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CNN PRESENTS

Encore Presentation: 26 Hours of Terror

Aired March 26, 2006 - 20:00   ET

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


(NEWS BREAK)
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: On March 11, 2005, a stunning escape and murderous rampage happened right here in Atlanta's Fulton County Courthouse. One man terrorized a city for 26 long hours. It's a drama with an ending that's almost too hard to believe. How did it happen? Why did it happen and what about those left behind? I'm Kyra Phillips, you're about to find out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS (voice-over): It should have been a day like any other at the Fulton County Courthouse. Business as usual. It would be anything but.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police are everywhere. Sheriff's deputies flying around. What we know is two people have been shot. One is a deputy. The other we believe may be a judge. This is just a chaotic scene with emergency vehicles flying everywhere.

PHILLIPS: In a span of 12 minutes, a brazen jailbreak, a deadly shooting spree. The terror begins.

March 11, 2005, 33-year-old Brian Nichols is transported from jail to the basement of the county courthouse. Nichols is on trial for a second time in as many weeks on charges of rape, burglary, false imprisonment.

ASH JOSHI, FORMER PROSECUTOR: I was quite confident Brian Nichols knew the trial wasn't going well.

It was the fourth quarter and we were up by a few touchdowns and I think he was concerned.

PHILLIPS: Faced with the very real prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison, police say Nichols takes matters into his own hands, literally.

At 8:49 a.m., he's escorted up to the holding cells on the eighth floor of the new courthouse. There he assaults and overpowers Deputy Cynthia Hall and quickly changes into street clothes. U.S. Marshal Richard Mecum heads the task force investigating the events of this particular morning.

RICHARD MECUM, U.S. MARSHAL: He knocked her out. She had a key on her that unlocked the gun box. And so he unlocked the gun box, which is in the holding cell. And took her gun out, also got her radio.

PHILLIPS: As Nichols makes his break, Judge Rowland Barnes is presiding over a civil matter on the eighth floor of the old courthouse. Court Reporter Julie Brandau is next to him. Attorney Richard Robbins is also in the courtroom. He's never given an on- camera interview about the events of the day, but he did agree to speak with CNN off camera.

RICHARD ROBBINS, ATTORNEY: There was me at the prosecutor's table and three on the other side at the other table. And Julie was the court reporter at the hearing and the judge was on the bench. So it was sort of a typical day in the courtroom up until that point.

PHILLIPS: Prosecutors Gayle Abramson and Ash Joshi are also at the courthouse, preparing to head to Judge Barnes' courtroom for what they hope will be the final day of Brian Nichols' rape trial.

JOSHI: It was a few minutes after 9:00, probably about 9:05. I said, "Gayle, I'm going to go up go ahead and go up to the courtroom. I'll see you there in a few minutes."

GAYLE ABRAMSON, PROSECUTOR: And typically, I would take the stairs, but since I had so much with me, visual aid stuff, I was taking the elevator. And I was running late.

PHILLIPS (on camera): By now, Brian Nichols, armed with Cynthia Hall's handgun is calmly walking away from the holding cells. But instead of easily escaping, he's making his way across this sky bridge to the old courthouse.

MECUM: He had been this route several times, so he knew where to go an how to go. He went from the holding cell up to Judge Barnes' courtroom. He didn't go in the courtroom itself, but went into the judge's chambers.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Once there, Nichols takes several hostages, including another deputy and his gun. He then walks into the eighth floor courtroom where his rape trial is about to begin.

MECUM: From the chambers room, into the courtroom is directly behind the judge's bench. The judge was already on the bench with the court reporter. And when Brian Nichols came through that door, he then shot the judge and the court reporter.

PHILLIPS: Judge Barnes and Julie Brandau are killed instantly. Nichols then turns his attention to the prosecution table. But there were no prosecutors.

Instead, he locks his eyes and his gun on attorney Richard Robbins.

ROBBINS: A lot of thoughts went through my mind. He just killed the judge, now he's going to kill the prosecutor, then he's going to kill everybody else. And I'm sitting at the prosecutor's table. So I decided at that point that I needed to get out of that courtroom and I wasn't going to let him shoot me straight in the chest. PHILLIPS: Robbins, convinced he's about to be shot, breaks for the exit.

