Sheriff in Atlanta Releases Part of Report on Deadly Rampage

ATLANTA -- A door to a judge's chambers left unlocked, a deactivated buzzer entry system and a deputy who faked a heart attack so he could hit a distress alarm. Those were among the details in a partially released sheriff's report looking into last...


ATLANTA -- A door to a judge's chambers left unlocked, a deactivated buzzer entry system and a deputy who faked a heart attack so he could hit a distress alarm.

Those were among the details in a partially released sheriff's report looking into last month's shooting rampage that left a judge and three others dead.

And a judge was expected to decided Friday whether to release the remainder of the report.

According to the portion of the report released Thursday, rape defendant Brian Nichols was able to enter Judge Rowland Barnes' chambers and hold the occupants hostage because the door was unlocked and a buzzer entry system was not activated.

''We understand there was a practice of the door being left open,'' Michael Cooke, chief deputy of the Fulton County Sheriff's Department, said at a news conference.

After handcuffing a lawyer, deputy and an unspecified number of other people, Nichols entered the courtroom where his trial would have resumed and killed Judge Barnes and court reporter Julie Ann Brandau, the report says.

At one point, the deputy who was taken hostage faked a heart attack so he could fall to the floor in order to activate a distress alarm. For the next several minutes, the report says, a colleague tried in vain to reach that deputy on his portable radio. Nichols had apparently taken the radio, the report says.

Sheriff's Sgt. Hoyt Teasley was shot to death outside the downtown courthouse and federal agent David Wilhelm was killed later that day in another part of the city.

The report on the March 11 attack also says it took a court officer 21 minutes to reach another deputy whom Nichols allegedly overpowered and stole her gun in order to start the killing spree.

Despite the report, Cooke said, ''There was no lapse in response time. Period.''

The Fulton County Sheriff's Department, responsible for security at the courthouse, has been criticized for its handling of the case. Nichols was unshackled at the time of the attack and had previously been caught with homemade knives hidden in his shoes.

The 15 pages of the report that have been released also included a timeline of the attack, an incident narrative and an executive summary.

A hearing was scheduled for Friday to discuss defense objections to releasing the remainder of the report. Defense lawyer Chris Adams said releasing witness statements could jeopardize Nichols' right to a fair trial. He noted that some of the material includes alleged statements made by Nichols.

A major question that has dogged the sheriff's department since the attack is why only one person was guarding Nichols at the time he escaped. Asked about that Thursday, Cooke said the department's policy is to allow one deputy to escort up to four inmates at a time. He said that policy was followed and that Deputy Cynthia Hall, who was overpowered, had escorted Nichols safely on previous occasions.

Meanwhile, Hall's doctor said the deputy regrets being unable to stop Nichols.

''She feels that a lot of the folks that work at the sheriff's office are part of her community,'' Dr. Gerald Bilsky told The Associated Press on Thursday. ''She feels bad about what happened. She knows she was guarding someone on trial.''

Hall, a 51-year-old grandmother, has spent three weeks recovering from the attack, which left her with a bruise on her brain and bone fractures around her right eye. She remembers nothing of the attack and was recently told about the deaths that followed Nichols' escape.

''She is looking forward to going home; she wants to get back to a normal life,'' Bilsky said.

Nichols, who is being held without bail, has not yet been charged in the shootings.