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'The Abrams Report: Atlanta courtroom shooting special for March 11

Guest: Dennis Scheib, Roger Garrison, John Timoney, Henry Newkirk, Paul Howard, Don O‘Briant

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  At this hour, the Atlanta courthouse killer is still on the loose.  Here‘s the latest right now.  The hunt is for this man.

Suspected shooter Brian Nichols has now—that‘s now spread across five states.  He‘s accused of the bloody rampage early this morning that left a judge, a court reporter and sheriff‘s deputy dead, another deputy in critical condition.  Now witnesses and lawyers are in protective custody.  And new tonight, there‘s a $60,000 reward for his capture. 

The question everyone is asking is, how was a violent suspect able to launch a brazen deadly attack right in the middle of a courthouse and apparently just get away unharmed? 

Well, here‘s how it all began.


ABRAMS:  Nine a.m., 33-year-old Brian Nichols is escorted into Atlanta‘s Fulton County courthouse to resume his trial on charges of rape, burglary and gun possession; 9:10, right before coming into court, the suspect allegedly overpowers a female sheriff‘s deputy and takes her gun.

He heads back into the courtroom.  Shots ring out; 64-year-old Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes and his court reporter are killed.  Nickels then runs outside and allegedly shoots and kills another deputy and pistol-whips Atlanta newspaper reporter Don O‘Briant, before fleeing the scene in O‘Briant‘s green Honda Accord. 

DON O‘BRIANT, “THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION”:  And he said, give me your keys or I‘ll key you. 

ABRAMS:  Nine-twenty, police cordon off the crime scene and launch a massive manhunt.

MYRON FREEMAN, FULTON COUNTY SHERIFF:  Mr. Nichols is considered armed and extremely dangerous and shouldn‘t be approached. 

ABRAMS:  Twelve-fifty, doctors at Atlanta‘s Grady Hospital announce that one of the deputies will make it. 

DR. JEFFREY SALOMONE, GRADY HOSPITAL TRAUMA SURGEON:  She is in critical condition, but expected to survive the injuries that she has. 

ABRAMS:  Twelve-fifty-five, Georgia‘s governor orders flags at the state Capitol to be lowered at half-staff; 4:30, authorities reveal that, the day before, Nichols had attempted to sneak two makeshift knives past security. 

GAYLE ABRAMSON, FULTON COUNTY ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY:  More security was requested and provided by the Fulton County Sheriff‘s Department. 

ABRAMS:  Tonight, hundreds of state troopers and the FBI continue to search for Nichols.  They think he may have even fled the state. 

FREEMAN:  And we‘re not going to rest until we find him. 


ABRAMS:  So, what is the latest on this search for Brian Nichols?  How close are police? 

Here with the latest on the manhunt is NBC‘s Don Teague, who is Atlanta. 

Hi, Don.


It‘s been, what, a little over 12 hours now since all of this happened at the courthouse behind me.  I wish there was something new we could offer, but, really, not a lot of information coming out this evening.  The basics, as you just laid them out, a very dangerous suspect out there somewhere.  This search has now spread to cover a several-state area.  And our reed from authorities indicates that they really don‘t seem to know where he is tonight—Dan.

ABRAMS:  And we are going to keep that tip line number up for anyone who‘s got any information, anything that can help the authorities.  You know, I spoke to the district attorney out there earlier today.  He‘s in protective custody.  So is the assistant district attorney.  This is a case that needs to be solved and it needs your help.  There‘s the number.

Thanks a lot, Don Teague. 

All right, a reporter for “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution” was left bloodied, beaten, bruised after an encounter with the suspect in today‘s shooting. 

Don O‘Briant was driving to work this morning when he came face to face with shooting suspect Brian Nichols. 

Mr. O‘Briant joins us now from our Atlanta bureau.

Thanks a lot for coming on the program. 

First, just let me ask you, how you—how you feeling? 

O‘BRIANT:  Not bad, better than did I did this morning.   

ABRAMS:  You‘re looking a little bit still bruised. 

O‘BRIANT:  Yes.  This is not my best TV appearance, I‘m afraid. 

ABRAMS:  Tell me what happened. 

O‘BRIANT:  I had just parked in the Centennial Park garage to go to work.  And an SUV pulled in beside me.  And there was a black man with no shirt on who was driving. 

He got out and asked directions to Lenox Square Mall.  As I was giving him directions, he reached behind his pants and pulled out a gun and said, give me your keys.  Give me your keys or I‘ll kill you.  And I gave him my keys and was about to give him my wallet when he went around to the back of the car, unlocked the trunk and asked me—told me to get in. 

ABRAMS:  To get in the trunk.

O‘BRIANT:  And I said no.  Get in the trunk.

ABRAMS:  He was trying to get you in the trunk of your own car? 

O‘BRIANT:  Yes.  and, fortunately there was so much junk in there and I was not about to get in the trunk in the first place, or even in the car.

