ATLANTA — Ten years ago today, just after 9 a.m. on March 11, 2005, an accused rapist overpowered a sheriff’s deputy, took her weapon and went on a rampage.
Today, Brian Gene Nichols is serving life in prison for the murders of Fulton County Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes, court reporter Julie Ann Brandau, Fulton County sheriff’s Sgt. Hoyt Teasley and ICE Agent David G. Wilhelm. Nichols was convicted Nov. 7, 2008, of 54 counts, but the Baltimore native was spared the death penalty when a jury deciding his fate deadlocked.
After escaping the courthouse, Nichols left a city on edge and eventually took a widowed mother hostage in her Duluth, Ga., apartment. After an hours-long standoff, the mother, Ashley Smith Robinson, eventually convinced Nichols to surrender and is today remembered as a hero.
“You know, I just don’t think about what happened to me in Atlanta,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted Robinson as saying. “I think about what happened to everyone.”
Nichols was not on bond at the time of the shooting.
The scars of that March morning a decade later remain. In the ensuing years, officials in Fulton County, Georgia and across the nation have discussed courthouse security, though how much progress has been made is subject to debate, and the deputy Nichols so savagely beat — Cynthia Hall — unsuccessfully sued then Fulton County Sheriff Myron Freeman and others claiming they knew Nichols posed a security risk.
Fulton County court officials observed a moment of silence this morning to remember the day 10 years ago.
“March 11, 2005, remains one of the most heart-wrenching days in the history of the Fulton County Courthouse,” the Daily Report quoted Fulton County Chief Judge Gail Tusan as saying in a statement. “More than a decade later, we continue to honor the memory and legacy of our fallen colleagues. The events of that day, while traumatic, assured us that we are all connected. As we take a moment to reflect, we remain appreciative of the jurists, law enforcement officers, court employees, elected officials, agencies and citizens across the nation who came to our aid and stood with us as we faced this tragedy.”
Added Tusan: “Today, we take comfort in knowing that the service and memories of those we have lost are forever woven into the fabric of who we are as a Court and as a County. In tribute to those we have lost, we remain resilient and committed to the enduring principles of justice that we all hold dear.”