowers the woman. He comes into that courtroom. He I think was looking to take out whoever he could in that courtroom and he did it for a reason. He didn‘t just run out of there. This is a real violent guy. He‘s on the streets now and people have to realize he‘s not going to go down easy. He‘s going to go down in a blaze. He‘s not going to put his hands up. He‘s going to want the cops to shoot him and that‘s the way it‘s going to come down.
ABRAMS: And again, I want to play another piece of sound again from Gayle Abramson, who is the D.A., who apparently has been threatened in some form or another and we‘re waiting to hear from the actual D.A. to talk about that threat. We‘re expecting to hear from him at any moment. He was supposed to be on the program at the top of the show, but again, as you can imagine, they‘ve got a lot going on. Gayle Abramson talking about the trial that Mr. Nichols was facing and the fact that she thinks that he knew that he was in big trouble.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMSON: This trial has been going extraordinarily well for the state. Again, we had to put this particular victim through another trial and she did—she was on the stand for a day and a half and underwent vigorous cross-examination. But ultimately the truth comes out. The Fulton County Police Department did a phenomenal job of investigating this case, recovered many—all of the—almost all of the evidence that the defendant used—the duct tape, the weapons, drugs and things of that nature. So, they did a phenomenal job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Joined now by Drew Findling, who is a friend of the judge. Thanks a lot for taking the time. All right. Is this a judge who was ever worried about safety and his own safety and security in the courtroom?
DREW FINDLING, 20-YEAR FRIEND OF JUDGE BARNES: Dan, really what makes this a unique situation is that this was a judge that really could care less about being flanked by deputies, being secured. You‘re talking about a large, strong man with a great appearance who could care less if he was staring down a lawyer from a big law firm or a guy charged with 10 counts of murder. This was a tough guy and that‘s what‘s so shocking about this.
ABRAMS: Do you know anything about the type of security that they had at the courthouse, about the procedures and protocols?
FINDLING: You know, I‘ve tried so many cases there and so many major cases, high-profile cases and quite frankly I‘ve never thought about my security. I‘ve never thought about my safety nor the safety of anybody there. I‘ve had my family come watch trials and never once have I ever fathomed that something like this could happen. It‘s really shocking.
ABRAMS: But, you know, and I think it is a fair question to ask, Clint Van Zandt and you know, we do have to be careful about always sort of looking back and playing you know, Monday morning police officer, but there is something startling about the idea that this very large man is changing his clothes and possibly a very dangerous man, with a single deputy back there, and again I don‘t know how big this woman was or wasn‘t, but it does seem that that is a dangerous situation, is it not?
VAN ZANDT: Well, you know, you‘re right...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree with you...
VAN ZANDT: You and I have got the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and we can look at this right now. But again, common sense would tell us with the benefit of that hindsight that you need to have a couple of deputies on this guy with the threat level he presented. Dan, and you look at the crime that he committed against a woman and notwithstanding, woman, man, whatever, but we‘ve got one female deputy on him.
I mean this is going to be cause to go back and look at their security. And what we‘re going to hear is that, well, the deputy has handled 450 inmates a day. Well, they‘re not all as violent, have the potential for violence that this guy does. And, you know, first thing we got to do...
VAN ZANDT: ... is get the shooter off the street. But then they got to find out what went wrong.
ABRAMS: All right. Let me do this. We are on hold, literally, with the D.A.‘s office as we speak. They‘re trying to locate the district attorney, Paul Howard, who is going to hopefully update us on the very latest in this investigation and, in particular, on a call that that office received of some sort of threat to the assistant district attorney who had been working on this case.
Again, was it legit? Was it not? Hopefully he‘ll have some answers for us. More coverage as the search continues for a man who killed a judge and others in an Atlanta courthouse coming up.
ABRAMS: Coming up, our continuing coverage of the massive manhunt in Atlanta for a suspect who shot several people at a downtown courthouse, including a judge and a deputy, killing three. Coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DREHER: Early this morning, shortly after court was convening at Fulton County Superior Court, the suspect was on his way to the courtroom. It appears that he was—he overwhelmed a deputy sheriff on his way to court and it appears that he took possession of her handgun.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: And the authorities are looking for that man. Let me go right now to Paul Howard, who is the district attorney, joining us for an exclusive interview here, to give us the latest on this.
Mr. Howard thanks very much for taking the time to come on the program. We understand that there‘s been some sort of call made or some sort of threat made to the assistant district attorney in this case?