ABRAMS:  Wow.  Wow.

O‘BRIANT:  So I backed away.  And this is when he hit me with the pistol.  And I fell to the ground and then scrambled out of the exit there into the street and got help. 

ABRAMS:  At that point, you didn‘t know that there‘d be a guy shooting a judge and a court officer at the courthouse right nearby, did you? 

O‘BRIANT:  No, absolutely not.  To me, this was—you hate to say a routine carjacking, but you know that there are a lot of carjackings that happen every day in Atlanta.  And I was willing to give him my car and even wallet.  But he wanted more than that.  I think he wanted him to escape and not have anyone tell the police what kind of car he was driving. 

ABRAMS:  You know, a lot of people—a lot of jurors who are sitting through his trial talked about the way he looked at them, describing his eyes.  Anything—did you notice anything in particular about the way he was looking at you?  Was he frantic?  Was he calm as all this was happening? 

O‘BRIANT:  Amazingly enough, he was calm.  And it wasn‘t until he pulled the gun out that he got serious.  And when he told me he was going to kill me, I actually believed him. 

ABRAMS:  So, just so I understand this, he asks you get in the trunk of your own car.  And you say no.  And what exactly happens at that moment?  Is that when he hits with you the pistol? 

O‘BRIANT:  No, I take a step back.  Then he comes toward me and says, get in the car.  And then he hits me.  And I don‘t even look back after I get up off the ground and start scrambling towards the street.  I‘m waiting for the shots to ring out.  But nothing happens, so obviously he got in the car and drove away. 

ABRAMS:  At what point did you find out that this had been the same man who had killed three people at the courthouse only moments before? 

O‘BRIANT:  A couple blocks away, I ran into one of our reporters from the “AJC,” who saw me bleeding and asked what happened.  And then I told him.  And he said the same thing happened to a lady down the street and the police are down there questioning her now.  I‘ll take you down there.

So, when I got me down there, the police explained to what had happened.  And that made it even scarier. 

ABRAMS:  Well, I was going to ask you that.  What are you thinking at this point?  You‘ve now realized that you were face to face with a guy only moments ago who had executed a judge and shot at two court officers and a court stenographer. 

O‘BRIANT:  I thought I was a very lucky man.  And somebody—somebody was praying for me. 

ABRAMS:  Wow.  And the injuries that you have suffered are what? 

O‘BRIANT:  Well, I have had—the laceration over my eye took 15 stitches and my wrist is broken and is going to have to be—I think threat going to have to put a plate in, do surgery on it to keep it in place.  But I‘m happy with those.  I mean, it could have been much, much worse. 

ABRAMS:  How many times did he strike you with the pistol? 

O‘BRIANT:  Just once, and pretty hard. 

ABRAMS:  Yes. 

All right, Mr. O‘Briant, look, it‘s good to see you‘re alive and you seem to be feeling OK, considering the circumstances.  Wow. 

O‘BRIANT:  Yes. 

ABRAMS:  What a day you‘ve been through. 

O‘BRIANT:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  And, really, good luck to you.  Good luck in the healing process. 


ABRAMS:  And I think we‘re all going to be hoping that this guy gets found real quick. 

O‘BRIANT:  Great.  Thank you very much. 

ABRAMS:  Mr. O‘Briant, good luck to you. 

O‘BRIANT:  All right. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, my exclusive interview with the Fulton County DA from a secret location, where he‘s currently in protective custody. 

And we‘ll hear from another judge who works in the same building. 

And a reminder, if you have any, any information about that man, Brian Nichols—they say that maybe he shaved his head—please call the police.  We‘ll have the number up throughout the show. 

We‘ll be right back.




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



ABRAMS:  Assistant District Attorney Gayle Abramson, who was prosecuting Brian Nichols in a retrial on rape charges.  Now she‘s in protective custody, as the manhunt for Nichols continues.

Earlier, I talked exclusively with the Fulton County DA—you saw him right there, Paul Howard.  He‘s also in protective custody.  So, he could only join us on the phone about the danger to officers of the court.


PAUL HOWARD, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY:  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 kill Gayle Abramson. 

ABRAMS:  And do you believe that that threat was legitimate?  What‘s the reason for believing it was actually Nichols calling? 

HOWARD:  Well, when we saw what he did today, we certainly know that he‘s capable. 

But what we‘re doing right now is, we‘re checking the number.  We‘re trying to see whether or not it might have been a hoax or somebody just trying to get something else going.  But, based upon what happened today, I wouldn‘t be surprised. 

ABRAMS:  But, as a result of—you‘re obviously taking this very seriously.  I mean, she‘s now 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—a little background, if you will, on the rape trial that was going on when this all happened. 


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 after that. 


ABRAMS:  Wow, DA in protective custody because of threats that are coming in, as well as the assistant district attorney who was prosecuting him. 

