Thursday, March 17, 2005


Atlanta Courthouse Murders - Police on Scene One Hour After Shootings

Link ATLANTA (AP) -- Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin has acknowledged that city police did not take control of the search for courthouse shooting suspect Brian Nichols until about an hour after the start of last week's crime spree.

The rampage left a judge and three others dead. But law enforcement officials have not made it clear which agency was in charge of the search for Nichols, who surrendered the next day after a woman he allegedly took hostage notified authorities.

"(The Atlanta Police Department) assumed the lead role in the investigation upon arrival at the Fulton County Courthouse at approximately 10:00 a.m.," the mayor's office said in a statement issued Wednesday night.

But the shootings began around 9 a.m. Friday. The first carjacking Nichols is accused of committing happened at 9:05 a.m., police said.

The admission comes as law enforcement authorities face criticism that better security and more thorough police work could have saved lives on that bloody Friday.

The carjacked vehicle reported to be Nichols' getaway car after the shootings was found more than 13 hours after the shootings -- in the same parking garage from which police thought it had been carjacked. Nichols apparently escaped unnoticed on a commuter train to another part of the city.

Although police allowed Nichols to leave the downtown area unnoticed, city officials have withheld criticism.

Mayor Franklin has said it is too soon to begin assessing the police department's performance in what has been considered the largest manhunt in state history.

"At this point, there is nothing more important than ensuring that we develop a solid, factually accurate case," Franklin's statement said. "It is imperative that we provide the district attorney the information needed to effectively and fairly prosecute the case. In terms of the actions of law enforcement agencies, Chief (Richard) Pennington and his team will focus their attention on who did what, when they did it, how they did it, and why they did it at the appropriate time."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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