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Suspect's car found in downtown Atlanta

Defendant overpowers deputy, kills three at courthouse


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Fulton County Superior Court Judge Rowland W. Barnes was killed in court Friday.
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Authorities search for a suspect after a judge is fatally shot.

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TIP LINE
Police ask anyone with information to call 404-730-7983 or 404-730-7984.
CHARGES IN NICHOLS TRIAL
• Rape
• False imprisonment
• Aggravated sodomy
• Aggravated assault with intent to rape
•Burglary
•Possession of a firearm during commission of a felony
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Atlanta (Georgia)
Georgia
Crime, Law and Justice

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Atlanta police said late Friday night they have found the car believed stolen by Brian Nichols, the suspect accused of gunning down a popular judge, his court reporter and a deputy that morning.

Police were led to the 1997 green Honda Accord in a parking garage in downtown Atlanta about 11 p.m., police said.

The Honda was parked in the same garage where a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was struck and his car stolen.

Friday morning, Nichols overpowered a deputy on the way to court, then shot Fulton County Superior Court Judge Rowland W. Barnes and court reporter Julie Ann Brandau before killing another deputy while fleeing the building, Atlanta police said.

A search for Nichols is under way in Georgia and the neighboring states of Alabama, Tennessee and the Carolinas. He is described as being a black male, 33 years old, about 6 feet, 1 inch tall and weighing 210 pounds.

"We're not going to rest until we have him in custody," said Atlanta Assistant Chief of Police Alan Dreher.

The shootings occurred about 9 a.m. as Nichols was being led into Barnes' eighth-floor courtroom, Dreher said. Nichols was being retried on rape, false imprisonment and other charges after a first trial last week ended in a hung jury. The second trial began Monday.

Nichols -- who was in custody but was allowed to change from jail scrubs into street clothes, a normal occurrence when defendants face jurors -- apparently struggled with the deputy for the gun and overpowered her, police said.

Sources told CNN the initial overpowering occurred in an elevator.

Jeffrey Salamone, attending trauma surgeon at Grady Memorial Hospital, said the deputy escorting Nichols suffered injuries consistent with a graze wound from a gunshot.

Salamone said Cynthia Hall suffered a small bruise on her brain and some fractures around her face. She was in critical condition, but was expected to survive.

Once inside Barnes' courtroom, Nichols held people in the room at bay briefly before shooting Barnes and Brandau -- both of whom died at the scene, police said.

Nichols then fled the building, where outside he shot Sgt. Hoyt Teasley in the abdomen, officials said. The sheriff's deputy was pronounced dead at the hospital, Salamone said.

Authorities said Nichols carjacked at least five vehicles, the last being the green Honda Accord.

A witness told CNN Nichols took his tow truck at gunpoint near the courthouse.

The gunman "told me to get out of the truck. I told him he can have the truck. And I walked away," Deronta Franklin said.

A few blocks away, a reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was assaulted for his Honda Accord in the parking garage. Don O'Briant said a man pulled up in an SUV and asked for directions before he pulled a gun, told O'Briant to give up his car keys and get in the trunk of the car.

"I turned to run, and that's when he hit me in the head with his gun," O'Briant said.

Atlanta police said they have set up a tip line at 404-730-7983 and 404-730-7984.

Law enforcement officials are offering rewards totaling $65,000 in the case.

Courthouse security

Some said the shooting was predictable given the security lapses at the courthouse.

"The security in the Fulton County Courthouse, the way they deal with prisoners, is absolutely atrocious," attorney Dennis Scheib told CNN. "I said this was going to happen."

Scheib said deputies outside the courthouse told him that a knife-like weapon was discovered in Nichols' boot last week.

Fulton County State Court Judge Craig Schwall, however, described security at the courthouse as "phenomenal." Judges have their own private elevator, accessible only by key card, he said. Their chambers are heavily secured, he said, and they and other court officials have their own secure parking garage.

"I think that, as public servants, we all have to be mindful of these risks," Schwall said.

Well-respected judge

Barnes was "extremely highly thought of in the legal community," attorney B.J. Bernstein told CNN. The judge presided over both civil and criminal cases.

"The only thing I can imagine is that someone would have had to have moved very quickly and suddenly to catch one of the deputies off guard in order to remove his weapon," she said.

Barnes heard the case of Dany Heatley of the Atlanta Thrashers, who lost control of his Ferrari and drove into a brick-and-concrete post while driving in the city in September 2003. His passenger, Dan Snyder, 25, was critically injured and died a few days later. Heatley pleaded guilty to charges including second-degree vehicular homicide and speeding.

Last month, Barnes made headlines when he ordered a 34-year-old woman, who had seven children and pleaded guilty to killing the eighth, a newborn, to undergo sterilization.

He was a vocal advocate of Fulton County's supervised rehabilitation clinics, an alternative for jail for repeat offenders with drug addictions. Barnes touted the program for its cost-effectiveness.

A juror in Nichols' trial told CNN that Barnes was kind, and said Nichols always seemed to be respectful to him.

The juror said Nichols made the jury nervous by staring at them.

CNN's Steve Brusk, Ninette Sosa and Randi Kaye contributed to this report.


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