Nichols has now been on the run since early this morning.  But in the midst of a multistate manhunt and with a $60,000 reward on his head, the question everyone is asking, of course, is how long it‘s going to take to find him. 

Joining me now, former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt.

Clint, you know, even though he‘s had some time now.


ABRAMS:  That‘s allowed him to get out of the immediate area, if he wanted to.


ABRAMS:  I still think that he‘s probably going to get caught real soon. 

VAN ZANDT:  Well, you know, Dan, I wouldn‘t quit looking in that downtown Atlanta area.  This guy is from Fulton County.  He knows the area.  He knows the city. 

If he has to go crash someplace, whether it‘s an apartment building or whether it‘s a warehouse, whether he‘s broken into somebody‘s house, whether he‘s sleeping in the bask of an abandoned car, I think the guy is still around.  You have got to close off the borders.  You got to have state troopers all around checking cars going back and forth. 

But, you know, what—like, what do you think the chances are he‘s still driving that Honda with those license plates? 

ABRAMS:  Not very high. 

VAN ZANDT:  No, nor I do. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Clint, stick around, all right, for a minute, because I want to talk about this judge, Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes, presided over a lot of high-profile trials and proceedings, including the vehicular homicide case of one of the Atlanta Thrashers. 

Last month, he sentenced a woman accused of killing her newborn child to medical sterilization to avoid prison.  So, the question everyone is asking is, how could this have happened to him in his own courtroom?  He‘s dealt with high-profile cases.  He‘s dealt with dangerous criminals before. 

Judge Henry Newkirk practiced in front of Judge Barnes and knew him well. 

Thanks a lot for taking the time to come on the program. 

So, what do you make of this?  I mean, there‘s a lot of questions now about why security was the way it was, meaning, why a single female sheriff‘s deputy was able to be alone with this guy uncuffed, unshackled outside the courtroom that allowed him to overpower her.  Does that in and of itself mean that there was a problem? 

HENRY NEWKIRK, FULTON COUNTY JUDGE:  There was definitely a breakdown in security.  The scenario that occurred shouldn‘t have happened. 

I‘ve been down at the courthouse for over 23 years.  And I think the sheriff‘s department provides excellent security.  They deal with literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of prisoners every day.  There was a breakdown today.  And it had very tragic consequences.  So, there‘s no question about it. 

ABRAMS:  Is there a protocol—I mean, because, in this case, this is someone who, the day before, had apparently tried to sneak in two homemade shanks or knives.  They caught him.  And more security was requested. 

Is there a protocol when something like that happens?  Is there a rule, for example, that says the person can never be unshackled and alone with a sheriff‘s deputy or anything like that? 

NEWKIRK:  Mr. Abrams, I‘m sure that there are various protocols.  I‘m not qualified to talk about the sheriff department‘s particular procedures in a given case. 

As a general rule, this prisoner shouldn‘t have been attended by a solitary officer.  And it doesn‘t matter if it‘s a female or a male.  In a situation like this, you don‘t have an armed officer in contact with an unshackled prisoner in a secure-hold facility like this. 

ABRAMS:  Tell me about this judge.  Is this someone that—I mean, I‘ve spoken with a couple of other people today who have said, look, this is a big, confident guy who felt very safe in that courthouse. 

NEWKIRK:  Judge Barnes felt very safe in the courthouse.  He felt very safe in his courtroom.  And history would dictate that he had a reason to feel that way.  We‘ve never had anything of this magnitude occur in the 23 years that I‘ve been in the courthouse. 

Judge Barnes is a wonderful person, a wonderful judge, a very trusting individual, a lawyer‘s judge.  And the entire legal community here in Atlanta, as well as the greater community of Atlanta and Georgia, is in total shock over the events that have occurred today. 

ABRAMS:  It sounds—I mean, it sounds—again, it sounds like this is just someone who wasn‘t even specifically after the judge either.  It just sounds like he was someone who wanted to wreak havoc on the legal system. 

But let me ask you—go ahead.  You want to respond to that? 

NEWKIRK:  Well, I don‘t think so.  I think this fellow ha a definite agenda, because he made his escape from a location inside the new courthouse.

And if he—if his primary motive was to escape, he could have escaped, but I think he went—went hunting for the people who were involved in his prosecution, because he went across the bridge into another courtroom, took hostages in the judge‘s chambers, obviously looking for the judge in his chambers.  When he found out the judge wasn‘t there, he subdued the people who were in his chambers and went out in the courtroom and did exactly what he had set out to do. 

He murdered the judge and anyone that had anything to do with his prosecution.  And there‘s no doubt in my mind, if the prosecutors had been in that courtroom, they would have been shot as well. 

ABRAMS:  Yes. 

Judge, give us a sense.  You talked about the distance there between the area where the gun was apparently obtained from the sheriff‘s deputy to the courthouse.  I mean, you talked about going over a bridge or something.  Can you give us a little more detail about how far it was from the location where he got the gun to the courthouse, courtroom?

