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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Judges Under the Gun

Aired March 11, 2005 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody. Welcome. Glad to have you with us tonight.
Again, the scales of justice tipped by violence. A terrifying and bloody attacks raises questions about the safety of our courts.

In a few violent minutes an Atlanta courthouse becomes a crime scene. A judge and 2 others killed.

In Chicago, a judge's family brutally murdered.

Outside a Texas courthouse a gunmen shoots 2 people dead. Can we be safe where justice is served?

Tonight, "Judges Under the Gun."

Tonight, for the third time in as many weeks an American courthouse and a judge have come under attack. This time, police are looking for this man, Brian Nichols, who they believe killed a judge, a court reporter and a deputy. It happened this morning at an Atlanta courthouse, where Nichols was on trial for rape.

Just last month in Tyler, Texas, a courthouse security camera recorded deputies rushing to fight off a man who opened fire with an assault rifle. He had a beef in a child custody case.

And a week ago in Chicago, federal judge Joan Lefkow came home to find her husband and her mother dead, gunned down, investigators believe, by this man, furious that the judge had thrown out his medical malpractice suit. And today, now we have Atlanta.

David Mattingly takes us through today's violent events.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On trial for the alleged rape and kidnapping of his ex-girlfriend, 33-year-old Brian Nichols knew that a guilty verdict could send him to prison for a very long time. Last week, his case ended in a hung jury. And in this new trial, he had been watching the jury carefully.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very interactive with the jury, like keeping his eye on all of our eyes to see our action, everything. Every time we looked up, we saw him looking at our reaction and so it made us a little nervous. MATTINGLY: But unknown to everyone, Nichols wasn't going to wait for this jury's decision. Police say he made his desperate move around 9:00 a.m. in the Fulton County Courthouse.

DEPUTY SHERIFF ALAN DREHER, ATLANTA POLICE: The suspect was on his way to the courtroom. It appears that he overwhelmed a deputy sheriff on his way to court. And it appears that he took possession of her handgun.

MATTINGLY Critically wounding the deputy, Nichols, instead of escaping, then strangely entered the courtroom where his trial was being held. Witnesses say he briefly held hostage the entire room, then shot and killed Superior Court Judge Roland Barns and a court reporter. Within seconds of firing those fatal shots, Nichols was on the run. And a busy, crowded courthouse erupted in confusion and fear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were whisked out of the courthouse.

MATTINGLY: Dashing down a stairwell and making his way outside, witnesses say Nichols immediately shot and killed another deputy, the gunshots ringing out in this busy downtown section of Atlanta.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Deputies were running around, saying get out of the courthouse.

MATTINGLY: Nichols, apparently bent on a fast get away, committed several carjackings trying to confuse police. At one point Nichols even stole a tow truck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He came out of the parking lot, pointed a gun at me and told me to get out of the truck. I told him you can have the truck. I backed up and walked away.

MATTINGLY: One of the carjacking victims, a local newspaper reporter, was pistol whipped, but managed to run away when Nichols ordered him to get into the trunk of his car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said, give me the keys or I'll kill you. I give him the keys, he opens the trunk and say, get in the trunk. And I said, no.

MATTINGLY: It was a decision that may have saved his life.

And as Nichols' rampage spread through the streets of Atlanta, local news reports set the city of 4 million on edge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody off the sidewalk.

MATTINGLY: Nichols was last reported to be seen driving the reporter's green Honda, seen here on the security camera exiting the parking deck. The manhunt widened by the minute. But exactly where Nichols went is unclear.

MYRON FREEMAN, FULTON COUNTY SHERIFF: Mr. Nichols is considered armed and extremely dangerous. Do not, I repeat, do not approach this suspect under any circumstances.

MATTINGLY: Some local schools were ordered to lock down. Police alerts were posted on busy interstates. But transportation personnel monitoring highway cameras didn't spot anything suspicious.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Traffic is going 25 miles an hour.

MATTINGLY: Police converge on Nichols' most recent address, but he's not. They reportedly take his former girlfriend into protective custody. And as precious hours tick by, the hunt intensifies. News choppers chase authorities as they chase down multiple tips.

DREHER: We've identified several questions of interest to us.

MATTINGLY: Meanwhile, there are questions about courthouse security. The Fulton County district attorney revealed Nichols was recently caught with handmade knives while in custody.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The suspect was being transported back to the jail. They do a full search of him and located in his shoes, two of the metal shanks.

