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Panel Discusses Atlanta Courthouse Shootings

Aired March 14, 2005 - 21:00   ET


ASHLEY SMITH: He said, what do you want to read? Well, I said, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), so I went and got it. I got a Bible and I got a book called "The Purpose-Driven Life."

Then after I started to read to him, I guess he saw my faith and what I really believed. And I told him I was a child of God and that I wanted to do God's will. I guess he began to want to.


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, faith gave Ashley Smith the courage to get through her hostage ordeal with the courthouse killer suspect. Now, learn how with her former pastor for 10 years, Pastor Frank Page. He helped her after her husband was murdered and talked with this extraordinary woman today.

Plus, Dr. Robert Schuller, the renowned minister who mentored Rick Warren, the author of "The Purpose-Driven Life," the bestseller that Ashley Smith read to the suspect, Brian Nichols.

But first, three murder warrants are now filed against Nichols. Authorities say more charges are coming. We'll get all the latest with Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington; Fulton County D.A. Paul Howard; also Dennis Scheib, an attorney who was outside the courtroom when Judge Rowland Barnes was gunned down; Don O'Briant, the local reporter allegedly carjacked -- he was carjacked and pistol-whipped by the alleged suspect; and Chris Pixley, the defense attorney at work today in the same courthouse where the shootings took place. They're all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

KING: We are also expecting momentarily a statement by Ashley Smith. She's in Augusta, Georgia. As soon as that comes up, we'll go to her. We'll begin with Chief Richard Pennington, Atlanta's chief of police.

Was this the worst weekend of your life?

CHIEF RICHARD PENNINGTON, ATLANTA POLICE: Well, I can say it's probably been the most dramatic weekend in my police career. I've had some pretty devastating things that happened to me throughout my police career, but I think this is probably one of the most devastating events.

KING: How, Chief, in retrospect, did he manage to elude so many people? PENNINGTON: Well, I think when you look what he did, you have to give him credit. He was pretty cunning. He had the ability to elude us, and he was very evasive. He had the ability to carjack or attempt to carjack at least four different individuals. So immediately he put us on notice that he was trying to get out of town or elude us by driving away from the scene.

And then he doubled back and parked the vehicle inside a parking garage, moved it down one level and then he exited the garage by going up to and catching the MARTA train up to the Lenox Mall. And so he also kind of threw us off a little bit. And I think when he approached Mr. O'Briant, he indicated -- he asked for directions to Lenox Mall.

But we know for a fact that he knew where it was anyway. He's been living in Atlanta a long time. So we think that that was the initial step for him to approach Mr. O'Briant. And so everything that he did, he was quite cunning, and he had us looking in the wrong places for about 10 or so hours. And so we were able to -- once we discovered the car, we started to get on the trail.

KING: And using the train and shopping centers, when you use least-expected places, you're less allowed to be -- you're less -- probably less that you're going to be noticed, right?

PENNINGTON: Well, that's -- absolutely. And Larry, you have to remember that we thought -- based on all the information that we received, we thought he was in that Honda, and we thought that he was going to elude us by leaving the city of Atlanta and probably going to another state or far away from the crime scene. So we had no reason to believe that he would have gone toward the MARTA train station.

And so all of our lookouts were for that Green Honda, and we were looking throughout the city. We had all the exits covered. We had 75, 20, Interstate 20, Interstate 75, all the major thoroughfares throughout the city of Atlanta covered. But he was cunning enough and shrewd enough to walk right over to the metro station, MARTA station, and get a train and elude us.

KING: As a suspect, this is an unusual case, isn't it, with no prior record?

PENNINGTON: Yes, this is a very unusual case. No prior major felonies. No signs of being violent in terms of shooting or killing anyone. And just the mere fact that he maliciously went into that courtroom and shot the judge and the court reporter and then also killing a deputy sheriff, this is quite unusual in an incident like this.

KING: Chief, one other thing, what changes will occur at courthouses and the like because of this?

PENNINGTON: Well, Larry, first of all, people think that the courthouse comes under my jurisdiction. It really does not. It comes under the sheriff's jurisdiction of Fulton County. But I'm going to work with Sheriff Freeman. He's putting together a task force so we can help him develop new procedures, best in class procedures in terms of court security. We're going to work extremely well with him. I think it's time to make sure that that courthouse is safe and we don't ever have to experience this type of tragedy again in life because innocent people were killed.

And our number one priority right now is to keep that courthouse safe. Our second priority is to critique this entire incident and see what we did right, what we did wrong, admit the things that we did wrong and then try to make sure that we rectify those things in the future.

