WGCL CBS 46 Atlanta > Downtown Atlanta Judge, court reporter, deputy shot to death, one other wounded at Atlanta courthouse March 11, 2005, 11:29 AM
ATLANTA (AP) -- A judge, court reporter and deputy were killed and another deputy was wounded Friday in a shooting at the Fulton County Courthouse in downtown Atlanta. Authorities were hunting for the gunman.
The judge, later identified as Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes, was shot on the eighth floor of the courthouse, while one of the deputies was shot on a street corner just outside the building, said Officer Alan Osborne with the Atlanta Police Department.
Authorities were searching for a green 1997 Honda Accord that was carjacked from a newspaper reporter. Highway signs typically used for Amber Alerts were issuing descriptions of the stolen vehicle.
Fulton County Police Lt. Clarence Huber identified the suspect as 33-year-old Brian Nichols, who was on trial before Barnes on rape charges stemming from an incident in August. It was not immediately known how the suspect got a gun.
County employee Ali Lamei, who works on a floor below where the shooting started, said he was told by officers in the building that a sheriff's sergeant was escorting a prisoner into Barnes' courtroom when the prisoner grabbed the sergeant's gun and shot the judge and sergeant.
James Bailey, a juror in the Nichols trial, said the jury was not in the courtroom at the time of the shooting. Nichols, who also faced charges of sodomy, possession of a machine gun, possession of a handgun, and possession of marijuana, had not taken the stand yet in the trial, which started Tuesday.
Bailey said Nichols made him and other jurors nervous. "Every time he looked up, he was staring at you," Bailey said.
District Attorney spokesman Erik Friedly said the shootings started shortly after 9 a.m. on the building's eighth floor.
"We heard some noise. It sounded like three or four shots. At the time, we thought it was just an engine backfiring," said Chuck Cole, a civil defense attorney who was in an adjoining parking deck when he heard gunfire at around 9:10 a.m.
Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor announced the shootings on the floor of the Georgia Senate about an hour later. "It appears that Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes has lost his life, along with his court reporter," Taylor told lawmakers.
One of the deputies died later at Grady Hospital, Atlanta Police Sgt. John Quigley said. He said a second deputy was grazed by a bullet.
Don O'Briant, a features reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was carjacked by the fleeing suspect at a downtown parking garage as the reporter was arriving to work, said Mary Dugenske, a spokeswoman for the newspaper. She said O'Briant was being treated at a nearby hospital was in good condition.
All the judges in the courthouse were locked in their chambers immediately after the shootings. The courthouse and other buildings in downtown Atlanta were locked down. Traffic in the blocks surrounding the courthouse was backed up as police cruisers flooded the area looking for the suspect.
Among the recent cases that Judge Barnes handled was the sentencing of Atlanta Thrashers player Dany Heatley, who pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide in the death of a teammate.
Barnes, 64, also drew national attention last month when he took the unusual step of ordering a mother of seven who pleaded guilty to killing her 5-week-old daughter to have a medical procedure that would prevent her from having more children.
Barnes was named to the Fulton County Superior Court bench on July 10, 1998. He also worked as a part-time Fulton County Magistrate and City Court Judge in Hapeville and Fairburn. Barnes was a 1972 graduate of Emory Law School in Atlanta and a graduate of Lebanon Valley College.