MATTINGLY: But no one why he would target and kill a judge highly regarded by defense attorneys for his fair treatment of defendants. And by late afternoon authorities and neighboring states were also on alert for a murder suspect on the run who may well believe he has nothing to lose.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And David Mattingly joins us now.

David, give us a more specific sense what is exactly being done to capture Brian Nichols?

MATTINGLY: Police pretty much going by the book right now, concentrating on locations and on people he was known to associate with. So that's what they're concentrating on tonight. While the alert has gone out to neighboring states, police still very much concentrating on the Atlanta area.

ZAHN: So they believe he has not left the Atlanta area?

MATTINGLY: They have no indication that he has left. But at the same time, they have no indication where he is. So, they are concentrating -- again, going by the book, looking at the locations he's known to associate with and concentrating there.

ZAHN: What this is level of fear there tonight?

MATTINGLY: There was a great level of fear on the streets and at the courthouse earlier today, that was subsided somewhat. But people very conscious that this man is still loose, everyone taking to heart the warning he is armed and very dangerous. So people paying attention to the news reports. And perhaps taking a little extra precautions tonight. ZAHN: And in one of the great ironies of this story tonight, CNN has learned that this very judge notified the prosecutors and attorney defending this man that if he was convicted in this second trial, that he feared there could be trouble. And he actually promised to bolster security. To our knowledge, were any security improvements made?

MATTINGLY: Those questions are still being answered tonight. The biggest questions have to do with the fact that he was being escorted by one single deputy, a female deputy substantially smaller than he was. Knowing that there could have been this kind of trouble, why was there that sort of weakness in the system. That is one of the questions that will have to be answered and where the attack took place.

ZAHN: David Mattingly, thanks so much. We will be coming back to you a little bit later for another update.

Deronta Franklin was one of the people carjacked by the courthouse shooting suspect. Deronta, thanks so much for joining us tonight. First of all, how are you doing tonight?

DERONTA FRANKLIN, TOWTRUCK DRIVER: I'm doing fine. How about you?

ZAHN: I'm all right. I think we're just about a shaken up as you all down there watching all of this take place. Describe to us what happened to you earlier today when you came into contact with this suspect?

FRANKLIN: Well, I was on the corner of P street and Wall Street, spotted a SUV come around the corner kind of fast. I seen the vehicle dipped into the parking deck. Shortly after that, 2 polices came up looking for the vehicle and I pointed out he went in the parking deck. So, they proceeded to go into the park deck behind him.

I walked down to where the car was at and pointed at the vehicle and by that time he busted on through the gate and proceeded inside the parking deck. And police jumped back in the vehicle, was chasing at him. And I went back to the truck and let my job know I would probably have an impound there. They told just stand by.

Three other polices came up at the time, and I advised them that the suspect went inside the parking deck.

As they went inside the parking deck, he came out on foot. Rather, he took the steps, came back the way he came, pointed the gun at me, told me to get out the tow truck. At that time, I told him he can have the tow truck and I backed up and walked away.

ZAHN: Did he make any attempt to follow you or he just sped off with the truck at that point?

FRANKLIN: He sped off with the truck at that point.

ZAHN: And besides demanding that you turn the truck over to him, did he have anything else to say? FRANKLIN: No, he didn't say anything else. He just took off in the truck.

ZAHN: And can you describe his emotions? Was he angry? What did he act like?

FRANKLIN: Well, he acted calm at the time. He basically didn't say anything. He just wanted to get away. And he jumped in the truck and he got away.

ZAHN: But he pointed his gun at you right?

FRANKLIN: Yes, he did.

ZAHN: Did you think you had a shot at surviving at that point? Were you terrified that he might kill you?

FRANKLIN: Well, I went through some training myself. And the first thought was to stay calm and to try to get out of the situation as best as possible.

ZAHN: You must feel like a very lucky man tonight.

FRANKLIN: Yes, I do.

ZAHN: Deronta Franklin, thank you, for bringing us up to date on what happened a little bit earlier today. Good luck to you, sir.

And throughout the Atlanta area today, fear, tension and for some, an overwhelming sense of loss. They knew the judge whose life was taken.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE ROLAND BARNES: Is there anyone here in court for a case whose name I did not call?

ZAHN (voice-over): A voice that will never be heard again. Judge Roland Barnes was 64. He came up through the ranks, a hard working magistrate and city court judge in Atlanta suburbs, before becoming a Superior Court judge in 1998. He had a reputation of cutting through red tape and having good relations with reporters, co- workers and lawyers.

Attorney B.J. Bernstein knew Judge Barnes well.