KING: Thank you, Chief.

PENNINGTON: Thank you for having me.

KING: Chief Richard Pennington, Atlanta's chief of police. Let's check in in Atlanta with Don O'Briant, the reporter with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who was carjacked and pistol-whipped.

Where were you, what happened, Don?

DON O'BRIANT, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: Well, I had just arrived for work and parked in my parking space, and an SUV pulled in beside me with the suspect driving without a shirt. But since there was a basketball tournament in town, fans show up in all kinds of attire. I wasn't too suspicious.

He asked me for directions to Lenox Square Mall. And as I was giving him directions, he walked around the back of his car and as he got to the rear of my car, he pulled the gun and said, give me your keys. I hesitated a moment, then he said, give me your keys or I'll kill you.

Well, I gave him my keys thinking this was a routine carjacking and he would take my car and leave. Well, instead, he opened the trunk of the car and told me to get in. And when I refused, he threatened me again. And I took a step backward. And then he hit me, and when I fell to the ground, I scrambled to my feet and tried to make it to the street, expecting to be shot at any moment.

But he never shot, and I managed to get to a reporter on the street that was heading to work and he said that there had been a similar carjacking a block away and the police were there questioning a woman. And that's when I gave them the description of the car.

KING: You didn't know about any manhunt going on?

O'BRIANT: No, I would have been terrified enough as it is, if I'd known he already allegedly killed some people.

KING: Why did you refuse to get into the trunk?

O'BRIANT: Well, I review books for the paper. I read enough mystery novels and enough true crime novels to know that this is not a good thing. Once you're in the trunk, you're at their mercy.

KING: All right. Now this was a fellow on the lam. What was his attitude? Was he scared?

O'BRIANT: He was the coolest character I'd ever seen. I mean, you would think someone who had just carjacked a couple of cars and killed people would have been shaking and nervous. But, no, he was very calm and knew exactly what he was doing.

KING: In retrospect now, are you surprised to learn that this is a man without any prior criminal record?

O'BRIANT: I am. I don't know his entire background, but this is very surprising.

KING: Chris Pixley, the famed Atlanta-based defense attorney who is with Don O'Briant there in the Georgia Capitol, you worked today at that courthouse, right?


KING: What was it like there today?

PIXLEY: Well, you know, it's interesting. I had to be there shortly after 9:00 a.m. this morning. With the exception of the photographers and the cameras at the front entrance, Larry, the screening process functioned just as it always has. I think if there was a difference at the courthouse today, it was once you got inside.

The effect that this event has had on the courthouse personnel and the judges, that was very apparent. At one point today, I had to be in the clerk's office. There was a lot of emotion there, very open emotion. The judges -- the judge that I had to see today, very agitated. And I can tell you that at midday today, the judges had a memorial for Judge Barnes. So it was a day of business but it was also a day of mourning at the Fulton County Court.

KING: We'll take a break and we'll be right back. If Ashley Smith begins her statement in Augusta, we'll cut out a commercial and go right to it. I'll be right back, don't go away.


SMITH: He asked me what I thought he should do. And I said, I think you should turn yourself in. If you don't turn yourself in -- this is what I said, if you don't turn yourself in, lots more people are going to get hurt.



KING: Before we get back with our panel, there's the scene in Augusta, Georgia, where Ashley Smith will shortly speak, as you can well see, she's not there yet.

With us is Don O'Briant, reporter with the Atlanta Journal- Constitution. He was carjacked and pistol-whipped by the alleged -- or the suspect, Brian Nichols, he's alleged to have done the crime. He is the suspect. Chris Pixley is the Atlanta-based defense attorney who worked today at the Fulton County Courthouse. Also with us, I believe, is Paul Howard, the Fulton Country district attorney; and Dennis Scheib, defense attorney who was near Judge Barnes' courtroom when the shooting occurred; and long-time friend of Judge Barnes; and court reporter Julie Brandau.

Is Paul Howard available? Is Dennis Scheib available? Neither one is available? One of those days.

Chris Pixley, if you were asked to defend him, would you?

PIXLEY: It's interesting, Larry, I mean, I think the answer is yes. He deserves a defense. I think this is a situation that's just so bizarre. I will tell you that I don't think that there is any possible way, given the number of witnesses that there are going to be against Brian Nichols, given the forensic evidence.

Remember, you're going to have the guns that will be tied to the bullets. There's just really no way to successfully defend this case if you're thinking of success in terms of an acquittal.

