Fulton County Judge Rowland Barnes, a female court reporter, and a sheriff's deputy were killed about 9:00 am at the county courthouse. A fourth victim, also a sheriff's deputy was admitted to Grady Memorial Hospital. A reporter for the Atlanta Journal was pistol-whipped and assaulted during as the suspect attempted to escape.
The incident began shortly after 9:00 am as the suspect, Brian Nichols, was being brought to the courthouse. Nichols had been taken to a room to change from his prison outfit to street clothes for his trial. As he was walking down a corridor to the courtroom he overpowered Sheriff's Deputy Cynthia Hall, hitting the 51-year old grandmother in the face. He then entered the courtroom.
Judge Rowland Barnes had begun hearing a rape case against the suspect when Nichols entered. For a brief time Nichols held the courtroom at bay, shooting Judge Rowland Barnes and Julie Brandau, his court reporter. Both Judge Barnes and Brandau died at the scene. Sgt. Hoyt Teasley, who confronted the suspect as he left the courthouse, was also shot and killed. As the suspect fled he carjacked 5 automobiles in rapid succession. The last car, a Green 1997 Honda SUV, was stolen from Atlanta Journal feature reporter Don Briant at about 9:20am. Nichols pistol-whipped the reporter.
Nichols did not go very far in Briant's vehicle. It was found on a different level of the parking gargage. He left the parking deck on foot and used public transportation to get to Buckhead.
Suspect Nichols then stole U. S. Customs agent David Wilhelm's truck, killing Wilhelm. He drove the truck to Duluth, Georgia (Gwinnett County
) where he abandoned it and surprised Ashley Smith as she was entering her apartment at 2 a.m. After an 11-hour ordeal Nichols released the woman so that she could check on her baby. Upon leaving the apartment, she immediately called 911. Led by the Gwinnett County SWAT team, a contingent of heavily armed county, state and federal officers arrived, immediately surrounding the apartment. As the police were in the process of evacuating the building Nichols began waving a white flag out of the window. He was taken into custody and turned over to FBI agents, who returned him to Atlanta.
After confessing to the crime, Brian Nichols, dubbed the "Courthouse Killer" by local media outlets, was indicted on 54 counts ranging from murder to carjacking. The proceedings against Brian Nichols were delayed for years, partly because of the complexity of the crimes, the number of jurisdictions involved, the fact that a judge had been murdered (this eliminated a large number of judges who knew Judge Barnes), and the mental health defense asserted by his court-appointed defense team.
Finally, in September, 2008 jury selection is completed and the trial began at Atlanta Municipal Court. Evidence regarding the four murders and Nichols escape is supplemented with testimony about other crimes committed. On November 7, 2008, a 12-person jury found Nichols guilty of the murders and the other 50 crimes he committed during his rampage. Then came the sentencing phase of the trial.
Although the jurors found Nichols guilty on all charges, including the murder of a sitting judge, an officer of the court, a deputy sheriff and a federal agent, they remained divided on the death penalty. On December 12, 2008, Judge Bodiford ruled the jury was hopelessly deadlocked. Instead Bodiford sentenced Brian Nichols to the maximum sentence for each of his crimes, ensuring that Nichols would spend the rest of his life in prison.