ROBBINS: I didn't find that out until a couple of days later, that when I turned around and ran, that distracted him and he ran out after me.

PHILLIPS: Robbins runs across the sky bridge while Nichols ducks into a stairwell. But he's spotted by Sgt. Hoyt Teasley, responding to an alarm.

Teasley chases Nichols as he dashes down seven floors to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Even as Nichols is making his escape, few have any idea of the tragedy unfolding at the courthouse.

JOSHI: People were moving around very fast and I see the judge's case manager and his law clerk hugging each other and crying -- sobbing, real uncontrollable.

PHILLIPS: Judge Barnes' wife, Claudia, also works at the courthouse and remembers all too vividly the chaos that followed the shootings.

(on camera): How did you hear that there was a shooting inside the courthouse?

CLAUDIA BARNES, JUDGE'S WIFE: I had a marshal friend who used to be assigned to our courtroom. I worked for another judge. And he called me and asked me what all the commotion was outside my building. And I said, "Well, you tell me because, you know, you're the guy with the gun."

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Claudia Barnes will soon learn that a judge has been shot on the eighth floor of the old courthouse.

BARNES: One of my good friends came and got me and at that point I knew something was wrong with Rowland. So we went over to his courtroom and they had already taped it off.

PHILLIPS (on camera): They wouldn't even let you in the courtroom?

BARNES: Oh, no.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): In a matter of 12 short minutes, so many lives are changed forever at the Fulton County Courthouse. And it's about to get worse. Brian Nichols is on the loose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Nichols is considered armed and extremely dangerous.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody off the sidewalk! PHILLIPS: 9:00 a.m., the halls of justice are now a crime scene. An area of confusion and fear. Judge Rowland Barnes and Court Reporter Julie Ann Brandau are dead. The alleged killer, Brian Nichols, is fleeing the courthouse. In pursuit, Sgt. Hoyt Teasley. Nearby, Attorney Renee Rockwell steps off the elevator. She hears screams to get out of the building.

RENEE ROCKWELL, ATTORNEY: And I made a joke. I said, what's the matter, did somebody escape?

PHILLIPS: A deputy pulls her back into the elevator. On the way down, she's told the horrifying news.

ROCKWELL: A female deputy just put her hand on the wall and she was crying and I said, what happened? She said, the defendant got the gun and shot the judge. And I said what judge? She said Judge Barnes.

PHILLIPS: By this time, Brian Nichols is on the street Brian Nichols is on the street. Witnesses say he turns, firing several shots. Sgt. Teasley falls. Renee exits the courthouse and sees Deputy Teasley.

ROCKWELL: His eyes were open. He was laying down right here on his side, sort of like this.

PHILLIPS (on camera): Was he moving?

ROCKWELL: No. He was non-responsive. But I think he was alive.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Deputies worked furiously to save Teasley's life.

DEBORAH TEASLEY, SGT. TEASLEY'S WIFE: We just happened to be on break at about 9:00 o'clock to 9:15.

PHILLIPS: Sgt. Hoyt Keith Teasley's wife, Deborah.

D. TEASLEY: And I went in the cafeteria and they have a very large television there. And I said, sheriff department? A shooting? I made a phone call and he didn't answer. But, you know, he just kind that well, everything's chaotic.

PHILLIPS: Atlanta police responding to an all points bulletin, converge on the courthouse. Brian Nichols disappears into a neighboring parking garage, begin a series of five carjackings. One of those was a tow truck driven by Deronte Franklin.

DERONTE FRANKLIN, CARJACKED BY BRIAN NICHOLS: He came out the parking lot and pointed a gun to me and told me, get out of the truck. I told him, you can have the truck. I backed up and walked away.

PHILLIPS: Nichols makes his way into another parking garage where he comes face to face with Atlanta Newspaper Reporter Don O'Briant.

DON O'BRIANT, ATLANTA NEWSPAPER PHILLIPS: And he pulls out a gun and said, give me your keys. I hesitate because I'm thinking this is going to be an awful lot of hassle to get this car back. Then he said, give me the keys or I'll kill you. So I handed him the keys.

PHILLIPS: Nichols then opens the car trunk and orders O'Briant to get in.