PAUL HOWARD, FULTON COUNTY D.A. (via phone): Well, approximately 15 minutes or so ago, we, at the end of an interview that was conducted by a number of media outlets, we received word that the defendant or the suspect had actually called a threat into our jail and the threat was a threat to kill Gayle Abramson.
ABRAMS: And do you believe that that threat was legitimate? I mean what is the reasoning for believing it was actually Nichols calling?
HOWARD: Well, when we saw what he did today, we certainly know that he is capable. But what we‘re doing right now is we‘re checking the number. We are trying to see whether or not it might have been a hoax or you know, somebody just trying to get something else going. But based upon what happened today, I wouldn‘t be surprised.
ABRAMS: But as a result—you‘re obviously taking this very seriously. I mean she‘s now in protective custody as—are you as well in protective custody?
HOWARD: Yes, I‘m in protective custody as well as my family.
ABRAMS: Wow. All right. So, this is—give us a little background, if you will, on the rape trial that was going on...
ABRAMS: ... when this all happened.
HOWARD: Well, this is an incident that happened in August of last year. We indicted it based upon what we found out and that is that this—the victim in this case was the ex-girlfriend of the defendant. They had dated for some seven years. When she indicated to him that she no longer wanted his companionship, he started to then get violent.
On this particular occasion, he broke into her home, he bound her with duct tape, and once he did it, he brought a cooler into her home and he said I‘m going to be here for three days until your birthday and the cooler was actually filled with food. It also had a loaded machine gun in it as well as I think some quantity of marijuana. He did assault her. He threatened her. He threatened her family and he threatened her new or current boyfriend.
ABRAMS: And so—but the charge he was facing was rape. There was a hung jury in the first case and where were you in terms of this prosecution in the second case, this retrial?
HOWARD: We were getting ready to cross-examine the defendant and so we thought that this was very near the end. It didn‘t appear that there were any other witnesses who would testify on his behalf and we thought that it would mark the end of the trial.
ABRAMS: Mr. Howard, I don‘t know that you‘re going to know the answer to this question, but a lot of people have been asking us this question, so I just want to sort of throw it to you, which is he apparently overpowered a female court officer somewhere outside of the courthouse—somewhere outside of the courtroom and a lot of people have been asking the question, why was a man this dangerous alone with—unshackled, uncuffed with a—just a single female court officer?
HOWARD: Well, of course, that‘s one of the facts that is yet to be determined. We have not gotten an official report from the Sheriff‘s Department, so whether or not that was the case, I‘m not sure at this moment. But I can tell you it‘s certainly going to be something that we‘re going to be examining in the future.
ABRAMS: Because in the past, I mean, in the last few days, this suspect, had he not, had tried to sneak a weapon into the courthouse?
HOWARD: Well, in fact, two weapons. What‘s usually called a shank on yesterday—the deputies discovered that he had a shank in each one of his socks. And apparently he had brought those from the jail. He didn‘t get them from the courthouse, so he apparently had them for the entire day.
ABRAMS: Are you being constantly updated on the search every half an hour, 15 minutes, hour? How are they keeping you—I mean you are now in protective custody...
ABRAMS: ... so how are they updating you on the search for him?
HOWARD: Well, my major case squad from my office is actually working directly with the police department so they will call me every 15 to 20 minutes to let me know what‘s going on.
ABRAMS: The jurors were inside the courtroom when this happened, correct?
HOWARD: That‘s correct. But they had not gotten into the courtroom yet.
ABRAMS: OK. And that‘s where Assistant District Attorney Gayle Abramson was as well, right, meaning right outside the courtroom?
HOWARD: Right. She was right outside the courtroom, getting ready to walk in when one of her colleagues said to her don‘t come in and suggested that she go to some other location.
ABRAMS: You have any sense that—I mean he gets the gun outside of the courtroom, he goes back into the courtroom and shoots the judge, and this is the most puzzling part, I think, is the stenographer.
ABRAMS: Do you have any sense based on the accounts that you‘ve gotten as to why he chose the people he chose?
HOWARD: Well, I think that when he returned, when he entered the courtroom, since he did not see his wife who I think probably would have been his principle target, his ex-girlfriend, he didn‘t see Gayle Abramson, I think he wanted to punish someone in the criminal justice system—excuse me—because I‘ve got a cold and that‘s why I‘m talking this way.
ABRAMS: No, please.
HOWARD: Yes. But I think that‘s why.
ABRAMS: And so it‘s somewhat random it sounds like...
HOWARD: That‘s correct. Dan, he wanted to punish someone on the inside of that courtroom. They happened to be there so that‘s what he did.