NEWKIRK:  Well, the old courthouse is where Judge Barnes‘ courtroom was.  It was on the eighth floor. 

And the new courthouse was built approximately 12 years ago.  The two buildings are connected by a skyway.  And the eighth floors of each building are connected by the skyway.  Total distance, straight line, you‘re probably talking about 100 yards from the original point of the incident to the judge‘s courtroom and the judge‘s chambers. 

ABRAMS:  And if you could just explain to the viewers who aren‘t that familiar with the way it works at a courthouse, that, when someone is on trial, like he was—he was facing rape charges—why is it is that they‘re allowed to change into civilian clothing, why it is that they don‘t wear cuffs or shackles or anything like that in the courtroom.

NEWKIRK:  Well, the jury—the jurors cannot know that he is custody. 

And so, criminal defendants are allowed to wear civilian clothes.  Typically, the procedure would be for this prisoner to be brought over in shackles, held outside the courtroom.  The shackles would have been taken off.  He would have been attended by more than one deputy.  And he would have been ushered into the courtroom to the defense table.  There, he would have been in close attendance with deputy sheriff‘s. 

At that point, the judge would have taken the bench and the jury would have been brought out, so the jury would never know that he‘s in custody, unless his attorney or the defendant choose to make that known to the jury.  But the prosecution wouldn‘t make that known to the jury. 

ABRAMS:  Let me tell just my viewers one piece of information we have just received.

And that is that the Atlanta Police are going to be holding a press conference at 9:30 Eastern time, again, coming up in about eight minutes from now.  So, maybe we‘ll be getting some new information on the search. 

Judge Newkirk, if you can just stand by for a minute. 

Clint, the search—all right, so the search is on now.  It‘s multiple states, correct? 

VAN ZANDT:  Yes, it sure is.

You know, that‘s one of the things the FBI will be doing immediately.  They would get what is called an unlawful flight to avoid prosecution warrant for murder, which gives FBI agents, U.S. Marshals, ATF agents the federal authority to arrest anywhere in this country, as well as, of course, to extradite, if he‘s found overseas. 

But, right now, the search is in the Fulton County area and probably two or three surrounding states.  We know this guy has got some previous ties to Florida, so there‘s a lot of federal agents knocking on a lot of doors tonight carrying a lot of firepower. 

ABRAMS:  Judge Newkirk, are you going to be able to go back into the courthouse and do business again on Monday?

NEWKIRK:  Yes, sir, I sure will.  I‘ve been down there a long time.  And this is a known hazard of the job.  I‘ve been a police officer.  I was a prosecutor for 15 years.  I‘ve been threatened as both.  I‘ve been threatened as a judge. 

It happens.  It doesn‘t happen often.  And, obviously, the worst-case scenario that occurred today very rarely happens.  But it‘s something that everyone in the system has to be cognizant off.  And we can‘t let our guard down. 

ABRAMS:  Let me play another piece of sound from my interview with the district attorney in that community, Paul Howard.  And I spoke to him, again, as he‘s in protective custody—this is a couple of hours ago—based on a threat that was made to his assistant district attorney.  And here‘s what he said about what was happening in the trial of Nichols at the time this happened. 


HOWARD:  It involved a case that involved his ex-girlfriend.  He broke into the ex-girlfriend‘s house.  She was bound with duct tape.  Once she was bound with duct tape, he actually brought a cooler into her place.  And the cooler was stocked with food.  And he told her that he was going to be there and assault her for three days until her birthday. 

One of the things that he also brought in with him was a loaded machine gun.  He—he did, in fact, assault her. 


ABRAMS:  That‘s obviously not from my interview.  That was from the press conference that occurred right before it.

But, as a result of that press conference, the district attorneys say, about 15 minutes later, someone called the jail and made a threat to the assistant district attorney.  And that‘s why the man you just saw there, Paul Howard, and his assistant are both now in protective custody with their families. 

All right, Clint Van Zandt and Judge Henry Newkirk, thank you very much for taking the time.  Appreciate it. 

VAN ZANDT:  Thanks, Dan. 

NEWKIRK:  Thank you, Mr. Abrams. 

ABRAMS:  A reminder.  We‘re expecting a news conference from the Atlanta Police in just a few minutes now.  We may get an update on exactly what is happening in the search for Nichols.  So, stick around. 

Also ahead, the question a lot of people are asking is, how could it have happened, a single female sheriff‘s deputy alone with a 200-pound-plus dangerous, uncuffed defendant? 




FREEMAN:  He‘s armed and extremely dangerous and shouldn‘t be approached.  How Mr. Nichols allegedly came into possession of the weapon and the circumstances surrounding the shooting are still under investigation.


ABRAMS:  Yes, I‘ll bet.  I mean, we‘re talking about a guy who had, the day before, tried to sneak in homemade shanks into a courthouse for a trial where he was facing serious time for a violent rape.  And now somehow he‘s able to overpower a single sheriff‘s deputy, get the gun and wreak havoc, kill people in the courthouse.