O'BRIANT: I'm about to say, please don't kill me when all of a sudden I'm hit. And I hit the concrete and hit my wrists and apparently broke it. Blood is running down my eyes. I can only see out of the one eye. I scrambled to my feet and I head for the nearest exit, expecting him to follow me. And by the time I get outside, I looked back and he's nowhere around.

PHILLIPS: Minutes later, Nichols is seen here on CNN security cameras, driving off in Don O'Briant's car, or so it appears.

What comes next is one of the most extensive manhunts in Georgia history. A dragnet of officers, including multiple state and federal agencies. A lockdown is ordered at several area schools. Police post alerts on busy interstates and converge on Nichols' most recent address, but he's not there.

As precious hours tick by, the manhunt intensifies. News choppers follow police cars as they chase down tip after tip.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four of these state troopers just took off at a high rate of speed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Georgia State Patrol has added 100 more police cars.

PHILLIPS: 2:00 p.m., about six hours after the courthouse shootings, police and state troopers in neighboring states are warned to be on the lookout for Brian Nichols.

(on camera): Brian Nichols has just eluded a police dragnet, pulling off the perfect escape.

He ditched O'Briant's car in the garage here and then walked up and past CNN. No one noticed him. Then he worked his way up to the subway MARTA station, where police say he caught a train.

(voice-over): In the Fulton County Courthouse, Claudia Barnes learns the fate of her husband, Judge Rowland Barnes.

BARNES: I kept asking the deputy to tell me something. And I'm like, well, just tell me yes or no, I mean, and he wouldn't say anything. And I'm like, well, you know, we work in this environment, I can handle it. Just -- I can't just sit here and not know something. And so I said, is he dead? And he finally shook his head, yes. And I said, what about Julie? And he said yes.

PHILLIPS: Kylie Barnes (ph), a paralegal who works at a nearby law firm, is approached by one of the lawyers.

KYLIE BARNES, JUDGE BARNES' DAUGHTER: An he said, Kylie, just listen to me and don't freak out. He said, there's been a shooting in your dad's courtroom. Three people have been shot. Your dad was one of them. And they don't know if he's going to survive.

PHILLIPS: In a state of panic Kylie decides to head to the Atlanta Grady hospital. Her phone rings. On the line, a police officer.

K. BARNES: And he said, Kylie, what are you doing right now? And I said, I'm trying to find a ride to Grady. And he said there's no need to go to Grady, Kylie. He's gone.

PHILLIPS: Deborah Teasley is told by supervisors to call her mother.

D. TEASLEY: She just told me that he had been shot and that I needed to get to Grady.

PHILLIPS: She rushes to be by her husband's side. But she's too late.

(on camera): You didn't realize that he was dead at this point?

D. TEASLEY: No.

PHILLIPS: Until you walked into that room?

D. TEASLEY: Right.

PHILLIPS: Did somebody tell you? Or you just knew by their faces?

D. TEASLEY: I knew by their faces, and then I just said, he didn't make it, and his mom just shook her head and said no.

PHILLIPS: He sure died a brave man.

D. TEASLEY: Right. At first I didn't understand. Everybody kept saying, he's a hero. Because in my mind, I'm saying, well yes, but my hero is dead.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Within 12 minutes, a judge, court reporter, and deputy are dead. Deputy Cynthia Hall is found in a holding cell, still unconscious. She's rushed to a nearby hospital.

Brian Nichols, now the most wanted man in America remains on the loose. Police fear the worst.

Coming up...

ABRAMSON: And I remember looking out the window of my room, thinking like, he might be the next Eric Rudolph.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: As police scoured the streets, Brian Nichols goes underground. He boards a commuter train, travels about eight miles to the Buckhead area of Atlanta.

It's early afternoon in another Atlanta neighborhood; 26-year- old Ashley Smith, the widowed mother of a 5-year-old daughter is on her way to work. It's only her fifth day on the job at this restaurant. Ashley hears the latest developments on the shootings.

(on camera): So you knew there was an alleged killer on the loose somewhere in Georgia possibly?

ASHLEY SMITH, HELD HOSTAGE BY BRIAN NICHOLS: Yes. But there again, leaving the restaurant, there was police officers that had been in there that said he's in Alabama now. So I really took that to heart and thought that he wasn't in Georgia anymore.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Assistant Manager Ed Suvko (ph) remembers how tired she was that day.