ABRAMS: Is there any other sense as to who else he may be targeting? I mean this is obviously a very dangerous, angry man. Are there other people who are potential victims of him as well?
HOWARD: Well, we‘ve got the victim and her family in custody—in protective custody because we certainly believe that their lives might be in jeopardy, some of the witnesses that are involved with the case as well as the co-counsel—excuse me—the other assistant district attorney who tried this matter. We‘ve also gotten him to another location.
ABRAMS: Have you spoken with his attorney? I mean I assume that his attorney has no information as to where he might be, either, right?
HOWARD: No. No, we have not spoken with him.
ABRAMS: Why not?
HOWARD: Well, we—under all the circumstances, I tell you, there is so much, so many things going on. I don‘t think we had a chance to speak with him as of yet.
ABRAMS: How—what is the latest that they‘ve told you as to how widespread the manhunt is?
HOWARD: Well, I understand it‘s in several of the metropolitan counties and we‘re working real hard to make sure we can find this guy before nightfall.
ABRAMS: Let me ask you a more human question, Mr. Howard, and I‘ve done editorials on this program saying that I don‘t think prosecutors and judges get enough credit for the risks that they take every day...
ABRAMS: ... in this country the way that, you know, they are often facing down as the worst of the worst in this nation and I think sometimes they don‘t get enough credit for that. Are you scared?
HOWARD: Excuse me. No, I‘m not afraid, but I‘m cautious. After what happened in Chicago this week and what has happened today, I mean it is clear that people don‘t mind hurting people in the criminal justice system, even if it is a judge or some court official. And I agree with you. I don‘t think that people realize how dangerous it is to work in these situations and the risks that we expose ourselves to on every day.
ABRAMS: How is Ms. Abramson doing? The assistant district attorney, who was the subject of that phone call threat?
HOWARD: I believe she is in shock. I think she is really in shock. I think maybe in a couple of days she‘ll come out of it. But right now I think the best word would be she is in absolute shock.
ABRAMS: Let me just take a step back if—can you continue talking to us for a moment?
ABRAMS: OK, I just want to make sure that—you know I know you are extremely busy. I know you‘re dealing with a lot of things right now. And obviously if you get any sort of updates while we‘re speaking, we‘d love to hear anything.
ABRAMS: I mean look, we got our—just so you know, I don‘t know if you can see our screen, we‘ve got the phone number up on our screen...
ABRAMS: ... for the tip line and I just want to remind everyone that that number is there for a reason and the reason is that if you have any information, you should call 404-730-7983...
HOWARD: Right. And as I mentioned before, during the last case, this guy was actually turned over to the police by four of his friends. And I think that says something when your friends turn you over to the police. It said that they recognize his level of dangerousness and we‘re hoping that somebody else will do it again.
ABRAMS: Does he have any distinguishing marks or anything that would be helpful in finding him?
HOWARD: No. The thing that most people have said about him is that he gives this obvious appearance of being athletic. And that‘s apparent with the first impression that one gets when you see him.
ABRAMS: And he may have shaved his head, correct?
HOWARD: That‘s correct.
ABRAMS: And is—why do they suspect that he may have shaved his head? Is there some information about that...
HOWARD: Well it‘s just a common, a real common tactic when people are trying to flee, so it might be that he has probably cut his hair. He might have, in fact, put on dark glasses or something to alter his appearance.
ABRAMS: Since the press conference you held, again, this is probably about an hour and a half ago, have you gotten any more information about exactly how everything happened, about how this went down?
HOWARD: No. No. We‘re still waiting on that.
ABRAMS: And the crucial moment, it still appears, is when he gets the gun from this court officer. Does it seem that it was premeditated? I mean, I think some people are wondering, was it just a crime of opportunity? Did he suddenly say, oh, I‘ve got a chance or it sounds like since he is trying to sneak in weapons the day before...
ABRAMS: ... this is something he may have been plotting.
HOWARD: Well that‘s what I feel. I think that he—because of his...
HOWARD: ... excuse me—possession of the weapons the day before, he...
HOWARD: ... excuse me—he intended to hurt somebody.
ABRAMS: Have you—do you want to take a minute to cough...
HOWARD: ... actually, I‘m going to have to hang up.
HOWARD: My voice is...
ABRAMS: All right.
HOWARD: ... laryngitis this weekend and I apologize, but it seems to be really wearing out.
ABRAMS: Mr. Howard, I just want you to know that we are all going to be thinking about you a lot. Please, please stay safe...
