ATLANTA (AP) — Surrounded by 19 officers in a cinderblock jail room, his hands and ankles shackled, the man accused in the crime spree that left an Atlanta judge and three others dead went before a judge yesterday for the first time since the rampage.
Brian Nichols, 33, was informed that authorities plan to charge him with murder.
Nichols looked straight ahead during the five-minute hearing and did not make eye contact with anyone in the room, including the judge. He spoke only once, when Judge Frank Cox asked him if he had any questions.
“Not at this time,” he said.
When Nichols was held without bail on the rape charge he was on trial for Friday, when he allegedly overpowered a guard at the Fulton County courthouse, stole her gun and started a rampage that terrorized Atlanta and left four people dead.
This time, authorities took no chances for the hearing at the Fulton County Jail.
All prisoners booked into the jail make their first appearance before a judge inside the jail, not at the courthouse. But 19 officers — almost five times the usual number — packed the small room, and several more officers blocked the hall outside.
Those entering the hearing room were searched with a handheld metal detector.
Fulton County Sheriff Myron Freeman said other steps had been taken to improve courthouse security: 40 uniformed deputies have been added and high-risk inmates will be transported separately, accompanied by specially trained officers.
“The security improvements we’ve made in the past few days will continue as we search for ways to increase security and the safety of the public,” he said in a statement.
Prosecutor Michele McCutcheon informed Cox the state will pursue four charges of murder against Nichols.
Nichols is accused of killing the judge on his rape case and two others at the courthouse, then killing a federal agent while on the run. After a 26-hour manhunt, he was captured Saturday at an apartment complex where he had taken a woman hostage.
The hostage, Ashley Smith, read a religious book to Nichols before he freed her and she called 911. Gov. Sonny Perdue said she will receive a $10,000 reward.
After Nichols’ hearing, defense attorney Chris Adams told reporters “this is a time of grief and mourning” for the courthouse community.
That grief was apparent during an afternoon memorial service across the street from the courthouse. About 200 people packed in and around the building’s atrium, and an additional 100 or so watched from the three levels of balconies overlooking it.
Many wept as friends and co-workers shared thoughts and anecdotes about the victims. Deputies wore black bands across their badges in honor of their fallen comrade, Sgt. Hoyt Teasley, who was gunned down outside the courthouse.
Chief Deputy Michael Cooke hailed Teasley as a hero.
“When everyone was running away from the danger, Hoyt, responding to the distress, ran to the danger,” Cooke said.
County Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford was one of many courthouse employees who personally knew all the victims. “This could’ve happened to anybody, and it’s unfortunate it happened to some very dear friends,” he said.
More memorials are planned.
“It is really devastating to think this has occurred to this family,” Superior Court Chief Judge Doris Downs said. “We’ve got to make something good come of this.”