ED SUVKO, ASSISTANT MANAGER: She had to move by herself. She had -- she told me she felt like Sanford and son. You should have seen me, Ed, going down the road. I had my mattresses strapped down to the roof of my car. I had to carry them in by myself.

PHILLIPS: It's late afternoon, and back at the Fulton County Courthouse, Prosecutor Gail Abramson is fearing for her life. Police place her in protective custody in a nearby hotel.

ABRAMSON: There was a phone call that came in, and the person who called made a death threat.

PHILLIPS: Abramson is petrified. She's barely able to get any rest.

ABRAMSON: And I remember looking out the window of my room thinking like, he might be, like, the next Eric Rudolph. You know, I thought, am I going to be able to go outside? You know, am I going to be watching my back?

PHILLIPS: Abramson's thoughts turned to her colleague, Prosecutor Ash Joshi.

ABRAMSON: I started to panic when I didn't really know where he was.

PHILLIPS: Joshi had planned to take his wife and kids to Chattanooga that weekend. But... JOSHI: I started to think, maybe he feels he's not done. Maybe in his mind there's unfinished business. And I ran through a million scenarios in my head.

PHILLIPS: He packs his family into the car that night.

JOSHI: We could not reach Chattanooga fast enough.

PHILLIPS: Early that evening the two prosecutors talk by phone.

ABRAMSON: We just kept saying we couldn't believe it. How did this happen?

JOSHI: There was also some guilt, some consideration of what could we have or should we have done differently in the first trial. If we had convicted him the first time, could we have prevented all these folks from losing their lives?

ABRAMSON: What if I hadn't been late? What if he didn't have to drop off something else at another courtroom? What if we had been there?

JOSHI: The thought of not just losing my life, but one of my friends and other friends being seriously hurt by him was disturbing to both of us.

PHILLIPS: Sometime after 8:30 Brian Nichols, still in Buckhead, allegedly kills again. His victim, Immigrations Agent David Wilhelm who was working late on a home he's building for his family. Wilhelm's body will be discovered the next day.

Nichols takes his gun, badge, and blue Chevrolet pickup. He's now within 14 miles of a chance encounter with Ashley Smith.

It's 9:30 in the suburb of Duluth. Ashley Smith's shift is over. She's driving home.

SMITH: My step-dad called right then, right when I got off and he said, what are you doing, you're out? That man's still out there. And I'm like, I'm just grabbing a few things and then I'm going home and I'm in for the night. So I grabbed a few things from the old apartment and went to the new apartment and began to unpack my boxes.

PHILLIPS: 11:00 p.m., less than two blocks from the Fulton County Courthouse, police realize they've made a huge mistake.

The green Honda that every police officer across the nation has been looking for is found right under their noses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were looking for my car for about ten hours that day. Nationwide. And it was one level down in the garage. And it made the police department look a little stupid.

PHILLIPS: Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington.

RICHARD PENNINGTON, CHIEF, ATLANTA POLICE DEPARTMENT: Some of the officers received information that a car fitting that description had exited the garage. And so rather than go floor by floor to make sure, we didn't do that. The officers kind of just got in their cars, got on the radio, gave a description of the vehicle and assumed that the person had left.

JOSHI: It wasn't until that car was found and there were some reports coming in that maybe he was still in the city that I really started to become worried.

PHILLIPS: Police have lost their best lead. They have no idea where the suspect is. A city of four million is living in fear. It's getting late and Brian Nichols is calculating his next move.

SMITH: And I began to scream immediately with a gun pointed at my face, and then he said, "Don't scream. If you don't scream, I won't hurt you."

PHILLIPS: Just ahead, Ashley Smith comes face to face with Brian Nichols.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: It is now after midnight. Ashley Smith is in her new apartment unpacking boxes. Feeling tired and stressed from a long day of work and moving, it's time to run out for cigarettes.

SMITH: And when I opened up the door, I heard a truck pulling up. And I didn't think much about it. You know, it was backing into a parking space. I thought, whatever. So I just went, got in my car and went to the store and got cigarettes.