B.J. BERNSTEIN, ATTORNEY: A really wonderful judge. Sometimes we hear the reputations of judges having tantrums or being very strict. He was somebody who handled himself where both parties got to have a say. Whichever side you were on, you got to be able to say your points, and then he made a decision, and usually, it was a fair one.

ZAHN: Some of his decisions were controversial. When a mother of seven children pleaded guilty in the beating death of her newborn daughter, Judge Barnes allowed the woman to avoid jail time, in return for her agreeing to be sterilized.

Just last month, Judge Barnes handled the case of Atlanta's popular hockey star, Danny Heatley, whose car was allegedly going 90 miles an hour when it crashed, killing a teammate. The dead man's family urged Judge Barnes to keep Heatley out of jail and not destroy his professional hockey career. Judge Barnes listened and gave Heatley probation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Judge Barnes leaves behind a wife and daughter who had asked for their privacy. He also leaves behind an awful lot of admirers. The judge's wife, Claudia, also works at the courthouse. We were told that Mrs. Barnes was at work when her husband was gunned down today.

One of Judge Barnes' good friends is Doris Downs, chief judge of the Fulton County Superior Court. Good of you to join us at this traumatic time. Our heart goes out to you and your whole community tonight.

DORIS DOWNS, CHIEF JUDGE, FULTON COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT: Thank you.

ZAHN: What do you want our audience to know about Judge Barnes?

DOWNS: Well, Judge Barnes was one of the most generous judges ever. He was willing to help out every judge on the bench. He took cases from judges that felt overwhelmed. I know he took many murder cases, from a judge or two to try to move them.

He was a happy judge. Judge Barnes was very happy being a judge. He gave back to his community. He participated in the Atlanta barge show every year, four years he did that, with his wife. And he is well loved and respected by all of his colleagues on the bench, and by our courthouse family. We're all going to miss him greatly. Our community will as well.

ZAHN: I can't ever remember hearing so many fine things about a man or reading so many fine things about a man in the wake of this terrible tragedy.

I don't know whether you heard our reporting at the top, but CNN has learned that Judge Barnes was very concerned about this suspect, warned the prosecution and the man defending Brian Nichols, that if he was convicted in the second trial, there could be some problems. Were you aware of any of the concerns surrounding this suspect, when it came to security in the courthouse?

DOWNS: I was not.

ZAHN: Are you surprised to hear it then?

DOWNS: I'm really not surprised to hear it. I've been in that courthouse for 21 years. I was a prosecutor for 13, and I've been a judge now in the Superior Court for nine years. And we have very serious criminals come through that courthouse regularly. So there are many security concerns, and we are constantly dealing with those.

And -- but on the whole, I have felt safe for 21 years working in that courthouse.

ZAHN: But after today, has your feeling changed?

DOWNS: Well, I think our whole courthouse family is shaken by today's tragic events. And certainly, the first thing we need to all do is grieve, and then I'm certain that security concerns will be addressed.

ZAHN: Well, Judge Downs, thank you for sharing your memories of a very fine American tonight. We very much appreciate your time, and good luck to your whole community.

DOWNS: Thank you.

ZAHN: The scene of today's killings in Atlanta has something in common with hundreds of courthouses across the nation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I told them for years, the security up here wasn't good. There's too few deputies, too many inmates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Still ahead, the urgent need to beef up courthouse security now, and not just in Georgia. We'll look back on a day of death at a Texas courthouse in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back to our special, "Judges Under the Gun." You're looking at Brian Nichols, the suspect in today's Atlanta courthouse shootings. Nichols, who is 33 years old, was being retried on rape charges. More on that in just a moment.

But first, what we know about security at the Fulton County courthouse. Once again, three people left dead there earlier today, one wounded. Here's Randi Kaye.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Judge Henry Newkirk has been working at the Fulton County courthouse for more than two decades. He was a friend of Judge Roland Barnes. The two were sworn in together.

(on camera): Do you feel like security here is enough?

JUDGE HENRY NEWKIRK: I feel like in the last 23 years that I've been here, security has been adequate. You know, it's not the best and the tightest. I'm not saying we couldn't do a better job. But I think it's a balancing act. KAYE (voice-over): Judge Newkirk would not go into detail about what he thinks needs to be improved here, but he did talk about security measures now in place.

NEWKIRK: For a citizen, a juror, courthouse employees, they enter one of three entrances, and go through a metal detector, and all baggage, all personal belongings that are in briefcases are examined through an X-ray machine, much like at the airports.

KAYE: There are two sides to the courthouse, old and new. For all courtrooms, judges access secure parking underground and a private elevator to their floor. Judge Barnes' courtroom in the old court building has emergency alarm buttons and all the other security measures of the new courtroom, except one.

