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Countdown with 'Countdown'


Hostage hero — .  The man suspected of killing a Judge, court reporter in the Fulton County courthouse, then killing a sheriff's deputy while he escaped, and finally killing a federal immigration agent was finally captured over the weekend.  But not before Brian Nichols took a 26-year-old widowed, single mother hostage in her home for over seven hours.  Brian Nichols will have a status hearing tomorrow at the Fulton County jail.  In terms of legal maneuvering, authorities dropped a firearms charge, and declared his rape trial a mistrial, in order to swiftly charge him with the four murders…. His capture Saturday morning marked the end of an extraordinary ordeal for Ashley Smith.  Nichols forced her into her apartment at gunpoint at 2 a.m. Saturday morning, as she returned from buying cigarettes at a local convenience store.  Once inside, although bound at points, she managed to establish a rapport with her captor, telling him about her young daughter, the death of her husband and her belief in God.  At about six in the morning, she helped him dump his getaway car, and gave him a lift back to her apartment, where she made him pancakes for breakfast.  Finally at 9:30 a.m., he let her leave the apartment. She called the police — they surrounded the building — and at 11:30 a.m., Brian Nichols surrendered peacefully.

Security step-up — After the initial reports of the Atlanta courtroom shootings, police were hot on his trail, but lost him downtown.  When Nichols carjacked a reporter with the Atlanta Journal Constitution in a parking lot, police assumed he had driven away - and put out an all-points bulletin- looking for the stolen green Honda.  It turns out Nichols never drove anywhere.  Another reporter found the car 13 hours after the shooting, parked in the same garage, one floor down.  The suspect had escaped on foot and taken a train out of the area.  And because police thought he was in the Honda and had already escaped — they didn't close the train station or seal off the parking lot entrances. All of Nichols' movements in the parking garage were caught on surveillance tapes, but authorities did not review the tapes until much later in the day.  These …On the same morning that Brian Nichols was surrendering to police, another man went on a   Family and friends are mourning the loss of seven people today, after 44-year-old Terry Ratzmann gunned them down at church before turning the gun on himself.  Ratzmann, a member of the Church of the Living God, had actually walked out of a service two weeks ago, apparently angry with the sermon's topic.  This Saturday, he showed up 20 minutes late to the church gathering at a local Sheraton Hotel and sprayed the crowd of 50-60 people with 9 millimeter bullets.  Seven people were killed including the minister, his own 16-year-old son and another 15-year-old boy.  Four others were wounded in the shooting.

Jackson — It is a delicate task to cross-examine any witness.  So consider the complexity of grilling a 15-year-old cancer survivor about accusations of child molestation.  That is tough.  Conventional wisdom suggests that is one large sympathy hurdle — so, how does a defense attorney deal with  that?  Apparently, by using his skills and getting that same witness to admit under oath that .  It's your entertainment and tax dollars in action: Day 483 of the Michael Jackson investigations.  Michael Jackson’s accuser faced tough questions on the stand today.  And, at one point, the accuser acknowledged under cross-examination that he told a school administrator the pop star “didn’t do anything to me.”  While “reasonable doubt” may be on the jurors mind, there is no doubt the defense is on the offense, perhaps leaving prosecutors worried.

Medicine lends a hand — One out of every twenty-eight children born has a birth defect.  One little girl is one of thousands born each year with a hand defect.  Brittany Apgar, a nineteen-month-old girl, was born without her right palm and fingers.  The birth defect called hypoplasia is the underdevelopment of an organ due to a decrease in the number of cells.  This typically results in the use of a prosthetic hand or removing toes to create fingers.  But instead parents Tom and Thommie Apgar found .  In this case, transplanting cartilage and bone from Brittany's toes and leg to her hand, then stretching the bones one millimeter a day has helped create a modified right hand, with fingers.  The process takes several years and is very controversial due to the expense and sometimes physically painful.  But the parents say they couldn't be happier with the results.  And in spite of any controversy, the Apgar's say based on Brittany's response, they are confident they made the right choice for their daughter. Brittany's next surgery is scheduled for tomorrow.

Idol adieu — Randy would say - "It's Da Bomb-dawg!"  Pala would bubble.."Oh, you really sparkle up there!"  While Simon says "That...  was like a bad cabaret act at some Portuguese nightclub..."  If those exclamations sound familiar, then you have (at least occasionally) tuned into "American Idol."  .  And mysteriously.  Finalist Mario Vazquez took himself out of the competition Sunday, telling TV Guide he needed to "take care of some personal issues with my family in New York.  And with 'Idol' being a live show, it just wouldn't have worked out schedule-wise. ... My family is my top priority."  But Vazquez' mother, Ada, said, "I don't know his reasons."  Meanwhile, an 'Idol' near-miss, Nikko Smith, has been bumped back into the finals to replace Vasquez.  FOX and Idol execs aren’t talking.