PHILLIPS: When she returns, Ashley notices the same man in the same blue truck, but now in a different parking space.

SMITH: So at first I thought, oh this is kind of weird, but then I also hoped that maybe he had just beeped the horn and was waiting for somebody else to, you know, come out and get in the truck with him and leave. And why else would he be waiting there?

As I got out of the car, I heard his door close behind me. And, of course, my heard dropped even more then because I kind of felt him walking up behind me then.

PHILLIPS: For the first time Ashley Smith returns to her apartment since moving out one year ago. (on camera): Is it strange being back?

SMITH: Yes, it's very strange being here.

PHILLIPS: What were you thinking when you pulled up/

SMITH: How nervous I was going to be going in here and just how kind of weird it feels.

PHILLIPS: How do you feel right now?

SMITH: OK. I'm a little short of breath.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): So take me through that day.

SMITH: When I turned around and saw him right there, the door was already open and he just followed me in and shut and locked the door.

PHILLIPS: He had the gun right on your head?

SMITH: Yes. Yes. Right at my face. PHILLIPS (on camera): So what happened at that point?

SMITH: Well, he came in and closed the door and locked the door. I can just remember right here, just saying, please don't hurt me. I have a little girl who doesn't have a dad.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): It's been two weeks since Ashley last saw her daughter, but she planned to see her later that morning.

He just had the gun pointed right at me. And I began to scream immediately, with a gun pointed at my face.

PHILLIPS: Fearing someone may have heard her scream, Nichols forces Ashley into the bathroom.

SMITH: I'm sitting here remembering what rug I had on the floor, what shower curtain was up, or whatever, and it's just weird.

PHILLIPS: Are you seeing Brian? Can you remember his face?

SMITH: I can see him a little bit, standing, yes. I mean, of course I can. And I can see the gun sitting on the counter and it's very strange.

PHILLIPS: Brian Nichols asks Ashley if she's been watching the news that day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Massive manhunt is underway...

SMITH: He said, do you know the whole Brian Nichols thing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... for that suspect linked to that multiple shooting. SMITH: And right here he ripped his hat off, right there in the doorway and said, now do you know who I am? And I just went back to get some air and said, oh my gosh, please don't hurt me. I know that I started to cry when he told me who he was. And I just knew that I was going to die.

And then he told me to get in the bathtub. And so I walked over and got in the bathtub.

PHILLIPS: Nichols ties Ashley up and tells her he wants to take a shower.

SMITH: He took a regular towel and washrag and a hand towel out. The hand towel he placed over my head. He said I'm going to put this over your head so you don't have to watch me take a shower. And I thought, what? You know, that's kind of weird. Why would you care about the way I feel?

PHILLIPS: Sitting with her face covered, Ashley begins opening up to Nichols about her life.

SMITH: And as Brian was taking a shower, I was sitting like right here on this stool. And I began to talk to him and ask him if he had any family or if he had any children. And he said that he had just had a son born. And I asked him if didn't he want to be a father to that son, and he said, you know, there's no way I can be a father, you know. I ruined my life now.

And that's when I began to talk about Paige. There was a picture of me and Paige from my cousin's wedding sitting her on the counter right here in the bathroom. So I told Brian that I was supposed to see Paige the next day, and was I going to be able to. And he said, I don't think so.

PHILLIPS: Thinking she may never see her daughter again, she tries to reason with Nichols.

SMITH: I said, you don't understand. I haven't seen her in two weeks. Her daddy's dead. Imagine what she's going to feel like when I don't show up. She's going to think that I didn't want to see her.

PHILLIPS: After taking his shower, Brian Nichols asks for something to help him relax.

SMITH: He asked me if I had any marijuana, and I was like what? No. But immediately I said I have some ice. And thought, oh my gosh, you know, what did I just do? I can't do that. But it was too late. I had already offered it to him.

PHILLIPS: Why did you have it?

SMITH: Because I was addicted at the time to it.

PHILLIPS: Did you feel a need to do it with him?

SMITH: No way. I knew that that was my last chance. I had been more of a prisoner to that drug for the past few years than I was to Brian Nichols that night in this apartment, really. And it took control of my life. It even made me give custody away of my daughter -- the person that I loved the most in the world.