NEWKIRK: Our chamber doors are wired to be electronically controlled.

KAYE: Judge Barnes had no electronic key pap, the suspect allegedly went through the judge's chambers to get into the courtroom.

DENNIS SCHEIB, FRIEND OF SLAIN JUDGE: Bad security. Just terrible, terrible security. And it's been going on for years

NEWKIRK: Police officer turned attorney Dennis Scheib was in the courtroom next to Judge Barnes when the shooting happened. Fulton County Court was one of many around the country to beef up security after the Oklahoma City bombing. Still, on a scale of 1 to 10, Scheib gives security here a 1.

SCHEIB: This dependent, he took a gun, he shoots a deputy, he shoots a judge, she shoots a court reporter and he goes outside and he shoots a deputy sheriff walking in the building. This should never have happened security, but security has just been lax for years

KAYE: But the head of the Fulton County Commission says judges feel safe, adding there will be a thorough review of security. Judge Newkirk says there is always at least 1 armed sheriff's deputy present during criminal cases, Fulton County deputies are the only law enforcement officers allowed to carry weapons in the courthouse.

NEWKIRK: I've always enjoyed having armed deputies in the courtroom with me.

KAYE: But should deputies carry guns in the courthouse? After all, that's how police say this suspect got his weapon.

And where were deputies when the suspect fled down 8 flights of stairs and out the building. Judge Newkirk hopes his friend's death will expose the security flaws and get them fixed fast.

NEWKIRK: It's always something in the back of my mind. You see it happening in other venues around the country. And I'm aware of it. I'm aware of the possibility of something like this happening. This is a worst case scenario.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: That was Randi Kaye reporting for us tonight. Joining me now, attorney and former Atlanta police officer, Dennis Scheib, who you just heard in Randi's report. Mr. Scheib worked with the judge and has worked in law enforcement, as we mentioned.

Sir, good of you to join us tonight. Thank you very much.

You just described the security there as terrible. Is there any excuse for that?

SCHEIB: No. And actually, I wrote an article 2 years ago and sent it to the local law paper there. And they did nothing. I indicated to them, March 19, that something like this would happen.

Basically, what Judge Newkirk indicates as far as security coming in, they check people. But what I'm talking about is security one-on- one with a deputy and an inmate. I've seen deputies walk into a jail where there's a whole bunch of inmates and they have a weapon.

This is inexcusable. This is one happened today. You have 1 deputy, you have 1 inmate, he's facing life in prison. He overpowers the deputy, he takes the weapon. And what do you have? You have 3 people killed.

What they need to look at, what Fulton County needs to look at, is go to DeKalb County, and look how those deputies deal with it. Just real simple, they deal with it very professionally.

ZAHN: And here's what I'm trying to understand tonight. Is was a suspect who was found yesterday with sharpened metal objects on him. This was a suspect that the judge himself complained not only to the prosecution but to the man representing Brian Nichols saying if there was a conviction in this case, that they all had something to fear. Was anything done between the time the judge had this conversation yesterday and the time he said he would bolster security?

SCHEIB: Well, it doesn't appear so. They only have so many deputies. And the county commissioner, from what I understand, they haven't allocated the money for training, they haven't allocated for new deputies. And security, you know, if Judge Barnes, and I know him very well, I talked to his daughter this morning, I've been in his court many times, I have had lunch with him, I know his wife, I mean, if he asked for it to be done, and it wasn't done, it's somebody's fault, not the judges. The judge can only do so much.

ZAHN: You mentioned that you spoke with Judge Barnes' daughter earlier this morning. That was before this horrible shootout. What did she talk to you about?

SCHEIB: She called me at 7:45. Actually, I looked at my clock and I was kind of surprised. And Kylie (ph) called and wanted a phone number. And so I gave her a phone number I had on my rolodex. And we talked about -- I asked her what was she doing? And she says, she says she was wanting to go to law school. And I said, do want to be like your dad? And she goes, yeah, I think I want to be a lawyer or a judge. And that was basically it, the last time I talked to her.

ZAHN: And what a fine example he set.

Dennis, you were on the 8th floor a couple hours later when this happened. Describe to us, what you heard at first, and then later, what you saw.

SCHEIB: Well, actually I was on the 5th floor and went up to the 8th floor by Judge Barnes' courtroom. I walked by there probably a few minutes before it happened. And then I walked down the hall to Judge Brogden (ph) was in 8E. And Judge Brogden (ph) started to call his calendar.

