A review of the news that made The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s front pages through the decades.

When Suri Chadha Jimenez, the attorney representing Cordarius Dorsey in the YSL gang case, said handcuffing defendants with their hands behind their backs as they’re transported to and from the Fulton County courthouse amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment,” Fulton Sheriff Pat Labat pointed out that safety of all those involved in the trial is paramount and will not be compromised.

In doing so, he referenced one of the most violent events in modern Atlanta history: Brian Nichols’ deadly rampage that left four dead and brought courthouse safety under scrutiny.

“Our goal is to be safe. We are not going to have another Brian Nichols situation in Fulton County as long as I’m sheriff,” Labat said.

This March 11 will mark 18 years since Nichols’ murder spree after his escape from custody during his 2005 Fulton County trial on rape charges.

After overpowering Deputy Cynthia Hall, beating her into a coma and taking her gun, Nichols fatally shot three people at the Fulton courthouse before escaping. He later shot and killed an off-duty federal agent at the agent’s home.

Journal-Constitution reporters Cameron McWhirter and Steve Visser recounted the previous day’s events at the courthouse and around the city in the Saturday, March 12, edition of the paper.


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“Facing life in prison, Brian G. Nichols transformed himself Friday morning from accused rapist to hunted fugitive after a bloody rampage that began in the Fulton County courthouse and sent a wave of fear across metro Atlanta,” the pair wrote.

“It was unclear what moved Nichols to shoot and kill Rowland Barnes, 64, the widely respected Fulton County Superior Court judge assigned to Nichols’ trial,” the story said. “Yet it seemed that Nichols had worked with a purpose: After overpowering Deputy Cynthia Hall, he set out to Barnes’ courtroom instead of taking an easier route to freedom.

“Armed with two weapons, he stormed into the courtroom and opened fire. Also killed was Julie Brandau, 46, the court stenographer seated near the judge.”

ExploreA decade after Brian Nichols: Fulton Court still moving toward safety

The story continued: “Crossing Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, he entered the Underground Atlanta parking garage. He ran into Deputy Hoyt Teasley, 43. Nichols shot Teasley multiple times in the stomach and then carjacked an SUV, police said.

“Teasley, who wasn’t wearing a bulletproof vest, had pulled his gun but didn’t have a chance to fire it, said Fulton County Sgt. Mike Thompson. His gun was found near his body, Thompson said.”

Later that day, Nichols shot ICE Special Agent David G. Wilhelm, killing him.

On March 12, Ashley Smith, whom Nichols had been holding captive in her Duluth apartment, was able to leave and call 911. After a 26-hour manhunt, Nichols surrendered without incident. He is currently serving life without parole at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison in Jackson.

Our goal is to be safe. We are not going to have another Brian Nichols situation in Fulton County as long as I'm sheriff.

- Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat

Former Journal-Constitution computer programmer Almeta Kilgo and veteran AJC reporter Don O’Briant each separately encountered Nichols after his courthouse escape in parking decks near the old newspaper headquarters at 72 Marietta Street in downtown Atlanta. Nichols carjacked each, pistol-whipping O’Briant when he refused to get into the trunk of his car.

“I always knew I would have my 15 minutes of fame, but I never expected it to happen this way,” O’Briant wrote in a March 20 first-person piece. “In my fantasies, I would win a Pulitzer Prize or an Academy Award for a screenplay based on my best-selling novel.

“In real life,” O’Briant told readers, “I became famous for getting hit in the head.”


In this series, we scour the AJC archives for the most interesting news from days gone by, show you original articles and update the story. If you have a story you’d like researched and featured in AJC Deja News, send an email with as much information as you know.

Email: malbright@ajc.com. Use the subject line “AJC Deja News.”