PHILLIPS: Nichols unties her and tells her to go get the drugs.

SMITH: He said, I don't know how to do it. Could you set it up for me? So I came back in the bathroom and laid it out on the counter and set it up for him.

PHILLIPS (on camera): Did you actually chop it up?

SMITH: Yes.

PHILLIPS: He just went right for it?

SMITH: Yes.

PHILLIPS: Did you watch him? Did you say anything to him?

SMITH: No, I walked out of the room. I didn't want to watch him. I mean, I began -- I asked him to not do it. I said, you shouldn't do that. It'll ruin your life. PHILLIPS (voice-over): For the first time in her life, Ashley Smith says she has the strength to refuse crystal meth.

SMITH: I just felt a presence, like a presence of God come into the house and like everything was going to be OK. And that's when I went and grabbed my "Purpose Driven Life," and asked him if I could read. I went and grabbed it and I went and sat on the bed.

PHILLIPS: "Purpose Driven Life" is Rick Warren's best-selling devotional book. Ashley reads a paragraph out loud.

SMITH: "What you are is God's gift to you. What you do with yourself is your gift to God. God deserves your best. He shaped you for a purpose and He expects you to make the most of what you have been given. He doesn't want you to worry about or covet abilities you don't have."

PHILLIPS: Nichols asks her to read it again. It seems to register and he begins to open up.

SMITH: He said he felt like there was a demon inside him and that there was a spiritual warfare going on inside of him.

And I asked him if he was a Christian, and he said, yes, he was a born-again Christian and I expressed to him that I was, too.

PHILLIPS: At this point, Ashley feels she is gaining Nichols' trust.

SMITH: He said maybe God led me here to you. Maybe you're my guardian angel.

PHILLIPS: Ashley feels she is gaining control and tells him...

SMITH: You've got to turn yourself in.

PHILLIPS (on camera): And what did he say?

SMITH: He just sat there. I mean, I think he knew that he had to turn himself in. He couldn't -- he couldn't go on forever.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Coming up, the bond between kidnapper and hostage grows stronger. How well did Ashley and Brian know each other?

(on camera): Did you ever feel attracted to him? Did you have sexual relations with him in any way?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is 4:30. Top story this half hour, a massive manhunt this morning going on for Brian Nichols. He killed...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is who police are looking for...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point they're not sure where... UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: CBI (ph) says they really have no idea where Nichols is.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): It's now 4:00 a.m. No one know where Nichols is, except for Ashley Smith, the woman he is holding hostage in her apartment outside Atlanta.

SMITH: In here is pretty much where I began to tell him about just the mistakes that I had made in my life and how my husband was killed.

PHILLIPS (on camera): You knew your life was far from perfect. You obviously saw the situation that he was in. So you figured if he knows I'm not perfect and I've had awful things happen to me, maybe he'll give me a break.

SMITH: Well, I tried to be as honest with him as possible about tons of things that I had done in my life. And one of the first things I said was if you think what you've done is bad, you know, I've got a 5-year-old who doesn't have a mom because she chose drugs over this precious little child.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Nichols has been in Ashley's apartment for three hours. He turns on the TV and hears the news reports.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And another deputy, Cynthia Hall, in critical condition tonight.

SMITH: I think the first thing that came up was the deputy's picture.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was shot in the head, escorting the man to court. She is expected to survive.

SMITH: He said, no, I didn't shoot her. I just hit her over the head with the gun.

PHILLIPS: And what did you say to him when he reacted?

SMITH: I was like, whoa, you know, I didn't say anything.

PHILLIPS: So it was the first time he showed a lot of emotion?

SMITH: Yes. He was being accused of something that he didn't do and he was not happy about it.

PHILLIPS: Then Nichols does something surprising.

SMITH: He looked up at the ceiling and said, God, please forgive me. Please let her live.

PHILLIPS (on camera): So he actually felt some remorse at that moment?

SMITH: Yes.

PHILLIPS: And then what happened?

SMITH: He kept watching TV and they showed him going down the stairs. He sat back down on the coach and said, I can't believe that's me. And I went and sat down on the couch and said that is you on TV and you have to pay for what you did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is a statewide, and to that matter, a nationwide search in order for the murder suspect.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): There's a look of defeat on Nichols' face.

