03/25/2005

Authorities Find 'Escape Plans' in Cell of Man Accused in Deadly Atlanta Courthouse Shooting

ATLANTA, Ga. - Authorities found hand-drawn escape plans in the cell of a man accused of going on a deadly courthouse rampage, the sheriff said.

After the March 11 attack that ended in four deaths, authorities disclosed that a judge and prosecutors requested extra security for Brian Nichols after investigators found a knife fashioned from a doorknob in each of his shoes.

The hand-drawn escape diagrams were revealed during an interview broadcast Thursday on WSB-TV in which Fulton County Sheriff Myron Freeman said security has been increased in the county courthouse since the attack.

"Obviously, there was something that happened here that was wrong," Freeman said.

"We've had extra security in the courtroom," he said, adding that a special team of officers now is escorting "high-profile" prisoners. "We've separated them from the general population," he said.

Freeman said it was too early to determine if anyone would be fired as a result of the attack.

Nichols, 33, was in the midst of a retrial after a hung jury in a previous trial on rape and other charges. He allegedly overpowered a court deputy, seriously injuring her and taking her gun, then shot the judge presiding over his case and a court reporter to death.

A deputy who confronted Nichols as he escaped the courthouse also was killed, as was a federal customs agent whose pickup was stolen later. Nichols was taken into custody March 12.

Both Freeman and Chief Deputy Michael Cooke said that finding the weapons didn't mean an immediate search of Nichols' cell was necessary, though it might have uncovered evidence of an escape plan.

"Contraband is found on inmates daily," Cooke said.

Cooke acknowledged that two of the three deputies assigned to a monitoring room where the attack could have been seen on a video screen were not present at the time. One of them had gone on to a courtroom assignment, and the other had been sent on an errand, Cooke said.

Cooke said that before March 11 it was not unusual for a single deputy to be escorting a prisoner, regardless of the crime involved.

"It was a policy issue. Certainly we're going to look at the policy to see if it should be changed," he said.

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