And then as he was in the middle of, just started to call his calendar, a deputy ran by and indicated there's been a shooting. They had their guns out, and they said everybody stay in the courtroom.

And then about 6 or 7 minutes later, they came back and said Judge Barnes has been shot. And then they said, stay in the courtroom.

And so, we were basically left in there not knowing where any perpetrator is. It's another example of the not having a plan. So, we had nobody doing security any security in there, so if the perpetrator would have been in the building, come back through, we could have ended up being hostages. And none of us had a gun.

It wasn't really a good scenario for anybody. They had no plan. I mean, deputies are running around. And I know they're shorthanded and they want to go ahead and find a perpetrator, that's fine. But they left 40, 50 people in a courtroom, the perpetrator is somewhere in the building and nobody guarding us and want us to stay in there. And people were walking in and out of the courtroom.

So, we were basically left in a helpless scenario. And I didn't have my gun with me. It was out in my car.

ZAHN: And of course, we mentioned, you're an experienced former law enforcement officer, so you would have probably known what to do in that situation.

Dennis Scheib, thank you for sharing your story with us tonight. And we're very sorry about what your community is going through.

SCHEIB: I am, too.

ZAHN: Good luck, sir.

The dangerous hunt meanwhile continues for the man behind today's senseless violence. Coming up next, why the suspect snapped.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do think that in his mind he knew he was going to be convicted this time. And so I think that he was seeking revenge to the criminal justice system. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Coming up, the horrifying crimes Brian Nichols is accused of committing. And the desperate search for him.

And then a little bit later on, a judge who hopes for the best but packs a gun, just in case.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back to our special, "Judges Under the Gun." Who is Brian Nichols, the suspect in the Atlanta courtroom terror that left three people dead earlier today and one seriously wounded? Our Tony Harris reports Nichols left an intimidating impression on jurors.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TONY HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The him is Brian Nichols. Take a close look at this mugshot, then listen to two jurors from the two Nichols trials describe the eyes of Brian Nichols.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every time -- every time when he was looked up, you saw him looking at our reactions, and he made us a little nervous, we always kind of looked the other way.

HARRIS: Then there's this from the jury foreperson in Nichols' first trial, which ended in a hung jury.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brian Nichols was desperate, should not be convicted of these crimes. He ignored his own defense attorney and sat there and looked us all in the eye and told his story.

HARRIS: Nichols' own defense attorney says he saw none of these looks at the jury, but he did see how things were going for his client.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it was going very well. This was the second trial. There had been another trial about two weeks ago, that ended in a hung jury. It was actually 8-5 for acquittal. This particular time, the state had made sure that it was filling any holes that existed in the first trial. And I thought that they had -- they were presenting a much more muscular case than they had presented the first time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do think that in his mind, he knew he was going to be convicted this time. And so I think that he was just seeking revenge to the criminal justice system.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't get the sense that he could be violent until Thursday morning, when we were told by Judge Barnes that Mr. Nichols had secreted two metal objects in his shoes.

HARRIS: But Barry Hazen (ph), who was late to court this morning, says the talk of security was apparently just that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After Judge Barnes said there would be beefed up security in the courtroom, there was one additional female deputy in the courtroom. That was all.

HARRIS: And what about the judge? Was there anything that could have provoked Nichols?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought that Judge Barnes was giving him a very fair trial, and when there were objections that were made that could have gone one way or another way, they usually went Brian's way.

HARRIS: Barry Hazen (ph) says Nichols is very, very smart. And one more thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not my client anymore.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: I guess we shouldn't be too surprised to hear that. That was Tony Harris reporting for us. Once again, Brian Nichols was going to be on trial for raping and kidnapping his ex-girlfriend.

It has been nearly 12 hours since the shooting. So far, no signs of the suspect. Authorities are offering a $60,000 reward. They do believe he could still be in the Atlanta area, even though there is now a three-state search for him. Please stay with us throughout the hour and join CNN later tonight for "Justice Under Fire," a special edition of "NEWSNIGHT" with Aaron Brown.

But just ahead, when it comes to courthouse violence, Atlanta's far from alone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God! (UNINTELLIGIBLE). They killed him!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Next, unforgettable scenes, a day of rage at a Texas courthouse, which we will revisit.

Plus, a judge who makes enemies and has lived with death threats for years.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And welcome back to our special hour here on "Judges Under Fire." You are looking at a live picture of I-85, just outside of Atlanta. A main thoroughfare there, where if you look closely at your screen, you'll see a sign the drivers who are going through this area are seeing right now, giving a description of this man in the right part of your screen, Brian Nichols, a suspect in the killing of three earlier today, Atlanta courthouse, three people killed, one left wounded. This after the judge who was killed had actually warned a prosecutor in the case against him and his defense attorney that if this man was eventually convicted, he could be dangerous.