All right, that was the—that was the sheriff, Myron Freeman.  He‘s speaking about the shooting suspect, Brian Nichols, remains on the run tonight.  There is a massive manhunt on as we speak.  And, also, there‘s a press conference that‘s just about to begin or beginning in Atlanta, where the Atlanta Police are updating on the status of that manhunt.  We‘re going to feed in the tape as soon as that comes to us. 

All right, so let me check in with Bo Dietl, former New York City homicide detective, and Miami Police Chief John Timoney as well.

Gentlemen, good to see you. 


ABRAMS:  Chief Timoney, let me start with you on the fear factor in Atlanta.  I mean, this guy is on the loose right now in—somewhere in the greater Atlanta area, maybe further away.  Should people be nervous? 

TIMONEY:  Well, I think people should be cautious.  And anything they see that‘s suspicious or out of ordinary, call 911.  I‘m convinced the guy is still in the area, maybe even...

ABRAMS:  Why? 

TIMONEY:  Well, because it‘s not unusual. 

There‘s a case—Bo, you may remember this.  Detective Billy Gunn, executing a warrant in Brooklyn, was shot and killed.  The guy fled upstairs, ran across the rooftop, came down the fire escape, broke into a woman‘s house, killed her and stayed in that house about two or three days, until the police left the scene. 

He wasn‘t even—he eventually committed suicide about a week later, but he was no more than a block away.  It‘s not uncommon for crooks who, after they commit a crime, to go secrete themselves for the heat to die down.


ABRAMS:  Bo, what‘s interesting about this guy is, he was turned in previously by four of his close friends.  I mean, that‘s how he was facing this trial in the first place is, his buddies turned him in, I guess because they thought he was that dangerous. 

BO DIETL, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR:  You know what I think you‘re going to hear in this news conference?  That they recovered the car.  The car was abandoned. 

Now, we know that he didn‘t make this plan.  Nobody was there to pick him up.  So, this thing was all happening as it was happening.  He had an opportunity there.  Let‘s not make one mistake here.  Let‘s not think that that gun was brought into the courtroom.  There wasn‘t a failed safeguard at the front door.  This man was able to take that gun off that sheriff there. 

This is insane, as far as I‘m concerned, where you‘ve got a person who‘s being tried for this violent felony.  All of a sudden, you have one officer.  I don‘t care if it‘s a female or not.  I‘ve been in confrontations in the courtroom with three full-sized men who had a fight.  And this guy looks pretty big.  You would need three people to try to take him down. 

He‘s got no cuffs on him, no shackles on him, and one female court officer walking him across a bridge?  That‘s insane. 


DIETL:  You know, you could hear what the DA said and what the assistant DA.  They requested for help on this thing. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.   

DIETL:  Did they get help from the sheriff‘s office?  I‘m getting mad about it.  I‘m doing this thing all day long.  And the longer I‘m sitting here, the madder I‘m getting that this guy is on the loose, killing three people.

ABRAMS:  And you know what else, Bo?  It seems to me that this wasn‘t just—you know, some people are talking about it as if, oh, he saw his opportunity and went for it.  It seems to me this was probably premeditated. 

DIETL:  Well, let me tell me you something.  That sheriff was standing there, he is in charge of all these sheriff‘s deputies there.  If they got a call and they told him they needed assistance because they had a violent guy who had two shanks the day before in his socks, I‘ll be damned, if I was the sheriff there, to let this guy walk into court without shackles around his ankles and with handcuffs. 

And what they do is, they sit him down.  They handcuff him to the chair.  They want to put a cover over them, put a cover over there.  You have people‘s lives at risk there. 

ABRAMS:  Yes. 

DIETL:  And I‘m sick and tired of watching these people kill people like this.

ABRAMS:  Chief, it‘s hard to disagree with Bo about that.


Usually, I know, back in Manhattan, when I worked with Bo, the procedure was, they‘d often bring them into the courtroom cuffed and then, as they sat them down at the table, they‘d uncuff them before the jury was brought in, because the jury isn‘t supposed to see them walk down in, in cuffs or shackles. 

ABRAMS:  Right. 

TIMONEY:  So, you cuff them.  You bring them in.  You sit them down. 

You uncuff them and then bring the jury in. 

ABRAMS:  But how do you go about doing—what—the problem here was, he was apparently changing into civilian clothes, right, so he could go back into court and, you know, look like an ordinary person that doesn‘t make you look like you‘re in custody.  They let you sit there without the cuffs.  But this happens when he‘s changing.

DIETL:  Well, you have one—and you have one—one security person there when he‘s changing, which is ludicrous and ridiculous.  We had a bank robber in a court once, and we were told he was going to escape. 