ABRAMS: Please keep Ms. Abramson safe.
HOWARD: Well, I really appreciate it and I hope that people realize that these people, the assistant district attorneys, many of them could get jobs that paid a lot more money. But they are dedicated. They really believe that this is the right thing to do and they will go out and do it even at the risk of their own personal safety. In fact, when we were informed, when Gayle Abramson, it was mentioned to her that the guy had made the phone call, her first reaction was great, then that will help us pin his location. That‘s the kind of person that she is.
ABRAMS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that‘s exactly—very similar to the comments that I made the other day about prosecutors and judges giving up a lot of the big money for the big law firms to do a public service and that is exactly what you are doing, sir, and thank you very much. Good luck. Stay safe. Please let us know if there‘s anything else we can do in terms of putting out any information. If you get anything new, new cars, new locations, please let us know...
HOWARD: And we‘ll be sure to call.
ABRAMS: We‘ll try and put it right on the air.
HOWARD: Thank you so much.
ABRAMS: Thank you Mr. Howard and good luck to you.
This is such an awful story. All right. We‘re going to take a break here. We‘re going to come back—more coverage of the search for this man who has killed a judge. He has killed a deputy. He has killed a court stenographer and he is on the loose. Coming up.
ABRAMS: This man is on the loose. He is beyond armed and dangerous. He has shot and killed a judge, a court officer, injured another sheriff‘s deputy. He killed a court stenographer, and he has now, apparently, or possibly called in a threat to kill the assistant district attorney who was prosecuting his case. And the reason I phrase it that way is, if you just heard, we had the D.A. on the program only moments ago, who is in protective custody, so is his assistant district attorney, also in protective custody because someone, claiming to be Nichols called in and said that he was going to kill that woman right there, Gayle Abramson.
And the African American man to the left there is Paul Howard. He is the district attorney, the white woman to the right there is Gayle Abramson, and they are the two. They are the two people who are now in protective custody as a result of this phone call into the jail, apparently, and as they continue to investigate the authenticity. Before I go to a piece of sound from the guy, it was another guy who worked for the “Atlanta Journal-Constitution”, who apparently got carjacked and got pistol whipped by the man believed to be Nichols.
Let me very quickly go to John McKillop, president of the New York Supreme Court Officers Association. Mr. McKillop, you heard my interview, and they were talking about security and the fact that this guy apparently overwhelmed a female court officer. Does that sound to you like a situation that never should have happened, or are we playing too much of Monday morning quarterback here?
JOHN MCKILLOP, PRESIDENT, NYS SUPREME COURT OFFICERS ASSOCIATION:
Well, Dan, I have to say that I do believe that this situation shouldn‘t have happened. Clearly I think the—there was a protocol that broke down. There never should have been a situation where one court officer, regardless of the gender, should have been alone with this defendant, particularly given the history that was known to the court officer. Something obviously broke down there. And...
ABRAMS: And unshackled...
ABRAMS: ... and without cuffs, right? I mean without cuffs and unshackled, that‘s the problem, right?
MCKILLOP: It‘s incredible the fact that this—that he was not under any restraint at all.
ABRAMS: What is—I mean, how would you describe generally the protocol when you‘ve got someone on trial for a violent rape, they‘re in the back changing into civilian clothing so they can appear in front of a jury and then ultimately testify in the case. What is the protocol, for example, in New York, for how many would be surrounding him, what he‘d be allowed to do, when he‘d be allowed to have the cuffs off or on?
MCKILLOP: Well typically judges want a defendant in a jury trial to appear before—to have an opportunity to appear before the jury without any visible restraints. And typically that is what happens, unless the person or the defendant acts out in any way. In that case, he would—he could even be restrained during the trial in front of the jury.
ABRAMS: Let me just interrupt you for one second. I want to show this picture. This is Sheriff Myron Freeman and we‘re expecting him to speak at any moment there in the Atlanta area to give us the latest, hopefully, on the searches that are going on for Nichols. He is just waiting there to begin this press conference. I‘m hoping we‘re going to get some update on the latest as we wait.
Let me—I just—I don‘t want to miss what he‘s saying, so I‘m reluctant to move off of him. Again, we didn‘t know that this press conference was happening and then we see him and told that this is the sheriff from the area. All right. You know, this is—look there is the tip line, by the way. I don‘t want people to forget that—all right. Let me listen.
(BEGIN PRESS CONFERENCE)
MYRON E. FREEMAN, FULTON COUNTY SHERIFF: Fulton County Sheriff‘s Office and the entire...