The question that I have, having heard Ashley Smith's statement yesterday is whether there is really any chance for Brian Nichols to escape the death penalty. And for any counsel that is hired, that is really going to be the challenge, and that's going to be the focus.

I think Ashley Smith, and there's a lot of suggestion out there that Ashley Smith somehow gives him an insanity defense. I don't see that at all. He clearly knew what he was doing. He knew right from wrong. He put a towel over her head at one point in time, didn't want her to see him in the shower, did a lot of things that showed that he had his faculties and wits about him, which includes the fact that he told her he didn't want to kill anyone else.

But I do think that she helps him in terms of humanizing him. And it's amazing to me that a woman with that kind of inner strength was not only able to save herself, but saved Brian Nichols as well and God knows how many other countless other people from injury in this rampage.

So I think the focus, though, will be on the death penalty. I know Paul Howard will go for the death penalty in this case. There's no question about that. And I think there's a real possibility that Brian Nichols may plead guilty and go straight to the penalty phase.

KING: For Don O'Briant, could he try to plea bargain and plead guilty, save the court all the time and money and do life?

O'BRIANT: It's hard for me to say. When you see what he did -- allegedly did to the judge and other innocent people, I think the sentiment is going to be very strong for the death penalty.

KING: Do you favor it, Don, personally in this case?

O'BRIANT: I'm not going to speak about this case. I favor it in general. KING: You do favor it in general?


KING: What's your reaction to -- you're an Atlantan, you write for a paper, to the way this was handled by the whole justice system?

O'BRIANT: I think everyone tried their best. I'm still a little puzzled why the garage wasn't searched after I reported the car missing, because I think the cashier -- there was only one exit at the garage. And I think the cashier was asked if she had seen the Honda exit, and she said, no, I believe. And if that was the case, they would have assumed that the car was still in the garage.

KING: Chris Pixley, what do you make of this whole -- what do you make of him?

PIXLEY: Of Don O'Briant? We've been talking...


PIXLEY: Oh, I'm sorry. Of Brian Nichols.

KING: Of the suspect.

PIXLEY: Brian Nichols is really going to be, I think, a mystery. And probably the biggest challenge of the Fulton D.A. is going to be to try to solve that mystery swiftly for the jury and make sure that no one forgets about the gruesomeness of the crime.

The mystery that I'm referring to is the fact that, as you mentioned, Larry, this is a man with absolutely no criminal history to speak of and certainly no serious criminal history, someone that was well educated, someone that came from a middle class background and someone that had a lot to live for. And, of course, ultimately in the end, someone who seemed to be capable of reason and being reasoned with.

So, you know, on the one hand, I think as defense counsel, and at least there is defense counsel already in place for the rape charges -- of course, that matters because he's under indictment currently and that's why the Fulton D.A. doesn't have to rush to charge him immediately. But his defense counsel is really going to have to focus on this other side of his personality, the good side, to try to escape the death penalty. And it's going to be a hard fight.

KING: I believe in the rape trial, Chris, they declared it a hung jury today, a mistrial.

PIXLEY: Stephanie Manus (ph) is the judge in the superior court that took over, did declare it a mistrial today. But he is still under indictment. And of course, the question is, will they pursue those charges? I think for the woman who was raped, she still has a right to her day in court. But more importantly, as a procedural matter, this gives them a reason to hold him in Fulton County until they take the indictments. And that's an important procedural matter. KING: We hope to hear from the district attorney and the defense attorney in a moment. We hope to hear from Ashley Smith as well, who intends to make a statement. We'll all get to all of that when we get right back.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 9:00 a.m. Friday, Fulton County Courthouse in downtown Atlanta, 6'1" Brian Nichols overpowers 51-year- old Fulton Country Sheriff's Deputy Cynthia Hall. He grabs her gun, she is critically injured.



KING: Joining us now at the Fulton County Superior Court is, Paul Howard, the Fulton County district attorney.

And Dennis Scheib, defense attorney, was near Judge Barnes courtroom when the shooting occurred. A long-time friend of the judge, as well as the court reporter, Julie Brandau, who was also killed.

Paul Howard, it's been said by Chris Pixley, defense attorney, that you are definitely going for the death penalty. Is that true?

PAUL HOWARD, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Larry, what we're going to do, is we're going to follow our normal procedure, review the case in it's...

KING: Hold on one second, Paul. Paul, hold on one second. Ashley Smith is going to make a statement in Augusta. We're going to carry that statement, and the get right back to you.

