Suspect in Atlanta Courthouse Triple Murder Surrenders to Police

DULUTH, Georgia (AP) - A rape suspect accused of shooting a judge and two others at a courthouse was captured Saturday after a day on the run in which he allegedly killed an immigration agent, stole his truck and took a woman hostage, officials said.

"Brian Nichols is in custody,'' said Officer Darren Moloney of the Gwinnett County Police Department. "Everybody is safe.''

Moloney said Nichols, 33, was armed and had a female hostage when he was caught at a suburban apartment complex.

The woman, who was not identified by authorities, called police to report that Nichols was in her apartment, Police Chief Charles Walters said. He said the woman did not know Nichols, and either escaped or was allowed to leave before police arrived.

"He literally waved a white flag or a T-shirt and came out,'' Walters said.

FBI Spokesman Steve Lazarus said Nichols is a suspect in the courthouse shootings and the fatal shooting of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent found dead early Saturday.

The agent, identified as David Wilhelm, was discovered shot to death at an upscale townhouse complex, and his blue pickup truck, pistol and badge were missing.

Police said the truck was found at a different location, but did not elaborate. Nichols was taken into federal custody.

After Nichols' arrest, a crowd of people across the street from the apartment complex cheered as a black sports utility vehicle drove away, escorted by multiple police cars with lights flashing and sirens on.

The courthouse shootings Friday set off a massive manhunt and created widespread chaos across Atlanta, where schools, restaurants and office buildings locked down amid fears that the suspect might strike again.

Nichols was being escorted to his retrial on rape and other charges Friday when he allegedly overpowered a court deputy, taking her gun, before killing three people: the judge presiding over his case, a court reporter and a deputy who confronted him as he escaped the courthouse.

The deputy from whom he stole the gun, Cynthia Hall, remained in critical condition Saturday.

He then allegedly pistolwhipped Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Don O'Briant and stole his car. Throughout Friday, police said they were looking for the reporter's car, and highway message boards across the state issued descriptions of the vehicle.

But later that night, the car was found in the parking garage where Nichols stole it. Police said Nichols attempted more hijackings, and it was suspected that Nichols had stolen another vehicle from the same parking garage.

Surveillance tape showed him going to the garage's lowest level, wearing a jacket that CNN said belonged to O'Briant. Authorities would not comment on whether Wilhelm may have been carjacked at the garage.

O'Briant wrote in Saturday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he had just parked his car when a young man pulled beside him and asked for directions to a nearby mall. Before O'Briant could oblige, the man pulled a gun and said, ``Give me your keys or I'll kill you,'' then told him to get in the trunk.

O'Briant refused and started to run. The man pistol whipped him as he tried to escape. O'Briant fell, but got up and ran again.

"I scrambled into the street, waiting for the shots to come, but they didn't come,'' he wrote. "I guess it just wasn't my day to die.''

The killings came less than two weeks after a Chicago federal judge's husband and mother were slain in their home and set off a fresh round of worries about the safety of judges, prosecutors and others involved in the criminal justice system.

On Thursday, the judge and prosecutors in Nichols' case requested extra security after investigators found a shank - or homemade knife - fashioned from a doorknob in each of Nichols' shoes, prosecutor Gayle Abramson said.

District Attorney Paul Howard did not say what measures were taken to beef up security, but Assistant Police Chief Alan Dreher said no other officers assisted Hall with taking Nichols to court.

In the rape case, Nichols was accused of bursting into his ex-girlfriend's home, binding her with duct tape and sexually assaulting her over three days. Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said Nichols brought a loaded machine gun into the home and a cooler with food in case he was hungry.

Nichols had been dating the woman for eight years, and she tried to break up with him after he got another woman pregnant, Hazen said. Though he is accused of imprisoning the woman and raping her, Hazen said his client claims she invited him over and they had consensual sex.

Nichols faced a possible life sentence if convicted in his retrial on charges of rape, sodomy, burglary, and false imprisonment, among others. His earlier trial was declared a mistrial on Monday when jurors voted 8-4 for acquittal.

"My guts tell me he faced a greater chance of conviction in the second trial,'' his attorney, Barry Hazen, told a local television station.

Prosecutor Gayle Abramson said she believes Nichols, who had been jailed since Aug. 23, was certain he would be convicted and was willing to kill to avoid it.

Hazen described his client as a "big, strong guy'' with a laid-back personality.

"Even the larger deputies I don't think would be any match for Brian Nichols,'' Hazen said.

In the Forums: Share your thoughts on this tragedy

Loading