He is driving a green Honda Accord, which he carjacked earlier today, although police do believe at this hour, he could still be in the Atlanta area. They have a tri-state search for him just in case that isn't the case.

And today, those killings of the judge and two other people in Atlanta are chilling reminders of another courthouse shooting just two weeks ago in Tyler, Texas. But out of that tragedy, Tyler gained a hero.

Sean Callebs reports on the day a bitter domestic dispute led to a fatal courthouse gun battle.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 911.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Five shots at the courthouse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's about to shoot somebody.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's shooting at the courthouse?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At the courthouse, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Shots fired outside a Tyler, Texas courthouse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). He's still shooting. Get away from the window!

CALLEBS: Sheriff's deputies scrambled to respond.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is a policeman coming out by the back door. I think one might have been hit. He's on the ground.

CALLEBS: Police say it's the work of an enraged David Arroyo, who was battling his ex-wife over child custody issues.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Automatic weapon, he is at the back door shooting at these people.

CALLEBS: Arroyo, strapped with body armor and brandishing an assault rifle, kills his former wife, shoots his son, and critically wounds a deputy. By all accounts, the death toll would be greater but one man without a badge grabbed a gun and ran into the crossfire.

His name is Mark Wilson. Those who know him want it known he wasn't a gun-toting Texas cowboy. A number of years ago, Wilson opened an indoor shooting range in Tyler, to promote gun safety. It's now owned by Dr. Scott Lieberman (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People always talk about the fact that there is this, you know, this Texas myth. We saw, you know, the birth of yet another Texas legend. CALLEBS (on camera): For nearly nine years, this was Mark Wilson's home. Friends said he liked to think of the town square down there as his front yard.

On February 24th, he had just finished lunch when he popped back into his apartment for a quick moment when the shooting started. He ran into the bedroom, grabbed his .45, left the gun case on the nightstand, and ran downstairs so quickly he left the front door open.

(voice-over): Witnesses say Wilson, who was licensed to carry a gun, sprinted down the street. He was able to shoot the gunman several times, but David Arroyo, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, was unfazed.

As Mark Wilson confronted the gunman on the town square, this is how the drama played out inside the courthouse. Windows shatter as officers exchange fire with the gunman. And on the second floor, a capital murder trial is interrupted by the sound of weapons being fired.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay down! Stay down!

JUDGE CYNTHIA STEVENS KENT: When the shooting occurred, there was a great deal, of course, of confusion as to what actually was happening and where it was occurring.

CALLEBS: In the back of the courtroom, Judge Cynthia Stevens Kent is ushered to safety. She calls herself a Texas judge through and through. And says protection is a life and death matter.

KENT: I carry a Smith & Wesson 38 revolver. A lot of the judges do carry personal protection. Of course, this is Texas, OK. And in Texas, I'm a second amendment gal. I like the revolver.

CALLEBS: The judge had reason to be concerned. Stevens Kent says she had word a dramatic breakout attempt by the suspect in the murder trial was in the offing. And when the gunfire started, she neared the worst.

Even though the gunman on the square wasn't targeting court officials, deputies believe security within the building kept David Arroyo at bay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As officers taken position here. If we did not have these measures in place, I believe that Mr. Arroyo would have came inside the courthouse to carry out his plan. And his plan was to inflict as much damage and pain as possible.

CALLEBS: Arroyo turned, killed Wilson, then sped away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god!

CALLEBS: A short time later, Arroyo died in a shootout with authorities. Police say Mark Wilson's bravery saved lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't surprise me that he would do this. He would never even think about it. It was automatic. I think Mark had probably played this scenario out in his mind many times. He knew if he was even confronted with this, he would handle it.

CALLEBS: Chaos outside the courthouse, 2 people dead, several others wounded. Deputies say it could have been a lot worse had the gunman gotten into the well secured building.

Officers stationed at the entrance, X-ray machines, metal detectors. In this day and age, they almost seem necessities where court is held, but they are far from common place.

KENT: I'd say probably 60 percent or more of the courthouses in the country do not have security.

CALLEBS: Investigators say this first line of defense paid dividends two weeks ago during the shootout. And it's done a great job of weeding out the number of weapons that could get into the courthouse.

(on camera): I'm surprised someone would walk into a courthouse with something like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They do. And that could be very damaging.