Here is Ashley Smith in Augusta, Georgia as she approaches the cameras and microphones there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... and I represent Ashley Smith. Ashley is going to make a statement tonight, and after she makes a statement, she requests that there be no questions. We thank you in advance for honoring that request.

SMITH: I want to thank everyone for their prayers and support over the last several days. I also want to extend my deepest sympathies to the families of Judge Barnes, Julie Ann Brandau, Deputy Teasley and Special Agent Wilhelm, as well as my prayers for Deputy Hall, who is fighting for her life right now in the hospital.

As I'm sure you can imagine, this event has been extremely difficult and exhausting for me and my extended family. I've experienced just about every emotion one could imagine in the span of just a few days. Throughout my time with Mr. Nichols, I continued to rely on my faith in God. God has helped me through tough times before, and he'll help me now. I hope that you'll respect my need to rest and to focus my immediate attention on helping legal authorities proceed with their various investigations. It's natural to focus on the conclusion of any story, but my role was really very small in the grand scheme of things. The real heroes are the judicial and law enforcement officials who gave their lives and those who risked their lives to bring this to an end.

Thank you for your prayers, and may God bless you all.

KING: That was the statement by Ashley Smith in Augusta, Georgia. And obviously we will not be hearing here -- for her for a while. And obviously, finally showing a great deal of emotion that she had not shown before.

Paul Howard, she said she'd be cooperating with the legal authorities.

What will her value be in the prosecution?

HOWARD: Well, she's going to be a very important witness for us, because she, actually, was able to have a conversation with the defendant. Based upon what she has said so far, he told her about several details of the crime. He -- she can also testify and point out his demeanor when he approached her, the calmness and deliberate way in which this crime was carried out. So this woman, who is very heroic and whom I have a tremendous respect for, she's going to be one of our most important witnesses.

KING: Paul Howard, if the defense came to you, just hypothetically, and said listen, "We'll take a plea for life in prison and save you all the time of court trials and the like," would you think about it?

HOWARD: Well, what I would tell him is, is that's why the courthouse is here. We're here to work, to have trials, and so we're really aren't interested in saving the time. What we're interested in, is see to make sure that justice is rendered. So, I'd probably say no to that offer.

KING: So, does that mean you are definitely going to go for the death penalty?

HOWARD: No, it doesn't. As I said, Larry, we are going to do is, is we are going to review the case in its totality. Once we do that, I'm going to have conversations with the families involved in this matter, the families involved with murder victims. After that conversation, we'll then make an announcement about our decision regarding the death penalty.

KING: Paul, we've asked others, would you agree this is a puzzling defendant without any violent prior record to have acted this way?

HOWARD: Well, it's not -- not puzzling in the sense that in many cases that we now see, Larry, it's difficult to figure out why defendants will do some of the things that they do. In fact, sometimes you wonder over and over what has motivated them or caused them to commit crimes. And so in that sense, he is not puzzling to us. And what we are looking at is what he did and what we can prove, the crimes that he committed. And so when we look at that, it really takes away this whole question of whether or not he's puzzling.

KING: So you have to approach it matter of fact.

HOWARD: That's correct. We want to look at it deliberately, very much like the deliberate manner in which he carried out these cases. And so we're not going to probably get side tracked with a lot of questions about the why this defendant, at this particular time, decide to do commit these actions.

KING: Dennis Scheib, what happened? Where were you?

DENNIS SCHEIB, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I had just gotten off, actually, the elevator to the eight floor, and I was, actually, in front of Judge Barnes' courtroom, and then I proceeded around to the right to go to a different judge. And I probably was 30 or 40 feet away, actually, when he was in the judge's chambers. I was up there just a couple of minutes before 9:00, went to another judge.

The judge called a calendar, got a few defendants and the deputies come running in with their guns out indicating somebody had been shot. And so they told everybody to stay in the courtroom. And the deputies left and came back about six or seven minutes later and indicated that Judge Barnes had been shot. And told everybody to stay there and we stayed there for a while.

KING: How well did you know him, Dennis?

SCHEIB: I met him about 18-and-half-years-ago. I had a civil case involving a police officer. Him and I worked on the civil case for probably -- maybe two, two and a half years. I got to know him quite well during the civil case. And got to know that he was a very nice man and very much a character. And he was a magistrate, and I got to know him as a judge, part-time judge down in Union City. And then when he was sworn in 1998, I proceeded to have a better relationship with him as a Superior Court judge. And at one time I even employed his daughter. And his daughter worked for me for a period of time.