SMITH: He told me to look at him. And he said, look at me, I'm already dead. He said, I would rather you go in there right now and get the guns and shoot me than them.

PHILLIPS (on camera): Did you think for a moment maybe I should?

SMITH: No way. I wasn't taking that man's life. No way. I didn't want his blood on my hands.

PHILLIPS: And you didn't think he was going to hurt you at that point?

SMITH: By that point, no I didn't.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): While a bond is clearly formed between kidnapper and hostage, Nichols is still anxious.

SMITH: I remember being back in the kitchen and he said he wanted to get rid of the truck.

PHILLIPS: Agent David Wilhelm's truck, the man Nichols allegedly killed hours earlier.

SMITH: He shows me Agent Wilhelm's wallet. He flips it open with his ID card and he says I didn't want to kill him, but he just wouldn't listen to me.

PHILLIPS (on camera): What do you mean he wouldn't listen to him?

SMITH: He wouldn't cooperate with him.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Just before sunrise, Nichols wants to get rid of the truck. Ashley agrees to follow him in her car.

PHILLIPS: Why didn't you call 911 at that point? You could have taken off. Why did you still want to help him?

SMITH: It wasn't necessarily so much to help him. I just wanted to get him back to this apartment.

PHILLIPS (on camera): So he could be contained?

SMITH: So he could be contained, yes. PHILLIPS (voice-over): At a nearby industrial complex, Nichols abandons Agent Wilhelm's truck.

SMITH: He got in the car and he just kind of looked at me like, whoa, you didn't drive off. And immediately when he got in the car I said, are you ready to turn yourself in now? And he said, no, I just want to wait a few more days.

PHILLIPS: What were you thinking on that drive back to your apartment?

SMITH: That I had to get back here and that it was almost 9:00, and that that's what time I was supposed to meet Paige. I think in my head, no matter what happened, whether he said yes or no by 9:00, I was going to make a run for it anyways.

PHILLIPS: Back in the apartment, Ashley prepares breakfast.

SMITH: I had planned on cooking before we left anyways. I was hungry and I guess maybe in an attempt to gain his trust a little more and so I could definitely leave.

PHILLIPS: That's when Nichols comes into the kitchen and picks up a photo of Ashley's family.

SMITH: He was totally a different person at that point than he was when he first entered the apartment. What changed, I don't know what changed except for, you know, he just began to trust me a little more.

PHILLIPS: Over a breakfast of pancakes, eggs and fruit punch, the bond is complete. Brian tells Ashley...

SMITH: I wish I would have met you at a different time under different circumstances because I think we could have been friends.

PHILLIPS (on camera): What were you thinking when he said that?

SMITH: Maybe so. I don't know. I was just kind of shocked that he said that.

PHILLIPS: Did you worry about what was going to happen to him?

SMITH: I didn't want him to hurt himself and I didn't want anybody else to hurt him because he's a human being.

PHILLIPS: I'm sure you've heard the theory that people think you knew Brian Nichols and that he knew where you lived and that's why he was there. What do you say to those people?

SMITH: I did not know Brian Nichols before that time.

PHILLIPS: Did you ever feel attracted to him? Did you have sexual relations with him in any way?

SMITH: No. Not at all. I never felt any attraction towards him, no. Never had any kind of relations with him at all either.

PHILLIPS: After breakfast Ashley washes her face, preparing to leave the apartment and Brian Nichols to see her daughter, Paige.

SMITH: I started to leave out the door and on the way out the door he said, "Will you tell Paige hello for me?"

PHILLIPS (voice-over): It's around 9:30 a.m., Ashley Smith has just survived seven hours with Brian Nichols, the most wanted and dangerous man in Georgia.

SMITH: Thanked God I was alive. Closed the door. I think my knees were shaking so bad that I didn't know if I was going to make it to the car or not. I immediately looked up and said "Thank you, God, for getting me out of there."

PHILLIPS: Coming up, Brian Nichols is surrounded. Will he come out peacefully?

SMITH: I thought either he was going to kill himself or he was going to let them kill him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is March 12, good morning...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With this man, how hundreds of police officers...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the last area where Mr. Brian Nichols...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the story behind the fugitive from justice...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The largest manhunt in Georgia history.

