Atlanta Courthouse Reopens Amid Tighter Security

ATLANTA (AP) - Nervous workers and visitors lined up Monday as the Fulton County Courthouse reopened under heightened security in the wake of the slayings of a judge, deputy and court stenographer three days earlier.

As the courthouse reopened at 8:30 a.m. Monday - almost exactly 72 hours since the shootings - at least 80 people waited in line to get past a security checkpoint set up inside the building. The line snaked down a hallway near the entrance.

The suspected gunman, Brian Nichols, was taken into custody Saturday morning after holding a woman hostage in Gwinnett County for several hours, then freeing her. The woman, Ashley Smith, came forward Sunday to give an account of her ordeal, saying he let her go after they bonded while discussing God, family, pancakes and the massive manhunt going on outside her apartment.

Michael Harris, 58, who was reporting to the courthouse for jury duty, said he felt safer knowing Nichols was behind bars.

"To me, it was one of those unusual things," said Harris. "At any time, terrible things can happen anywhere. You just have to put your faith in God and keep on going."

However, convicted felon Richard Jadwin, 20, who was there to check in with the sheriff's department, said he was felt uncomfortable being at the building.

"There's no guarantees in life. You can't know what a person's next move is going to be. I ain't even going to lie, I'm kind of nervous," said Jadwin, who wouldn't say what crime he was convicted of.

He said more precautions should have been taken with Nichols. Authorities said the rampage started when Nichols overpowered a sheriff's deputy who was transporting Nichols to holding area to prepare for the resumption of his trial on rape and other charges.

Crime scene tape and flowers greeted those who stepped off the elevators in front of the courtroom of Judge Rowland Barnes, which is where Barnes and his court reporter, Julie Brandau, were killed. Both Barnes and Bardau had been working Nichols' trial, which had started Tuesday. Sheriff's Sgt. Hoyt Teasley was killed outside the courthouse, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent David Wilhelm was killed later.

Smith was hailed as a hero for the way she handled herself after Nichols assailed her in the parking lot of her apartment when she returned from a store around 2 a.m. Saturday.

"She acted very cool and levelheaded. We don't normally see that in our profession," said Gwinnett County Police Officer Darren Moloney. "It was an absolutely best-case scenario that happened, a complete opposite of what you expected to happen."

Over the course of the night, Nichols untied Smith, and some of the fear lessened as they talked. Nichols told Smith he felt like "he was already dead," but Smith urged him to consider the fact that he was still alive a "miracle."

"I believe God brought him to my door," Smith said Sunday.

"You're here in my apartment for some reason," she told him, saying he might be destined to be caught and to spread the word of God to fellow prisoners.

After Smith left the apartment and called police, officers soon surrounded her suburban apartment complex and Nichols gave up peacefully, waving a white towel in surrender.

"I honestly think when I looked at him that he didn't want to do it anymore," Smith said. If he did not give up, she told him, "Lots more people are probably going get hurt and you're probably going to die."

Choking back tears Sunday, she said she told Nichols that her husband died four years ago and if he hurt her, her little girl wouldn't have a mother or father. Smith's attorney, Josh Archer, said her husband died in her arms after being stabbed. Smith's 5-year-old daughter was not at the apartment during the ordeal.

The two talked about the Bible and she handed him photos of her family. When morning came, Nichols was "overwhelmed" when Smith made him pancakes with real butter, she said. He told her he "just wanted some normalness to his life," she said.

When Nichols finally let Smith go to a planned meeting with her her daughter, he said he wanted to stay at the apartment for a few more days. But she said she thought he knew she was going to call police after she left.

Nichols could appear in federal court as early as Monday to face a charge of possession of a firearm by a person under indictment, the charge authorities are using to keep Nichols in custody while they sort out charging in the slayings, said U.S. Attorney David Nahmias.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Monday that a courthouse surveillance camera recorded Nichols' initial surprise attack on Deputy Cynthia Hall but that no one in the control center noticed the assault.


Associated Press writer Daniel Yee contributed to this report.