So, the DA told me.  So I waited in the back of the court.  There were court officers there.  They were all around him.  He stood up.  He took his clothes.  He had a change of clothes.  He jumped on to the table.  He ran to the back of the court.  I popped him right in the jaw when he was running out the back.  We knew he was going out of the court.  We knew what he was doing. 

This is a shame that these people had to get killed here.  And this shows you, when you get complacent, when you don‘t have enough people, if they don‘t have enough sheriffs there, then they should get some more money behind them and request some more money in back of it. 

ABRAMS:  Chief, how do you coordinate the various organizations that are dealing with this search?  This is going to be not just the Atlanta Police, not just the FBI.  You‘re talking about a lot of different—is there one person who is going to running the show in terms of the manhunt? 

TIMONEY:  Well, since it‘s a homicide, the Atlanta P.D. will be in charge.  Richard Pennington, who is a friend of mine, he‘s the chief there.  He‘s a good guy, lots of experience. 

But because he‘s a judge, it‘s also a federal crime.  So, the FBI will have a big say in this operation.  So, you‘re going to have two lead agencies there.  You‘ll have the Atlanta P.D. and the FBI.  But, of course, the Fulton County Sheriff‘s office will get involved.  But the lead agency should be Richard Pennington and the FBI.

ABRAMS:  All right, Bo, let me ask you, I talked to the DA about—a few hours ago. 

DIETL:  Yes. 

ABRAMS:  He‘s talking to me from a secure location somewhere, right?  He‘s now getting full-time protection, as is his family, as is the ADA in this case, because someone called the jail making a threat saying that they wanted to kill this woman.

Let me ask you this.  How do you go about protecting them now? 

DIETL:  Well, no, well, you keep people on them, security on them. 

But let‘s be honest about when you look for this guy now.  You‘re going to check all the phone records of calls that he made out of that jail.  You do have other friends, not just the ones that gave him up.  He has to have other friends out there.  Without people helping him, he‘s going to go nowhere, because he‘s going to have to keep committing crimes to get money, to get cars and go further. 

And I think what Timoney is saying is, I think he‘s right on the money on this.  They‘re going to tell you in this news conference they found the car abandoned.  If they found that car abandoned, that means that he could be right in that area where that abandoned car could be.  And they could be doing a house-to-house search. 

We have got to catch this creep tonight and put him to bed. 

ABRAMS:  Yes. 

See, I got to tell you, Chief, I think—I think he will get caught soon.  Isn‘t it the case that, in most of these cases where you have got something like this, where such a violent crime, so much attention nationwide, that this guy‘s time is limited? 

TIMONEY:  I think so. 

He‘s got to start, because, as Bo says, he‘ll run out of money.  He‘ll try and make contact with some friend or other, who—I know there‘s a lot of money out there, upwards of $60,000, for whoever turns him so.  And so, my sense is, one of two things will happen.  He‘ll die of the gunfire with police officers or he‘ll commit suicide. 

ABRAMS:  Because the bottom line is, he has got nothing to lose, right? 


ABRAMS:  He‘s facing three death penalty cases here. 

DIETL:  John, we talk about complacency.  Remember the two New York City detectives?


DIETL:  That picked up this murderer?

Instead of one sitting in the back seat, they let him sit in the back seat.  He took a gun out of the lockers and he shot Richard Curzine (ph) and the fellow in the back of the head.  This shows you, when you become complacent, these things happen.  You have got procedures.  You have got to stand by them.  And every officer out, out there has to understand, these are there for lessons.  We learn from lessons, from people getting killed.  That‘s why we have got rules and procedures. 

ABRAMS:  That‘s the number.  That‘s the number, ladies and gentlemen, $60,000 reward.  You see it on the screen, 404-730-7983.  You know anything, anything at all, please give them a call.

Two of my favorites, Bo Dietl and Chief Timoney, thanks a lot, guys. 

Good to see you.


TIMONEY:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  All right, when we come back, you know, we‘re going to talk a little bit more about this security at the courthouse.  And we‘re also going to talk about another judge who has faced a serious a similar, similar situation. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I came around the corner and there was a deputy‘s hat on the floor.  And there was a bunch of deputies, probably about six or maybe nine of them running down the hallway with their guns drawn.  And they said, get out of the way.  Get into a courtroom.  And I grabbed—I tried to hit a door, but it was locked.  So one of them grabbed me and pulled me into the elevator. 



ABRAMS:  The man who—the manhunt is on for a man who killed an Atlanta judge.  It‘s in full force in five states.  Question:  How did it happen? 

That‘s up next. 




FREEMAN:  It‘s very tragic, but we‘re going to do everything we can to bring this person to justice.  And we‘ve got all the law enforcement agencies out, as I said before, on the manhunt.  And we‘re going to not rest until we find him. 


ABRAMS:  All right, so that was the Fulton County, Georgia, sheriff, Myron Freeman, reacting to the Atlanta courthouse shootings earlier today and the search for the suspect, Brian Nichols.