KING: Have you tried cases -- have you tried cases before him?

SCHEIB: I'm sorry?

KING: Have you tried cases before him?

SCHEIB: Yes, I actually tried -- I did several pleas before him. I tried a bench trial before him about a year and a half ago, and we did a bench trial, because I had that much faith in him. And the results was pretty good. My client was a -- had some problems, and the judge could see some of the problems, but he gave me a better deal than the district attorney's office did. So, he did a bench trail, it worked out quite well.

KING: What about Julie Brandau, how well did you know her, the court reporter?

SCHEIB: I knew her pretty well. I knew -- I met her daughter a couple years ago. And knew Julie as a court reporter there. She'd always bring everybody food, and she was very nice. I knew some situations that she had gone through. And she was very, very nice. Always bringing food up and always smiling to -- had a smile for everybody.

KING: We're going to take a break, come back, reintroduce the whole panel, Paul, Dennis, Don and Chris. Taking even some calls and then we'll meet Pastor Frank Page and Reverend Robert Schuller.

CNN has obtained some of the police scanner activity around the time that the hostage, Ashley Smith, made the 911 call. You can also hear police talking about suspect Brian Nichols as he's about to give himself up. Here's some of that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The suspect's coming out with his hands up. He's got a white towel.

Suspect is laying down in front of the doorway of the apartment. He's about six feet out. His hands are clear. No visible weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Confirmed his name is Brian Nichols.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be advised what we have here is an abduction of this young lady. She was able to escape from the apartment. It is a confirmed, positive ID of our subject. He was in the apartment when she left, has not made contact since, so he could be on the ground, in the apartment or anywhere.


KING: Of course, I just suppose you heard them reporting him coming out of the apartment, but that was part of the police scanner activity. Our panel, Paul Howard, the Fulton County district attorney. It will be his responsibility to handle this case. Dennis Scheib, the defense attorney, a close friend of two of the victims. Don O'Briant, the reporter with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who was carjacked and pistol-whipped by the suspect. And Chris Pixley, the Atlanta-based defense attorney who worked today at the Fulton County Courthouse.

Safe to assume, Paul, that this reward should go to Ashley Smith? HOWARD: From what I know at this point, Larry, she seems to be the person who certainly deserves it. Of course, we're still talking to the police, but at this point, she rightfully should get that money.

KING: Dennis Scheib, is it true that you warned the courthouse about violence some time ago and if so, why?

SCHEIB: Well, about two years ago in March, I wrote a letter actually to The Daily Report, which the judges get, the lawyers get. And I indicated that there were some bad security problems. I actually found -- observed a deputy going into a caged area where there were other inmates. She walked in there with a gun. And I grabbed her by her gun belt and said, what are you doing? And she said she needed to go ahead and get one of the inmates. And I said, you don't go in there with a gun.

And I've observed -- I used to be a police officer for 13 years, and so I'm very familiar with procedures in the courthouse. And I've observed many deputies breach what I think is just proper security. They've walked too close to inmates with guns. They go into areas where there's inmates with guns. And they're just -- they have too many inmates to go ahead and deal with.

They have some great deputy sheriffs here, without a doubt. It's just they do not have enough to do the job. And so there's a lot of security breaches and a lot of problems. I'm surprised this didn't happen -- and I said two years ago, something is going to happen down the road. You're going to have a serious problem. And unfortunately, it did.

KING: Chris Pixley, does that mean they're not spending enough money?

PIXLEY: It does, Larry. And in fact, the Fulton Sheriff's Department is taking a lot of heat for this, and in some respects, for good reason. But something that needs to be remembered is, of course, there are always so many actors involved in decisions over personnel and hiring and funding.

And the finger has been pointed at the Fulton County Commission for the past several years over whether or not they were providing the funding to the sheriff's department to hire the people that were needed not only for courthouse security, but for the Fulton County Jail. It has been a well-documented problem here in the Fulton Country. And in turn, the finger has also been pointed at the state.

And interestingly enough, the legislature today of Georgia decided that they're going to take up this issue of courthouse security. And when and if they do, they may be deciding to provide some funding, some much-needed funding. The question will be, are they going to be providing that funding to every county throughout the state, and where will that money come from? It is a big problem here in Atlanta, Georgia.

KING: Don O'Briant, would you say the obvious, that this is always hindsight?

O'BRIANT: Yes, I think maybe we can save some lives in the future, but yes, I think funding and better procedures are necessary.

KING: For example, Don, just as a citizen, did you ever think about courthouse security?