PHILLIPS: It's 9:30 a.m., Saturday morning. A murderous rampage enters its 24th hour. For Ashley Smith, her seven-hour nightmare is ending. Brian Nichols allows his hostage to leave.

SMITH: I got to the first stop sign actually down there, and dialed the 911 the first time, and it was busy. So I got to the second stop sign, done it again, and it was busy again. And then I got to the light on Satellite and sure enough, they answered.

OFFICER: Five-10 radio, what's the complainant's 10-20 at this time?

DISPATCHER: She is advising that she is 10-12 in front of the leasing office in a blue Bonneville. Advising that he has three guns, mace, and has changed clothes.

PHILLIPS: Police meet Ashley, and she takes them to the industrial complex where Nichols left the truck.

SMITH: As soon as they saw the truck, they knew that I was telling the truth. They went crazy. They were like, oh my gosh, he's in our county. I can't believe it. Then they immediately brought me back here and asked me which apartment was mine and how they should get there.

OFFICER: Have our zone cars go ahead and start doing a perimeter and closing that apartment complex down.

PHILLIPS: Major Bart Hulsey is SWAT commander for the Gwinnett County Police.

BART HULSEY, SWAT COMMANDER, GWINNETT COUNTY POLICE: They got the apartment sealed off -- or the building where he was at sealed off. They've got the complex shut down.

PHILLIPS: Major Hulsey's SWAT team gets in position, preparing for the worst.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get down on the ground! Get down on the ground! Get down on the ground!

HULSEY: Everybody in Atlanta thought that he was going to -- that it would be a shootout. And we prepared with that in mind. That's not what we wanted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're standing, drop to kneeling. To kneeling.

PHILLIPS: SWAT Team Leader Corporal Jason Teague (ph).

JASON TEAGUE, SWAT TEAM LEADER: I showed up on the command scene. It was very hectic. Myself and three or four other officers moved up with some shields and things like ballistic protection.

PHILLIPS: After the murder of four innocent people, as a nationwide manhunt is about to come to an end, perhaps the most bizarre event is about to happen. The door to Ashley Smith's apartment slowly opens.

TEAGUE: When he came out he waved a white towel to indicate that he was willing to surrender. We saw that his hands were clear. We started advising him to get on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get on the ground! Get on the ground!

TEAGUE: He kind of looked around, wanted to see if he had a possible escape route, I believe. It took him several seconds to comply with our commands. So even up until the very end, he still was looking for a way to get out of the situation. He was laying face down. I told him to put his hands behind his back.

He still was a little bit defiant. He did not want to do it initially. So we got his hands behind his back. Used a set of flex cuffs, got him handcuffed. At that point we began asking him, what is your name. Tell us what your name is.

His first reply was, you know who I am. We continued to ask him, what is your name? And didn't say anything for a few seconds, and then he finally said, Brian Nichols.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can confirm that Brian Nichols is in the custody of the Gwinnett County SWAT Team...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Someone is in custody. We do believe that it is...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are hearing from Gwinnett police that the suspect is in custody.

TEAGUE: About that time in the country, if not in the world, it was a little surreal. There's no denying that. It's not every day that we get a callout to take into custody a quadruple homicide murderer.

It was not the outcome we were expecting. We did not expect him to come out so peacefully. But it turned out that he was ready to give up at that point.

SMITH: I thought either he was going to kill himself or he was going to let them kill him. I was relieved to see that everybody was still alive, that he didn't take anymore lives, and then just came out with his hands up.

PHILLIPS: The terror Brian Nichols had inflicted for 26 hours was now over.

HULSEY: This armored car right here, we put him in that because, again, our thinking at the scene was that he was not only a threat, but people were a threat to him because he was notorious at that point.

(CHEERING)

PHILLIPS: Brian Nichols is transported to an Atlanta jail.

TEAGUE: People were pulling over, getting out, and cheering us and clapping. I mean, literally standing on the side of the median wall on a major interstate and stopping to congratulate us. So, it was very amazing.

Nichols has pleaded not guilty to all charges. He is scheduled to go on trial in October. Ironically, in the same Fulton County Courthouse where it all began.

If Nichols is convicted, prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty.

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