I want to just give you a quick update.  Told you we‘re expecting a press conference from the Atlanta Police Department.  That press conference has happened.  And they offered very little new information, basically just saying they‘re coordinating with other agencies and organizations.

But, again, we‘re on top of this.  We‘re waiting for any information. 

We‘re going to bring it to you as soon as we get it.

Joining us now from Atlanta is Dennis Scheib, a Georgia criminal defense attorney and former Atlanta Police officer.  He was down the hall from where the shooting took place and has been critical of security at this courthouse for some time.  We‘re also joined by Sheriff Roger Garrison of nearby Cherokee County and regional vice president of the Georgia Sheriff‘s Association.

Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming on the program.  Appreciate it. 

Sheriff Garrison, let me start with you. 

I know it‘s a little uncomfortable for you to now have to sort of look at the kind of job that your colleagues did in the neighboring county.  But you‘ve been hearing it all day.  People are saying, how could something like this have happened?  How could it be that there‘s a single sheriff‘s deputy monitoring an uncuffed, unshackled, dangerous defendant who the day before had tried to sneak in homemade knives?  Is it fair to be asking that question now? 

SHERIFF ROGER GARRISON, GEORGIA SHERIFF‘S ASSOCIATION:  Well, certainly, those are fair questions. 

The only issue is, we‘re still very early in the investigation.  We don‘t know the entire story yet.  I do know that the Fulton County Sheriff‘s Office is a very professional agency.  However, with the volume of cases that they have come through, I think, eventually, the odds are going to catch up with them.  And, unfortunately, those odds were not in their favor today when this incident occurred. 

ABRAMS:  It‘s fair to say that, apart from the fact that this outcome shouldn‘t have happened, that this particular sheriff‘s deputy who ended up getting shot, a woman, probably never should have been in the position to be alone with this guy as he‘s changing, considering the circumstances.  Fair? 

GARRISON:  Well, certainly.  That‘s a fair, fair statement, again, with the ability of having hindsight.

But we certainly don‘t know all the circumstances yet surrounding that and exactly why she was alone and exactly for how long she may have been alone with the inmate. 

ABRAMS:  Mr. Scheib, you say you saw this coming.

DENNIS SCHEIB, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Yes, I did.  As a matter of fact, I wrote a letter two years ago this month, March 19, after Judge Wright, Cynthia Wright was shot, wrote a letter to “The Daily Report” and detailed some problems they had at the courthouse there. 

ABRAMS:  This courthouse, same courthouse? 


SCHEIB:  Same courthouse. 

And I told them and indicated to them—and I‘m sure judges read it.  And I‘ve spoken to judges.  I‘ve spoken to a lot of people.  I‘ve been very outspoken about the scenario going on there.  It‘s just—it‘s just too—there‘s too much of a chance of somebody getting hurt one on one.  I‘ve even seen deputies go into cells.  They don‘t have enough deputies there.  They go into cells with guns. 

They escort—one deputy will escort several people, two or three people, maybe in handcuffs, by himself.  Too easy for things to happen.  And I predicted this and said this two years ago. 

ABRAMS:  And you‘re saying this I would assume as much as a former police officer as you are as an attorney who worked in that building? 

SCHEIB:  Yes.  I mean, I was—I was a deputy sheriff for five years in Orlando, an Orlando police for five years—or, excuse me, for eight years.  I‘ve been in the criminal business for over 30 years total, criminal defense lawyer almost 20. 

I‘ve trained with the Japanese police.  I mean, I‘ve been to places all over and seen police, how they handle people all over in cuffs, out of cuffs.  And Fulton County was way undermanned.  And people were not paying attention to what they were doing and they were not—I‘m sure there‘s SOPs.  If you look at Dekalb County, Dekalb is one of the best agencies.

Even Cherokee County, I‘ve been up there, Sheriff Garrison‘s outfit.  They‘re very, very good, very professional.  They handle prisoners with great caution 100 percent of the time.  They don‘t get near prisoners with guns.  And Dekalb County is a great place to watch how—model how it‘s done.  And those people out there are in great shape.  They look like they can deal with any situation. 

ABRAMS:  So, you‘re talking about different count—right.  So, for people who don‘t know the counties in Georgia, you‘re talking about other counties? 

SCHEIB:  Dekalb County is next to Fulton County. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  OK.  And we‘re talking about Fulton County here.  It was the Fulton County Courthouse. 

All right, Sheriff Garrison, I‘ve got to tell you, listening to Mr.

Scheib, that‘s real disturbing, what he‘s saying. 

GARRISON:  Certainly.  And I don‘t disagree with him. 

Handling inmates in a system such as Fulton County is a very labor-intensive process. 


ABRAMS:  I‘m sorry to interrupt you, but have they been as bad as Mr.

Scheib says they‘ve been for so long? 