O'BRIANT: No, not at all. I try not to go to the courthouse any more than I have to.

KING: What about you, Paul Howard, as the district attorney, were you aware of Don's concerns two years ago?

HOWARD: Well, I think that, Larry, we've got so many prisoners and so many people that are in our court system, even though it's a new building, it's still a rather crowded facility, and we've had incidents in the past. We've had inmates, people that were on trial who actually fled the courthouse before their trials were completed.

So as everyone has said, this has been a problem with our county for quite a while. What I'm hoping is, is that people will put that in the past. I hope they'll let that go. And I hope that they will not allow these deaths to go in vain. I hope that we'll move forward and understand that I don't believe our county residents are going to put up with a lack of security in the future. And whether it's the Georgia legislators or our county commissioners, we've got to get the funding to get this thing right.

KING: I meant to say Dennis' warnings two years ago. Are you confident, Dennis, things are going to change?

SCHEIB: I think they will. I think some of the judges are mad enough. They should have been mad years ago. County commissioners have been put in the hot seat and some of the legislators too. They're going to have to come up with the funding. If not, I talked with a sergeant today, he said, we run 32 courtrooms. We can't keep doing it.

It's just hurting them bad. They have got to get off their fannies and they've got to do something. The judges, the county commissioners, the hierarchy of the sheriff's department -- there's a new sheriff that came in. I mean, a lot of people putting a lot of heat on him. He just came in here. He's not responsible for what's been going on. But I think he's going to do everything he can to get it set right.

And I think with Paul Howard's help and some of the judges getting together and some of these people using the brain power, I think we can get some of this done. If not, they need to close down some courts.

KING: Let's take a call. Lee, Massachusetts. Hello.

CALLER: Hello.

KING: Hi. CALLER: My question -- well, first I'd like to make a comment. I think the academy should hire Ashley Lee (ph) as a negotiator and train her because she did a wonderful job. And is there any question at all about her not receiving the reward money due her, of that $65,000?

KING: I asked that of Paul. Paul, is there any -- who else could possibly get it?

HOWARD: Larry, I don't think there's any question, and I agree with the caller. I think the way that she was able to think on her feet, some of the decisions that she made rival any decisions that I've seen made by experienced law enforcement personnel.

And we really owe her a great deal of gratitude, not only was she able to make it out safely herself, but the people of our county, we wanted an opportunity to try this man, and she was able to deliver him to her. And so I could not think of any other person who would be more deserving of that money.

KING: And the federal government has turned it to you, right, it will be Atlanta prosecuted, right?

HOWARD: That's correct. What the federal prosecutors -- because a federal law enforcement official is involved, they are considering indicting the defendant for that charge on the federal basis. But what they've said is they're going to defer to the state at this time because, of course, we've got the more serious four murder charges. And so we don't expect to have problems with venue in this case.

KING: Denver, Colorado, hello.

CALLER: Hello. Thanks for taking my call. I have two questions here. One is when will Mr. Nichols receive a mental evaluation, and is he currently on suicide watch?

KING: Paul, you want to answer that?

HOWARD: Well, tomorrow he'll appear before a judge for a status hearing, and he'll get his first opportunity, I believe, to meet his new counsel. He was appointed a new lawyer today because, as you know, the lawyer who was involved with the rape case has asked to withdraw. So I think that when that happens, I suspect sometime pretty soon after that we'll get a request for a mental evaluation. And I'm not aware of any medication that he's presently taking.

KING: There's no suicide watch?

HOWARD: At this point, I'm not aware of any suicide watch.

KING: Chris Pixley, do you know the new lawyer?

PIXLEY: No, I don't know -- I haven't heard the name of the lawyer that's been appointed. I assume it's from the Georgia -- Defense Counsel or the Fulton County Public Defender's Office, right now because, of course, Brian Nichols has been without a job for several months now awaiting the trial of his rape case. But I have not seen the name as of yet.

KING: Thank you all very much. We'll be calling on you again as this saga continues.

Paul Howard, the Fulton County district attorney.

Dennis Scheib.

Don O'Briant of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

And Atlanta-based defense attorney, Chris Pixley.

When we come back, two men indirectly involved in the success of this outcome. Pastor Frank Page, who was Ashley Smith's former pastor, talked with her today. And Reverend Robert Schuller, the founding pastor at the Crystal Cathedral who mentored author Rick Warren, whose book, "The Purpose-Driven Life" became part of this story. She read part of that book to the suspect. We'll be right back them don't go away.