KENT: Taking the defendant to the ground, they pull their gun and keep him secure.

CALLEBS: Simply put, Judge Stevens Kent says the nature of legal proceedings dictate there is one winner and one loser and the outcome can spur strong emotion and violence. And after watching a man she says was prepared war open fire, the judge has a warning for cities and towns where courthouses remain vulnerable.

KENT: It really is a wake-up call for a lot of communities that feel very safe.

CALLEBS: Justice after all, should be blind, she says, not feel threatened. And courthouses should not be killing fields that claim the lives of men like Mark Wilson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Sean Callebs reporting. The people of Tyler have set up several funds to help the families of the victims.

(AUDIO GAP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Around Atlanta, traffic signs carry warnings to be on the look-out for the courthouse shooting suspect. There is a tri-state search on tonight. Also, a $60,000 reward. We'll keep you posted on that search.

Also, I had judge who says the used to wake up in a cold sweat because of threats against her children. First though, just about the quarter before the hour, time to check in with Erica Hill at Headline News. Hi, Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINES NEWS ANCHOR: Hi, Paula.

A look at some of the other headlines at this hour. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the U.S. will offer Iran economic incentives to get Iran to abandon its nuclear program. The U.S. is dropping its opposition to Iran's application for membership in the World Trade Organization, a move Europe had pressed for.

President Bush says Europe and the United States are speaking with one voice when it comes to Iran. And says the free world will not tolerate Iran having a nuclear weapon.

The man who allegedly kidnapped Elizabeth Smart has once again been kicked out of a mental competency trial after he broke into song. This is the fourth time Brian David Mitchell has started singing in court. Mitchell's defense attorney says he is not fit to stand trial for the Smart kidnapping.

And Comp USA has agreed to settle with the government over a rebates complaint. It accused the nation's leading computer retailer of deceiving customers by failing to give out the promised cash rebates. Comp USA has agreed to overhaul its rebate program.

I'm Erica Hill. Paula, we'll turn it back to you.

ZAHN: Erica, I'd like to say I just heard you, but I lost my earpiece there for a moment. Thanks so much.

CNN coverage of the courthouse shootings continues later tonight. A special edition of "NEWSNIGHT WITH AARON BROWN: JUSTICE UNDER FIRE." And next with "LARRY KING LIVE" at the top of the hour.

Ted Rowlands is sitting in for Larry King tonight and quickly gives us a preview from Los Angeles -- Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Paula. As you might imagine, we're going to continue to follow this manhunt for Brian Nichols. We are going to be talking to people that work in the courthouse where the shooting took place today. A judge that works with Rowland Barnes, the judge that was killed.

And we'll also have Nancy Grace on. We all know her from Court TV, and from this program, she worked for 10 years in that very courtroom where this violence took place today. She not only knew the judge well, but also knew the court reporter that was killed. And we will talk to her and get the latest on the case.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Ted.

And Aaron, what do you have for us tonight at 10:00?

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there's lots of layers to all of this. One of the problems that the criminal justice system faces more and more, the fact that witnesses are being threatened and intimidated. In some jurisdiction, they say 75 percent of all witnesses of violent crimes are threatened.

Tonight, we'll look at the problem nationally. And then introduce you to a woman here in New York whose son witnessed a murder and paid for it with his life. His decision to testify cost him his life. You'll meet her and all the latest from Atlanta as well, on the special edition of "NEWSNIGHT" tonight.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Aaron. Thank you, Ted.

Please stay with us and meet an extremely tough judge. She has made some enemies along the way. She was worried, but she was never intimidated in spite of around the clock protection for her and her family. Coming up next, an inspiring story of bravery and doing what's right.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: As you have seen, the terror in Atlanta follows a series of violent incidents involving the legal system. Just last week in Chicago, federal Judge Joan Lefkow came home to find her husband and mother shot to death. Police believe a man she ruled against in court was the killer. He committed suicide Wednesday.

What is it like for a judge to face violent criminals who threaten revenge? Former New York State Supreme Court Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder knows something about that. She has put away dangerous mob figures and gang members, and she has had to live under police protection, so have her children. Judge Snyder joins us now. Welcome.

LESLIE CROCKER SNYDER, FORMER NY STATE SUP. COURT JUDGE: Thank you.

ZAHN: We have been concentrating on these stories tonight of judges under fire, other courtroom personnel under fire all across the nation. In the end, do you think you are going to have to have 24- hour-a-day police protection for all judges in America?