GARRISON:  Well, there‘s certainly a history here of manpower issues.

And, again, there‘s no question that manpower played a role in this.  I‘m sure that, if the sheriff had the proper manpower, that this situation possibly could have—could have been handled differently.  But I think we‘ll all agree that that‘s the root of the problem.  There‘s not enough people, not enough deputy sheriffs at the Fulton County Sheriff‘s Office to handle the volume of inmates that they have to handle and process on a daily basis. 

SCHEIB:  Well, and let me just say something, too. 

ABRAMS:  Real quick, yes.

SCHEIB:  Because I‘ve been in martial arts for over 40 years.

I‘ve talked to deputy sheriffs.  And they want training.  They want martial arts training.  They want training where, if someone attacks them, they can go ahead and defend themselves.  I mean, I have many friends that are deputy sheriffs.

ABRAMS:  Yes. 

SCHEIB:  Many friends that are police officers.

ABRAMS:  All right. 

SCHEIB:  They do not know how to deal with the situation.  They have not been trained. 


ABRAMS:  I have got to wrap it up.  I apologize for interrupting you.


ABRAMS:  Dennis Scheib and Sheriff Garrison, thank you both very much.  I know this is a rough day for both of you, regardless of what you‘ve been thinking.

SCHEIB:  Yes, sir.

ABRAMS:  So, look, I appreciate you taking the time. 

SCHEIB:  Yes, sir. 

GARRISON:  Thank you, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Again, there‘s the tip line number.  Keep in mind, please, please, you know anything, you know someone who knows something, that‘s it;

$60,000 reward is out there. 

When we come back, a judge who survived an attack.  And we‘re going to have the latest on the manhunt. 

Stick around.


ABRAMS:  Our continuing coverage now of a massive manhunt for a man suspected of killing a judge, a court reporter, a sheriff‘s deputy during a shooting spree inside an Atlanta courthouse. 

Today‘s deadly shooting brings back some painful memories for another judge who was lucky to survive a shooting inside his courtroom. 

For more, let‘s go to Dallas and NBC‘s Janet Shamlian—Janet.


Well, it was more than a decade ago here in Dallas, a courtroom shooting resembling today in Atlanta.  And when it was all said and done, a county prosecutor and an attorney were dead.  And it was a very close call for the judge. 


SHAMLIAN (voice-over):  Thirteen years ago in Fort Worth, a scene eerily reminiscent of the death and violence in an Atlanta courtroom today. 



SHAMLIAN:  A gunman opened fire in a courtroom, killing two people and wounding three others before fleeing the courthouse.  Judge Clyde Ashworth took two bullets, but lived. 

CLYDE ASHWORTH, TEXAS JUDGE:  He started shooting.  It was obvious he was shooting at the judge who was on the bench.  Everybody in the courtroom hit the floor. 

SHAMLIAN:  A custody battle apparently triggered the shooting spree.  The gunman,  George Lott, eventually turned himself into a television station. 

GEORGE LOTT, DEFENDANT:  You have to do a very horrible, horrible thing to catch people‘s attention. 

SHAMLIAN:  Now 82 and still a judge in Texas, Clyde Ashworth is haunted by the memory. 

ASHWORTH:  It‘s something that you don‘t—you don‘t get over it overnight.  You don‘t get over it in 10 years.  It‘s still with you.  And it‘s still with me, of course. 

SHAMLIAN:  Metal detectors went up shortly after the fatal shooting in the Fort Worth Courthouse.  Judge Ashworth questions whether it will take a different mind-set to stem this recent violence against those who sit on the bench. 

ASHWORTH:  Are we doing what we should do in order to foster more respect from the people toward the courts? 


SHAMLIAN:  Judge Ashworth still has severe medical injuries resulting from those gunshot wounds 13 years ago. 

Of course, Dan, he feels very lucky to have survived.  He lost two close friends in the incident.  And, of course, when he looks at a situation like today, he feels especially fortunate.

ABRAMS:  All right, Janet Shamlian, thanks.  Thanks a lot. 

And when you think about courtrooms, you think about those metal detectors.  You think everything is going to be safe.  It‘s—it‘s hard to believe what happened today. 

All right, we are going to be back in a minute with the latest on this

·         this horrible case. 



FREEMAN:  A $60,000 reward is being provided for information leading to the apprehension and arrest of murder suspect Brian Nichols. 


ABRAMS:  It is a massive manhunt.  It continues. 

Police are asking for your help in tracking him down, Brian Nichols, the suspected shooter in this morning‘s courthouse rampage.  Nichols, black male, age 33, weighs about 200 pounds, about 6‘1“, tall, brown eyes, reportedly or may have shaved his head, was last wearing tan pants with a blue shirt, although someone saw him with no shirt.  He apparently escaped in a green Honda Accord with a Georgia license plate tag 6584 YN.  Please, any information, that‘s the tip line.

Joe Scarborough is up next with more.  See you later.


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