SMITH: I told him that I was supposed to see my little girl the next morning at 10:00. And I asked if I could go see her, and he told me, no. My husband died four years ago, and I told him that if he hurt me my little girl wouldn't have a mommy or a daddy. And she was expecting to see me the next morning.




SMITH: And then I got a book called "The Purpose-Driven Life." I turned it to the chapter I was on that day which was, chapter 33. And I started to read the first paragraph of it. It mentioned something about what you thought your purpose in life was, what were you -- what talents were you given, what gifts were you given to use. I asked him what he thought. He said I think that it's to talk to people and tell them, you know, about you.


KING: Joining us from Greenville, South Carolina is Pastor Frank Page, he was hostage Ashley Smith's former pastor. He talked with her today. He baptized her, was her pastor for 10 years. And helped her following her husband's violent death.

And here in Los Angeles, Reverend Robert Schuller, the founding pastor of the famed Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove California. He mentored the author, Rick Warren, whose book "The Purpose-Driven Life," has become part of the courthouse killing story. And Ashley just referred to it there.

First, pastor, she seemed quite emotional tonight, Pastor Page, in her statement. Seemed almost like she was breaking. You talked to her today, do you think she's going to get some rest now?

PASTOR FRANK PAGE, ASHLEY SMITH'S FORMER PASTOR: Well, I hope so, Larry. She is very tired. When I talked to her this afternoon, she wept on the phone with me. I told her I was so proud of her. We talked about what had happened, the conversations she had with Nichols. Yes, she's very, very tired. And I encouraged her to try to get some rest if she can. And she's got some wonderful people who will protect her and help her now. So, I hope she does.

KING: As you know her were you surprised by her actions?

PAGE: I mean, it was a surprise this happened to someone you know well. But already tonight you've heard her point out that this was not really about her. And you've heard her stepfather talk about the wonderful role model she's had in her life. So she's a wonderful young lady. She's been through a rough time. Her journey that life has taken her has been one that's gone through some rough waters. But she just knows that God was using her. And she told me that on the phone that she really felt just God just come inside of her in a powerful way. And she knew that she was speaking the word of the Lord.

KING: Reverend Schuller, how did you come to Pastor Rick Warren, whose book "The Purpose-Driven Life," the major best seller, was referred to?


KING: Yes, how...

SCHULLER: Well, about 38-years-ago, I founded an institute for successful church leadership. And I was trying to tell pastors that they should focus on the needs of people. Focus on the hurts of human beings. Be a mission, don't just be a church pedalling your own doctrine. But really try to be a place where the love of God, and the love of Jesus Christ come through. And he went for a few years, and said, apparently, it impacted him. His (UNINTELLIGIBLE) has about 50,000 (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but this book is fantastic, and I'm just so thrilled that she was a part of it.

KING: Rick Warren was a guest on this program. He wrote "The Purpose-Driven Life" from which Ashley quoted to the suspect. Here's portion of our interview.


REV. RICK WARREN, AUTHOR "THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE": Everybody's life is driven by something. That's why I call this book "The Purpose-Driven Life." Some people are driven by fear. You know, people like this. They're driven by the opinions of others. They live for the expectation of their parent or husband, boyfriend, something like that. Some people are driven by worry. They're driven by guilt. They're driven by shame. Some people are driven by loneliness. And I don't think God wants us -- any of our lives to be driven by these things. I think the bottom line is that we were put on earth for a purpose. Part of that purpose is to know God. And then part of that purpose is to help other people.


KING: Pastor Page, have you read that book?

PAGE: Yes, indeed, I have, and it is a wonderful book. And it speaks about exactly what he said, that God has a special purpose. And Ashley believed that her purpose was to be where she was so she could bring some sense of normalcy and civility to a situation that was out of control. And I think you can see that God did use her and her purpose came out in a mighty way. Here's a person that no one would think would be used, perhaps, in an abnormal way, but God used her in that way. And so, it's a profound manifestation of God's purpose.

KING: And Robert Schuller, to have the purpose of mind to use the book with the suspect in your apartment who you know has killed people.

SCHULLER: Yes, it's phenomenal. I truly believe in God, and I believe God is using people. You know, of the many autographs I have, the one I choose to favor is Mother Teresa, who was a friend of mine. And she wrote a blessing to me. She said, "Dr. Schuller, be only and all for Jesus. Let him use you without consulting you first." That's the key, we have to allow God to use us without consulting us first. And God didn't check with her, would you like to be -- he put her in that position, and she allowed herself to use beautifully.