FREEMAN: ... and senseless killings of three hard working dedicated county employees and the critical wounding of another. Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of each of these victims as we move forward to aggressively capture and incarcerate and prosecute the person responsible for this horrific crime.
At this hour, law enforcement officers across the country are searching for the whereabouts of 33-year-old murder suspect Brian Nichols, who allegedly shot and killed Fulton County Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes, his court reporter and 19-year veteran Sergeant Hope Teasley of the Fulton County Sheriff‘s Office. I‘m pleased to report that a fourth victim, 16-year veteran Deputy Cynthia Hall, is expected to survive her injuries and remains in critical condition at this hour in Grady Memorial Hospital. There is an intense investigation being conducted now by the Atlanta Police Department.
We are processing the crime scene and have secured evidence. Late this afternoon, we met with police investigators as well as other federal, state, and local law enforcement officials. Again, this is a very intense and sensitive investigation and we don‘t want to release any information that may jeopardize the future court proceedings in this case. Therefore, at the request of investigators and other law enforcement officials involved, we will not be releasing any details of the crime scene or any information regarding the circumstances of today‘s deadly shootings.
A reward fund has been established. A $60,000 reward is being provided for information leading to the apprehension and arrest of murder suspect Brian Nichols. Contributions to this reward include $10,000 from Governor Sonny Perdue, $20,000 from the FBI, $25,000 from the United States Marshal‘s Office, $5,000 from the Georgia Sheriff‘s Association. Anyone with any—anyone with information on this—on the whereabouts of the murder suspect Brian Nichols is urged to call the Fulton County Sheriff‘s Office at area code 404-730-5129 or your local law enforcement agency.
Again, I want to remind you that Mr. Nichols is considered armed and extremely dangerous. Do not, I repeat, do not approach this suspect under any circumstances. I want to take this opportunity to personally thank all the law enforcement professionals involved in this effort as we move forward in the days ahead. This office is committed to providing the necessary comfort and support to the families and to the victims affected by this tragedy and the swift apprehension of this murder suspect Brian Nichols. Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sheriff Freeman, without going into details, a lot of people are wondering how can something like this happen and how can he escape or get away from the courthouse?
FREEMAN: It‘s still under investigation and we‘ll look at that at the proper time and we will provide...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sheriff, were there not early warnings...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His attorney said that he had asked your office to provide more security because Mr. Nichols had acted up in court and apparently had made some threats. How did your office respond to that request?
FREEMAN: If they asked for security, we provide it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, there‘ll be no more questions at this time.
Thank you all very much.
(END PRESS CONFERENCE)
ABRAMS: All right. There you hear it -- $60,000 reward being offered for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of Brian Nichols. I don‘t know if it was arrest and conviction, but the—if you help find him, you‘re going to get the $60,000, yes. That‘s the bottom line and that‘s the tip line, all right.
So if you‘ve got any information, that‘s it -- 404-730-7983. Please, please turn him in. And as the D.A., who was on the program just a few minutes ago said, the last time they needed to find this guy, his friends turned him in because that‘s how dangerous they thought he was. So, anyone who thinks he is a friend of Brian Nichols, you may want to think twice. Make yourself $60,000 and make the call.
All right. We‘re going to take a break. Continuing our coverage of the manhunt for Brian Nichols who executed a judge and court officer and a stenographer and it was very, very heartening to hear that one of the court officers, another one who was shot, is going to survive. We‘re going to take a break. Our continuing coverage in a moment.
ABRAMS: Continuing now with our special coverage of the search for Brian Nichols. There is a massive manhunt on in a number of states for this man as a result of him shooting a judge, a court stenographer, a court officer, and a sheriff‘s deputy out in front of the courthouse. It appears that one of them is going to have survived and this massive search is on.
But as he was trying to escape, he apparently came across a reporter from the “Atlanta Journal-Constitution” and demanded that he get out of his car, tried to even put him in the trunk of his own car. Here‘s a little bit of the description from that man, Don O‘Briant, about what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON O‘BRIANT, “ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION”: I was driving to work this morning. I went to the Centennial Garage Park as I usually do, a little after 9:00 and an SUV pulled in right beside me and a tall black guy gets out with no shirt on and asks for directions to Lenox Square. I figure he‘s in town for the basketball tournament so I start giving him directions and all of a sudden he pulls a gun and says give me your keys, and I don‘t give them to him. He says give me your keys or I‘ll kill you.
