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Grace: Atlanta courthouse shootings a tragedy

Editor's Note: Nancy Grace appears on's Law Center with an interactive column, "Seeking Justice." Her column appears in conjunction with her hour-long CNN Headline News program, "Nancy Grace," which runs at 8 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Grace invites a public dialogue. You can respond to Grace by sending comments to "Nancy Grace."

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Nancy Grace
Crime, Law and Justice

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Nancy Grace spoke with CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer about Friday's deadly shootings at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta. Grace was a Fulton County assistant district attorney and knew two of the victims, including Superior Court Judge Rowland W. Barnes.

GRACE: I am heartbroken. I've been playing softball with Judge Barnes since 1987 since I was a rookie and the court reporter had just been up here visiting with me just the past couple of months, and I'm stunned.

Wolf, there were a million times we as prosecutors and judges walk into the courtroom going about our everyday business as public servants, and I am stunned. I am stunned about Judge Barnes' death and [the court reporter's] death and the two deputy sheriffs trying to do their job. Everybody keeps talking about how maybe there was an accomplice.

Listen, Wolf, anybody that's been in and out of that courthouse can figure out the lay of the courthouse. It is what it is. The man grabbed the gun and unloaded rather than go to jail on a rape charge. That's what happened.

BLITZER: Talk a little bit about Judge Barnes, Nancy. Give us some personal thoughts that are going through your mind right now.

GRACE: Wolf, I can't tell you how many times that I sat in the stands and cheered a softball game of Judge Barnes. He was a State Court judge for many, many years coming up in the ranks like all of us as a trial lawyer and, Wolf, when he made Superior Court judge, usually, you know, they are political hacks or appointees. This is a guy that everybody said, "Thank God somebody like Barnes finally made the bench. This makes it all worthwhile." All I can say is Barnes was the kind of person that I was proud to practice in front of.

BLITZER: You have to ask yourself, how can these things happen? How can such a tragedy occur to such a good man who worked so hard to do -- to do right in the courtroom? It's just such a painful experience, but it does raise the question of security for judges, security for court personnel, not only in Atlanta, Nancy, but all around the country. What needs to be done?

GRACE: Wolf, so many times I've sat in the courtroom, and I've looked sitting there unarmed, of course, I was never armed in court. The deputies would have their guns, and we would have 20, 30, sometimes 50 violent offenders. They were not all shackled, and they were there in the courtroom. It is a risk that is being taken every day -- in every courtroom in this country.

And, Wolf, I just -- I just hate that it had to be Judge Barnes and his beautiful court reporter that had to pay this horrible, horrible price. And, Wolf, the judge has a girl. He has a beautiful girl, and I'm just -- to have your father killed in this way as a public servant. Wolf, this guy has tried so many cases. He was one of the most decent lawyers I have ever known and I'm stunned. I can hardly speak, Wolf.

BLITZER: ... You're on the way to Atlanta right now?

GRACE: Yes, Wolf, I was sitting on a flight to fly out to a victims' rights vigil in California at one airport, and I heard about Judge Barnes and my friend, the court reporter, and got up off the flight. I'm now in another airport coming to Atlanta, to the courthouse right now.

BLITZER: So you're on the way to the scene of the -- of this crime?

GRACE: Yeah, Wolf, I mean, my very dearest friend in the world is a defense lawyer who was on the calendar call this morning and standing in the back waiting to come into the courtroom when this shooting happened, and I just can't tell you how this has affected everyone, Wolf.

We go into court as lawyers, as prosecutors, as defense lawyers, as judges unarmed every day. I did it for 15 years, never believing that this would happen in a court of law, Wolf.

And all I can tell you now is of all the judges that sat on that bench, Barnes is one of the most decent men I have ever known, Wolf. I just can't stress enough. We take potshots at judges and defense lawyers and prosecutors. But, you know, there are a few of them walking around that make us proud to be lawyers, and that is what Rowland Barnes was.

BLITZER: This comes only a couple weeks after the murder of a federal judge's husband and mother in Chicago, and we've been following that story closely, as you have, Nancy. It's going to raise questions around the country -- what needs to be done to secure these courtrooms, to secure court personnel, judges around the country? I assume every jurisdiction right now is taking a close look at their procedures.

GRACE: Yeah, you know, Wolf, and the thing is, this is a fairly new facility with metal detectors and trained deputies. There are never inmates in a courtroom when there are not armed deputies. But the fact that this guy could get so close to the deputy -- I'm stunned -- and get the gun and unload in an open court of law. It's really a miracle more people were not shot because courtrooms are always full of spectators, witnesses, other defendants, victims, jurors.

This could have been a massacre on a much greater scale.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Nancy Grace.

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