SNYDER: No, not at all. I think unfortunately, when you do certain kinds of cases, with violent gangs or extreme hate groups, there should be a lot of extra precautions taken. The problem is that if you get someone who is mentally disturbed, you can never really know when someone like that is going to go off. But I think the judges have to be given enough protection, as I was, so they can continue their work, and the criminal justice system can function.

So for example, I had the New York City Police Department moved in. They didn't tell me, they did a threat analysis, and then they provided this massive protection that enabled me to continue my work.

ZAHN: When you say they moved in, what does that mean for you? What did that mean for your family?

SNYDER: Well, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) into my apartment, I'm sorry... ZAHN: No, but there was a point when your children had police protection. You had children going to school with New York police officers?

SNYDER: That's right. Well, it was intrusive to a certain point, but I could not have continued my work without their incredible proactive -- their analysis, they're assessing exactly what went on, they protected all of us. How can you do your work if you think your kids might be killed? So thanks to them and an incredibly supportive family -- my family was like, mom, you have got to put the bad guys away if they are guilty. They were just absolutely incredible.

ZAHN: But they had to be frightened, and you had to be frightened on a certain level.

SNYDER: I was frightened for them. I would wake up at 3:00 in the morning in a cold sweat worrying about the kids. My husband was very encouraging, I mean, he was -- the police department is protecting us, they're a great police department, we have faith in the New York City Police Department. And...

ZAHN: Certainly. But your children didn't choose this profession, you did?

SNYDER: Exactly. And that's when the guilt starts really hitting you.

ZAHN: When did you feel the most under siege? When were you truly afraid?

SNYDER: 3:00 in the morning, worrying about the kids.

ZAHN: Besides that, though, was there a particular case that made you feel more vulnerable than others?

SNYDER: Well, the Wild Cowboys. Yes, the Wild Cowboys was really the worst case. They had ordered 40 people killed, they were ultimately convicted of killing 10 people, they were a massive violent drug gang. And they had no morals, I mean, there wasn't going to be any issue about killing a judge.

ZAHN: A lot of folks don't know who the Wild Cowboys are.

SNYDER: Yes, it was drug gang that employed -- it was set up like a legitimate business, but it was an illegal business. They just killed anyone who got in their way, killed witnesses, had their rivals killed, killed innocent people in crossfire.

ZAHN: And these are these guys on trial right here?

SNYDER: That's right. And even to the end, when I sentenced them, they would just make obscene gestures, laugh. I had them under good control, but in fact, one thing that happened during the trial, one of them almost escaped during lunch hour, and we kept it quiet, because there are security breeches. And I had great security in the courthouse. And there's better and better security in New York City. ZAHN: There are some new details emerging from this case in Atlanta today. The judge apparently telling the prosecution that this guy, Brian Nichols, if convicted -- actually told his defense attorney as well -- that he could be a dangerous man and a conviction could lead to some pretty bad stuff. And he promised increased security.

SNYDER: Well, I heard that the increased security never really happened in any significant degree. What would happen in New York is that both court security and the police department would move in, do an assessment, and they would do the right thing.

ZAHN: Well, we're delighted you did the right thing and stood tall. Thank you, Judge Snyder, for joining us tonight.

When we come back, the very latest developments in the manhunt for a killer. You're looking at a live picture of I-85 in Atlanta, where drivers are being given a description of this man, Brian Nichols, and the car he's driving, a green Honda Accord. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: As the manhunt continues tonight for Brian Nichols, the suspect in the Atlanta courthouse shootings, let's get straight to David Mattingly for the very latest. David, where do law enforcement think they are at this hour?

MATTINGLY: Paula, the search still very active in the Atlanta area tonight. Police here going by the book, concentrating on the locations and the individuals that Nichols was known to be close to. At the same time, they are providing security to participants in this case, to the lawyers and to the witnesses alike, if they need it, providing them with a level of security that they probably didn't have 12 hours ago when this rampage occurred.

ZAHN: There is now a $60,000 reward being offered. How fruitful do law enforcement think that might be?

MATTINGLY: Well, it's more a matter of getting to the public and letting them know that their help is needed. But at the same time, officials are letting everyone know that this is not a suspect that they need to be messing with, so their weapon of choice, they say, needs be the telephone. If they have a tip, to call it in.

ZAHN: Just 20 seconds left here, David. How afraid are people in Atlanta tonight?

MATTINGLY: There is some trepidation. People maybe paying more attention to their surroundings. But they are very aware of what's going on here.

ZAHN: David Mattingly, thanks so much for the update. And thank you all for joining us for our special tonight. We'll be back same time, same place Monday night. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next.

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