I give him the keys. He opens the trunk, said get in the trunk, and I said no. And he said I‘m going to shoot you if you don‘t get in the trunk, and so I start to move away and he hits me with the gun and I fall down and then I start scrambling up to my feet and get to Marietta Street to try to find help and he‘s not following me so I figure I‘m in the clear. And when I get to the next corner, I ran into Drew Dabarra (ph), one of my reporters who says there‘s been—same guy car hijacked—carjacked a ladies‘ car in this other garage and the police are asking her questions. So, he takes me down there and I give them a statement and get some medical treatment and then bring me here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you were...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Look at his face. He got pistol whipped by this guy. You know, Clint, I don‘t know how they‘re going to be able to capture this guy without fires—without shots being fired.
VAN ZANDT: Yes. Dan, you know, we‘ve got a stone-cold anti-social personality. This guy could care less about what he‘s doing. He felt in his own mind, I think, that he was going down probably for life for this offense that he was charged with. So, he wasn‘t going to do the time on the inside. I mean this is a guy who, you know, you hear somebody say, you know, I‘d rather die than go to jail. I think this guy means it and he is going to have two choices—surrender or die.
ABRAMS: Drew Findling joins us now. He‘s a friend of the judge who was killed today. We were talking before about security at the courthouse. You say you‘ve tried a lot of cases at that courthouse. You saw the sheriff now under fire for exactly what happened. Have you ever been involved in a case where there‘s been a request for more security? I mean, apparently after he tried to sneak in these homemade shanks or whatever yesterday, there was some sort of request for additional security. Have you ever been involved in a case like that?
FINDLING: Well, anytime you are in a big case and there‘s a verdict, particularly in a big murder case, usually there‘s a lot of security that comes in because there is a concern that if there is a guilty verdict, the defendant and his family are going to get upset and if there is a not guilty, that the victim‘s family will get upset. That happens quite often. But here when you hear the warning signs that went up about the comments this guy was making, but the shanks, I mean, oh my goodness gracious, that‘s time to call in the troops big time.
ABRAMS: Yes. Mr. McKillop, I mean look, this is the business you know. When you get that sort of warning, I would assume that in most cases you act.
MCKILLOP: Oh, you certainly do. I don‘t know what happened in this particular instance, but certainly there should have been a lot of special attention focused on this individual and it‘s tragic what happened to the individuals down there. I don‘t know what their procedures normally are, but there was certainly some sort of a breakdown. The fact that this person was alone with an officer, it just—it‘s just—it‘s awful. I mean it‘s a terrible breakdown in procedures. And I don‘t think that ever would have happened in New York.
ABRAMS: Clint, this guy is going to get caught, right?
VAN ZANDT: Yes, this guy is going to get caught, Dan. The thing is I think he—while looking for him, I would still stay in that downtown city area. I think there‘s a good chance the guy dumped the car. He‘s probably broken into a residence, a house, a building, someplace like that.
I mean the FBI, state troopers, they can throw a cordon around the state of Georgia, that‘s fine. But you know, the police department, the FBI right there in Atlanta, stay focused in that area. There‘s a good chance this guy went to ground there and don‘t give up that hunt.
ABRAMS: Give that tip line number out again. I mean it‘s sitting there on our screen. And we‘re keeping it up there for a reason because this guy is so dangerous and it is so important that if you know anything, anything at all, about where he might be even, call them, please -- 404-730-7983.
All right. Let‘s take a another quick break here. We‘ll be back in a moment. More of our coverage on the manhunt for Brian Nichols.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DREHER: The suspect made his way into the courtroom and held all the persons inside at bay with a handgun. He then shot and killed the judge, shot and killed the court stenographer, and made good his escape from the courtroom. He managed to get outside the court building where he encountered another deputy sheriff. That encounter resulted in a suspect shooting and killing the deputy sheriff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Ladies and gentlemen, as someone who covers the courts, who loves the courts in this country, this to me is the ultimate in terms of horrendous crimes and threats to our democracy. That‘s the tip line. If you have any information to help the authorities catch Brian Nichols, please, $60,000 reward is out there.
Clint Van Zandt, Drew Findling, Bo Dietl, John McKillop, thanks a lot for coming on the program.
ABRAMS: We appreciate it.
And let me just say this. To Gayle Abramson and Paul Howard, the D.A. and assistant D.A.—those two right there who are now in protective custody because this man has apparently, and again they haven‘t confirmed that it is authentic, but they believe it‘s authentic, called in and threatened Abramson. To them I salute you. Stay safe. That‘s the guy.
See you at 9:00.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.