KING: Pastor Page, she had a husband murdered, she has this event. One would think she might question her faith.

PAGE: There's no doubt that she's gone through some rough times in her life. And there's no doubt that there were sometimes her faith was not as strong as it maybe could have been at some times. But it was always there. And God's been working in her life in the last few years. And she has been growing strong in the Lord. And I think she's been growing toward this time. And you heard even the suspect call her an angel. And indeed, that's -- she was a messenger of God's word to him.

And so, no, her faith is not flagged at all. It's been very strong. It's stronger now than ever. And she said today, she believed that's why she was here.

KING: We see her husband now. He was stabbed to death, right?

PAGE: It was a violent occurrence. It certainly was. And she was there and that was an awful time.

KING: Was it a robbery?

PAGE: I don't remember the specifics. I don't remember all the specifics about it. It was not a good situation, and she suffered greatly through that. But again, she has great family that helped her and loved her through that. And, again, she has come out in a wonderful way to understand that God's mercy is everlasting. It doesn't end during tough times.

KING: And she was there when he was killed?

PAGE: She was, yes.

KING: We'll take a break and be back with more of Pastor Page and Reverend Schuller right after this. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The victim is advising that she is in the apartment at this time. There are three weapons underneath the bed. She is advising he's wanting to turn himself in to us at this time.




SMITH: After we began to talk, and he said he thought that I was an angel sent from God, and that I was his sister and he was my brother in Christ, and that he was lost and God led him right to me to tell him that he had hurt a lot of people and the families of the people, to let him know how they felt because I had gone through it myself.


KING: Pastor Page, she said she was going to see her little girl the next day. Does her daughter live with her?

PAGE: No, she doesn't. She's living right now with her aunt and uncle. But Ashley was to see her that day. She was actually with her mother -- Ashley's mother at that particular moment at a church event where they were to meet that morning.

KING: I see, why doesn't she live with her?

PAGE: As I said, Ashley's gone through some difficult times in her life, and I'd rather not go into any specifics about that. But she is doing much better. And I believe it won't be long before she will have custody again of her daughter.

KING: I see.

PAGE: But she did not...

KING: Is she close with her parents, because we've heard from the grandparents?

PAGE: She is close with her mother and she grew up with her mother and her stepfather who you heard earlier tonight on CNN talking about Ashley's tremendous strength that she's received from her family, great-grandmother and grandfather, but also very close to her aunt and uncle where she is now in Augusta. And they've just been wonderful support to her.

KING: And you expect her to get custody again soon.

PAGE: I think so. I hope so. She's doing very well. And again, one of the scriptures that she quoted today -- excuse me, quoted to the suspect was Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." And she's beginning to believe that more and more and more as the normative strength of her life. And so I feel good about that.

KING: Reverend Schuller, when you hear a story like this, does it reaffirm your faith?

SCHULLER: Oh yes, it does.

KING: And the killings don't cause you to question your faith?

SCHULLER: No, because killings are a part of life. This is a world of human beings. And we are sinful people. Sigmund Freud -- I'm coming out of psychology, Sigmund Freud said to Viktor Frankl, who was one of my teachers, he said, the longer I live, the more I despise the human being. That was Sigmund Freud, privately spoken to Viktor Frankl, who told it to me.

Viktor Frankl's psychiatry was the meaning of life. I learned it from him. We call it "The Purpose-Driven Life." It's seeing the meaning and the purpose of life, and this is about God, and not myself, first of all.

No, the more I live, the longer I live, I'm such a stronger believer in God because I see him using people again and again and again. Think how these people were chosen.

KING: So he used Ashley?

SCHULLER: Oh, absolutely. He set it up. The police didn't set it up. Nobody set it up. It was...

KING: But he didn't set up the killings?

SCHULLER: No, of course not.

KING: That's why some people question.

SCHULLER: Yes. But you focus on the positive, not on the negative.

KING: Thank you, Reverend, as always.

SCHULLER: You're welcome.

KING: Reverend Robert Schuller and Pastor Frank Page, thank you both very much. We'll be devoting a lot more attention to this. And I'll be back in a couple of minutes to tell you about tomorrow night. Don't go away.


KING: One of our guests tomorrow night will be Shania Twain. That should be interesting. We'll cover a lot of other big stories developing as well.

Speaking of big stories, Aaron Brown is on hand. He's about to anchor "NEWSNIGHT." It's a whole special, the whole hour devoted to the occurrences in Atlanta, right, Aaron?



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